I didn’t grow up wanting to be a nurse. No one in my family had any occupational connection with healthcare. After starting college en route to becoming a medical technologist, I decided to change schools—and ended up changing careers. I’ve never regretted that decision.
During my nursing diploma education, early exposure to the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) hooked me on getting involved in my professional association. I served as First Vice President and then President of NSNA, and along the way I was mentored by nurses and others. Some who stand out are Kit Barnes, originator of NSNA’s Breakthrough to Nursing Project, which focused on recruiting more minority students into nursing programs; Mary Ann Tuft, second executive director of NSNA; and the late Dwayne Walker, a visionary nurse administrator who recruited me into my first job as a new graduate.
That first job solidified my love of nursing. Having responsibility for the lives of so many patients was humbling. Here I was, only 23, a team leader at night, caring for up to 16 postoperative orthopedic patients; I shared one nursing assistant, together with one other nurse who cared for a similar team. It became clear that patients need nurses. This reality was reinforced when I later transferred to a burn intensive care unit, where I witnessed the devastating effects of thermal injuries and realized the enormous responsibility nurses have to help return patients to productive lives.
Serving as a primary nurse in a large shock-trauma unit strengthened my resolve to be the best clinical nurse I could be. I took my responsibilities seriously—to create and carry out a personalized plan of care to meet the needs of highly complex patients, while supporting their families. Not only was I responsible for the care I provided; I was also responsible for my team members. With some chronically ill patients, I felt like I knew every inch of their bodies. With others, their family became friends, even when the ending was tragic. I was passionate and possessive about caring for my patients. After all, wouldn’t I expect the same for my family members if they became ill?
At this same facility, my passion for my patients was challenged as I helped lead a strike by RNs seeking to organize through their state nurses association. At the time, I was passionate about gaining respect for and appropriate treatment of nurses in an organization that no longer seemed to value the professional nurse. We won that fight, but the collateral damage required a great deal of repair. Nurses who’d struck and those who’d stayed on the job had to learn to work together and regain one another’s trust. Seven weeks on the picket line taught me the pleasure and pain of doing what you think is right.
After graduate school, as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in critical care, I stayed close to the bedside. I taught nurses the finer points of caring for the whole person, not just watching the numbers. Whether it was understanding physiologic responses to stress, interpreting hemodynamic monitoring values, or finding ways to assist patients to deal with sleep disturbances, I helped nurses understand the why’s behind the care we provide.
Throughout my early career I was active in ANA, serving in many elected and appointed positions; the highlight was serving on its board as treasurer. I also was privileged to count many of nursing’s most distinguished leaders as colleagues.
I continued my formal education so I could become the nurse-leader for complex organizations. My administrative experiences included traditional hospital administration roles, opening an ambulatory cancer center, and having broad multidisciplinary responsibility across an academic medical center. What was once a passion for hands-on care has become a passion to advocate for nurses and nursing—advocacy in the CEO’s office, in the boardroom, at the legislature, and in the community at large.
I take my role as a nurse seriously. It’s not enough to know the public trusts me. As an administrator, it’s important for me to know my nurses trust me to ensure they can practice in an environment that supports their autonomy, health, welfare, and ability to express their own passion for nursing.
Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, FAAN