When I was in college studying to be a nurse, our nursing professors a.k.a. career advisors told us we needed to get a job on a medical-surgical floor in a hospital before working anywhere else. This setting, we were told, afforded us time and experience to hone our skills.
Trends in career fields have a tendency to be very cyclical. For example, in the nursing field, there is usually a nursing shortage. At least that’s been my experience since I graduated well over 30 years ago. Students graduating a year or more before I did were offered sign on bonuses, even cruises. Sadly, so much money was spent on such extravagances that most hospitals were only offering part time positions in 1983 when I graduated. There were a few of my class who aggressively sought out jobs on medical-surgical units and in intensive care settings. These nurses were considered highly successful. For myself, I felt inept and lost and bewildered by the sudden and unexpected course of events.
Being unable to afford an apartment without a full time job, I returned home to my parents after I graduated and applied at local hospitals. I didn’t know much about the rehabilitation hospital on the hill, but I dutifully went and applied. The Director of Nursing interviewed and made a decision to hire me to work full time. I accepted the unpopular choice; who in their right mind would work in a rehab hospital where those high tech skills I needed wouldn’t develop? How do I look at and talk to these disabled people? How could I possibly help someone who had a stroke and cannot even speak?
Within days of my general orientation, I found that the skills I needed most were developing just fine. Rehabilitation nursing then and now requires all the coveted triage and critical thinking skills of the more romanticized settings. I also learned that someone with a chronic illness like diabetes could cause numerous problems and complications. It was my job to find out what the sweet spot was, what was important to the 64 year old woman I was assigned to who had a stroke. I was to figure out what she needed to know and how to motivate her to take better care of herself at home so that she didn’t end up with an amputated leg.
In the rehabilitation hospital, I saw and learned that chronic diseases are insidious and cause disability for many people. I also saw the terrible consequences of trauma from falls and motor vehicle accidents for young and old alike.
One of the greatest skills I learned was that strong listening skills were absolutely essential, learning that the patient was not defined by the name of their disease, or illness, but by their character, experiences and feelings. Finding the time to listen and talk, develop a relationship is what helped me prepare my patients for the day they returned home after rehabilitation.
Today, I help rehabilitate patients in an even better setting: their own home. Don’t get me wrong, inpatient rehabilitation still occurs and staff continue to prepare people to come home, but home is where we follow through to assure that each patient returns home safely. Rehabilitation at home also affords the patient to not just “practice” but live, with coaching from us in the home. The transition home is no longer a figment of imagination or merely a thought. The foggy, hazy vision becomes a clear path, with the home health rehabilitation team, in the home.
So you can see, my unpopular career choice to become a rehabilitation nurse was the best choice.