The Voice of Experience

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Nyuma Harrison of Career Services loves matching nurses, opportunities

If you’re in no mood for positive thinking, if you’re not in the market for a pat on the back, clear-eyed advice, a dose of reality, or a gentle shove in the right direction, what in the world are you doing anywhere near Nyuma Harrison’s office in Student Affairs? If you are interested in any of these invaluable items, supplied by the school’s nursing career services specialist, the line forms down the hall. Relax. It’ll be worth the wait.

“I tell students, ‘Figure out what you would do for free and that will help you figure out what you want to do for a living.’ ” And then, Harrison advises, be flexible. “My job is to really sit down with students and ask, ‘Is this making sense to you? Does this feel right?’

“We need to offer as much support, as much insight as we can give them.”
— Nyuma Harrison

Our students are brilliant, but for a large majority of them, this is a whole new world.”

Harrison is an emergency/trauma nurse who has added career strategist to her resume. With one foot in each of those worlds, she can offer a 360-degree perspective. She is part life/work coach, part den mother (“If I hear a name that I’m not familiar with or see a student’s face that I don’t recognize, I worry”), and all can-do energy. She’s also been there, on the hospital unit and on the hiring end.

Her own career path might in fact sound familiar to many here at the school. Harrison, the daughter of a nurse, resisted the notion of following in her mother’s footsteps. “I was fighting it and denying it for a while, but it was always there. I went to boarding school when I was 10, and nursing was the farthest thing from my mind. But still, I took a ‘job’ in the school clinic. I went to Howard University to study philosophy, but I still applied for a summer job on a cardiac unit [at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston].” Eventually, the hospital told her: Get serious about nursing or get a new summer gig. She changed her major. Not that Mom would have minded her not doing so. Born in Zambia, raised in Kenya, and schooled in the power of positive thinking, Harrison says she got her career philosophy from a mother and father who told her simply, “Figure out what you love and give it everything you have.”

Harrison’s first post-graduation job was at Howard University Hospital and then it was back to Mass General. Now, when not in her office in the Student House, she works for a temp agency rather than any one hospital. “I basically get to pick my hours. I might call the agency and say, ‘I’m available Saturday for four hours,’ and they’ll say, ‘Perfect. This hospital needs a nurse for four hours on Saturday.’ I really do enjoy taking care of patients and having new stories and perspectives to share with the students.”

The insight she has acquired in 15 years as a working nurse can ease the transition for students who arrive for an accelerated program “in love with the idea of nursing” but with little feel for what “nursing” means or what a nursing career looks like. “Our students are in that in-between stage that can be really overwhelming. Nursing was a great idea to begin with; it’ll be a great idea later. But right now they’re having to make these decisions and having to make them very quickly while still acquiring tons of new information. I am here to offer as much support and direction as they need or want.”

When not counseling students (or treating patients), Harrison is building relationships with hospital and clinic administrators that could help student nurses down the line. “Recruiting the recruiters” is how she describes it. Hiring managers have quickly come to “know and trust my instincts with students.”

And the support doesn’t end at graduation, which can mean chatting on Skype with a grad in Kenya ready to try a different type of nursing. Or the alumna leaving her position at a local clinic who seeks next-step advice but also wants to replace herself there with a Hopkins Nursing grad. “I love that there is a life cycle to this all,” Harrison says. “Every day brings a new reward.”

@forlinks_greenContact Nyuma Harrison at n.harrison@jhu.edu or just get in line.

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