Yesterday, as my sister and I were driving from Crozet, Virginia (where she works as a caregiver and volunteer at a life sharing community for adults with intellectual disabilities) to New Brunswick, New Jersey (where our parents live), I made out the Exit for Johns Hopkins University through the fog and swish-swash of the windshield wipers. At that moment, I did something I’ve been doing a lot lately. I reminded myself that the news I received almost exactly a month ago is indeed real.
I may have to pinch myself a least once a day to believe it, but at this time next year I will have just completed my first semester as a nursing student in JHU’s accelerated-17 month program. As cliche as it sounds, it is a dream come true.
In 2008, when I left my 2 year-long post as Programs and Volunteer Manager at The National Kidney Foundation of Southern California, I had an inkling that someday in the far-off future, I might like to pursue nursing. At 23, I had been given an amazing opportunity to work with and advocate on behalf of patients and families in need of life-saving organ donations. I had met some of the most distinguished Nephrologists in the field and sat around tables discussing CME credits with social workers, dieticians, technicians, and nurses who spent their days watching and supporting patients as they were put on and off of dialysis machines.
I set off for Washington, DC ready to connect my interests in social justice and human rights advocacy with my desire to ensure equal access to quality, compassionate healthcare as an MPH candidate in Maternal and Child Health at George Washington University. It was incredible. So incredible that when I came home that first Thanksgiving, our dear family friend said I looked as if I was “completely in love”. And I was…with public health. I felt as if somebody, somewhere had created a field that magically melted together all of the issues I cared about. The values my family instilled in me were coming to light in a whole new way and I was excited beyond belief.
Somewhere along the way I discovered the intrinsic connection between my passion for public health and my desire to transfer that passion into a clinical setting. I recognized that prevention and treatment were each important in their own right, but I also realized that I could not do the work that I wanted to do unless I was doing both.
What began as an interest in a single disease evolved into an interest in women and children, an interest in socioeconomic disparities, and an interest in changing the system and protecting the rights of individuals to receive equal access to adequate care. My experience with insufficient health care for women led me from research on the history of the rape crisis movement, to volunteering for a domestic violence emergency hotline, to a medication adherence study with HIV+ patients at George Washington Hospital, to advocating for quality care through my work at The National Partnership for Women & Families, to continued involvement with health initiatives for women at a local community health center and shelter. I have learned how to be an educator and an advocate, but more importantly, I have learned that I am at my best when I am working directly with patients, being an open-minded and active listener. The connections I have made and the relationships I have sustained from listening to both patients and providers have enhanced my passion for nursing, and have also provided me with an invaluable lens through which I see the world and believe that true change is possible.
It’s a funny feeling when you realize that the dream you have been dreaming about for so long is about to come true. It’s as if I have been half asleep and someone is shaking me awake so that I don’t miss what a beautiful day it is going to be. And I won’t. I won’t miss it because this is the beginning of something new and I have a feeling I am about to fall in love all over again.