Career Advice

Nurse and Mother Overcomes Emotional, Physical, and Financial Obstacles To Help the Mentally Ill

In this career interview, a nurse for a non-profit mental health organization shares how she has struggled to overcome the major obstacles she has faced, such as being a single mother, surviving cancer, and recovering from a crippling injury. While she still faces physical, emotional, and financial challenges today, she is driven to get up each day by a desire to create a positive change in the world around her.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
I am a psychiatric nurse for a non profit organization where I have 5 years of experience. I would describe myself as energetic, honest, and reliable.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
My job is to provide medical treatment of the mentally ill. A misconception is that we just medicate difficult people without a second thought. The truth is that the only time someone can really force you to take medication is if there is a court order.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
I am the single mother of 2 girls. I am currently stranded in New York due to a divorce. I was raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and am a typical southern belle. I am adopted as well. I have survived cervical and ovarian cancer, and lived a healthy happy life beyond what my doctor expected in 2003. Because I am grateful for my recovery, I have promised to give back. I went to nursing school, and while I was in school I fell off a ladder herniating my back in 9 places and dislocated my jaw. I still managed to pass school with a 3.90 GPA even with my mouth wired shut part of the time. I am considered totally disabled because of this accident, but I continue to work. I love being a nurse. My back limits me sometimes, but I love the difference I make each day. I am now on the edge of bankruptcy and may lose my home because my children’s father quit paying his child support and because of my injuries, I can’t physically withstand the demands of working full-time and I have no health coverage because I make 15.00 a month too much to qualify for government help. But I am happy: I am alive, I have 2 beautiful girl,s and everyday I may fall behind but I make a difference, I am a friend, nurse , mother, human.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best? Do you speak another language, and has it been helpful in your career?
I am a Caucasion female. I was once told I was too pretty to be a public health nurse, and that made me feel demeaned. I speak minimal Spanish.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
I need to take on more responsibility and finish getting my RN certification. I am so broke now with 2 kids in college, that some months it is heat or eat. However, I love my work and I intend to go to school again when I can afford to do it and eat.

If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
This job moves my heart. I am accused of seeing the world through rose colored glasses, and wanting to save the world. I really feel like everyone deserves to have someone in their corner. Sometimes these people are so alone… I wish that all of these empty buildings the government has could be turned into acceptable housing for people who are struggling. There are too many homeless and hungry people out there, many of which are mentally ill. I want to take Kings Park (an old sanitarium) and turn it into housing and farms so that people who need a place to live can work there and have a place to stay. Let the people in need re-build it. Teach them pride… make homes for people.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I had such great nurses during my illness and injury that I decided to fulfill my high school dream and go to nursing school. If I could do something differently, I would have completed my RN right away. I need to have it so I can support my self alone.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
I am trying to find work now that does not involve lifting and there is a larger variety of positions that are less physically demanding for RN’s.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
Be a good person.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
I was giving an injection to a homeless man in a public bathroom. I made a sterile field and just as I injected him in the buttock, the door flew open and the POLICE told me to put my hands in the air. I was reported as a prostitute by the owners. There I was on one knee, needle in his buttock, pants at ankles, it was hysterical! Thank God I was wearing my badge. I am now known as Nurse Snowflake in a certain area of town.

Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
My patients need me. Sometimes it is just offering a listening ear, or a roll and hot cup of coffee, dinner from the church, or a blanket – These people need me and others from my office . My office was named the best in its category recently. I am proud to work and be a part of a team of people that consistently helps people learn to help themselves.

In an emergency I was able to help out with child birth, that was a very proud moment as well.

What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?
I work in non-profit. Sometimes I get frustrated about the budget not providing housing or food or a clean bed for someone who is alone with no family and is mentally ill, and possibly physically ill too. society forgets people I cannot. My heart breaks a little every day, and then, WOW sometimes we achieve success. The patient stayed sober, they took their meds or a bath all without encouragement, they got a job or their GED. I sometimes want to quit when the paperwork creates a roadblock that prevents people from getting the help they need.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
I have a high-stress job. I come home and cry weekly especially now that the kids have both left for college. I cry for the good and the bad. My daughter is studying social work and psychology and my younger one studies art. We spend a lot of time talking about their new lives at school and their ideas and dreams, and laughing and crying and planning to save the world together. Now that I am on my own, I read and listen to music on the computer… it helps me escape and clears my mind and sometimes that is when I come up with new ideas to help at work.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
I make $24,500 as an LPN working part time. I am going to most likely have to file for bankruptcy because my ex-husband is not paying court ordered child support, and I am not able to work full time, but I don’t qualify for state aid due to my spinal injury and a wrist injury. I do well as a part time nurse but it is not enough to eat and pay bills, plus there is no health insurance available that I qualify for.

I am still not giving up…. I believe I will find a way to save my house and my pride. I am a great compassionate nurse with a big heart, so I will find a way or another part-time job.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I took a four day vacation this year, and I took my birthday off. I would love to take a week vacation and see something wonderful like Paris or Pompei or India.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
You must have a HS diploma or GED to be a psychiatric nurse, plus an RN degree, LPN or LVN.

It is a tough field, and some people can’t handle it emotionally. It is a true calling with tons of patience required.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Nursing is a calling… do Labor and delivery and watch life being made, or do geriatric medicine and make friends with the elderly, asthey have so much to teach, and so much to say.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to be able to have finished my RN and be well onto my NP. I hope to found a project re-purposing the old Kings Park property into housing, and make enough money that I can catch up with my mortgage, bills, and have enough left over to eat and have health insurance. Maybe get married and have a couple of new adopted or foster kids. With God’s blessing, I would like to be somewhere near both of my girls.