Cliff Thornton is a big kid. It isn’t just that he’s a very tall guy, with hair and beard just this side of unruly and a complexion flushed from a morning bike ride to school. It’s that he feels he’s still the child who grew up on a Michigan farm and got into pharmacy but, seeking more direct patient contact, found nursing instead. Thornton can relate to young patients … way, way down to their level. He spoke recently about the journey to Johns Hopkins Nursing.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT NURSING WAS IT FOR YOU?
I got a job at a pharmacy and realized that the information was really interesting but the job itself really wasn’t a good match for me. I really liked the nurse practitioners because they knew their patients so well. They would walk into the room and immediately know about the patient’s family and, “Oh, you went to Disney. And how awesome was that?” And then I talked to them about the stuff I wanted to do as a provider—work with underserved populations, work with children, and try to have sort of a global aspect—and they were telling me how that’s really the role of the NP.
WHAT’S SO REWARDING ABOUT PEDIATRICS?
We can have a bigger impact on a population level of health if we start with the children and work our way up. With children, you can tell a parent, “They should exercise more,” and they’re like, “Soccer camp right now! We start today!”
BUT ADULTS WON’T ALWAYS LISTEN TO ADVICE FOR THEMSELVES?
Frankly, I got annoyed with adults when I worked with them. … Kids are hilarious. I found an eraser in a girl’s ear once on an exam. I asked her, “Did you put something in your ear?” and she was, like, “Yeah, a few months ago.”
I applied to schools that have a reputation for producing science, that were changing the field themselves, so I would hopefully come out a bit ahead.
YOU GREW UP ON A FARM IN MICHIGAN. HOW BIG A CULTURE SHOCK HAS BALTIMORE BEEN?
My house touches both of my neighbors’ houses, and it took me, like, months to get over that.
HOW IS THE EXPERIENCE DIFFERENT FOR A MALE NURSING STUDENT?
The T-shirts … if they bring T-shirts to school, they’re all designed for “nursing students.” They’re all small, medium ladies’ shirts.
I was extremely nervous about the labor and delivery rotation, because I thought I was going to go into a room and it was going be like Hollywood and there was going to be a sweaty pregnant woman screaming in pain: “You’re my nurse? Get out!” But it actually turned out to be one of my favorite rotations. They called me “Captain Contraction” on the floor because I had more births than anyone else in my rotation. I think I had 12, and other people had maybe two or three during the half semester we were on the unit.