1. Kayyali, By Andrea MSN, RN

Article Content

I started my career as a nurse's aide on a busy telemetry unit and became a telemetry nurse soon after graduation. I was in awe watching the seasoned nurses on that unit successfully insert a Hep-Lock into an invisible vein. They taught me what can be learned only at the bedside, like how to weigh large patients on a Hoyer lift (carefully!!) or how to interpret an enigmatic rhythm strip-not to mention the value of teamwork.


Still, after two years I craved something more, something (to my way of thinking) sexier: critical care, the mecca, the place to be, where to my amateur ears the sounds of ventilator alarms and bleeping monitors seemed to harmonize. I made the switch to the cardiac intensive care unit as soon as possible, and quickly became certified in critical care. After a year I decided I wanted to practice acute care nursing at a more independent level, and I enrolled in graduate school in order to become an acute care nurse practitioner.


At school, my career took an unforeseen turn when I began working at an urban, level-one trauma center in the medical ICU. The patients were in far worse condition than any I had previously encountered. My three years of nursing experience felt inadequate for such emotionally taxing work. Over the course of a year, I realized that I didn't want a career solely in critical care. So I switched to the master of science in nursing degree in health leadership, using my time at school to explore the roles of research nurse and interventional radiology nurse. The time spent in each area helped me to learn critical adaptation skills-I became more outspoken, asked more questions, and forgave myself for mistakes. I used my mid-20s to experiment with my career.


During that soul-searching phase, I decided that after graduate school I would leave bedside nursing. It wasn't that I was burnt out, as nurses often say. I still managed to smile throughout most of the day. But it was getting harder to imagine myself with the same level of energy and enthusiasm for patient care in five, 10, or 20 years. I knew that those notorious drawbacks-the heavy lifting, the weekend work, and the constant high intensity-would be my demise. And so, armed with a new degree, I launched into an entirely different aspect of health care-the pharmaceutical industry. I accepted a position in a consumer affairs department, where I spoke with customers about their medications and analyzed call center data for ways to improve marketing. Three years later, I moved to product safety, where I applied the knowledge and judgment I'd gained in those years of clinical experience to documenting adverse events and writing regulatory reports.


Of course, there are times when I miss bedside nursing. The rewards were concrete and immediate. I don't have that anymore-and indeed I now find myself searching for extra volunteer opportunities to ensure that I am, in a tangible way, "giving back." I also miss the camaraderie I had with my nursing colleagues. They were truly compassionate, sensitive people, with keen senses of humor.


Some people stay in one place their whole careers; I chose the opposite approach, and it has shaped who I am and how I look at the world. I realize now that my career isn't a sprint in terms of position or salary, but instead a marathon, with each passing year bringing its own rewards in both personal and professional development. I don't regret my zigzag career. Instead, I pay tribute to the nursing profession for these opportunities. I can't say for sure what my future in nursing will hold-and that's exactly the point.