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National League for Nursing 2016 Student Essay Contest-ECU Winner

Ms. Erin Traister, winner 2016 NLN essay contest

Becoming a Nurse
Erin Traister
East Carolina University
March 21, 2016

The past two years have been one of the most powerful personal and professional experiences of my lifetime. I have been present when a baby took his first breath and when an elderly man took his last. I have seen with my eyes and felt with my heart the enormous victories and defeats of the human body, mind, and spirit. There have been days when hope is hard to see, when I have looked into the eyes of a terminal cancer patient being discharged from in-patient hospice to die at home. The human body inevitably breaks down. But that does not mean we stop trying to maintain health and dignity. As nurses, we have a unique opportunity to participate in a restorative process, whether it is educating a patient about medications after experiencing a heart attack or witnessing the hopeful tears of men and women as they gain victories over their battles with substance abuse.

While I fight the urge to complain about the demands of what feels like two full-time positions as a floor nurse and a student, I am truly honored to enter this lifelong profession. The East Carolina University College of Nursing (ECUCON), a Center of Excellence that enhances student learning and professional development, sets high standards and has offered opportunities that have transformed the way I approach learning and interaction with the healthy and the sick in our community. A variety of clinical locations has been paired with a rigorous academic course load to prepare me to successfully care for patients and to develop essential critical thinking skills that are the cornerstone of my education. Advanced technology in skills labs, such as mannequins that generate lung and heart sounds and venipuncture training arms, create the opportunity for high fidelity simulations that have helped me feel more confident in hospital settings. Because almost all of my nursing courses format tests using priority questions, I have learned to study through creating patient scenarios. This has definitely benefited me in the clinical setting to apply knowledge to individualized patient care.

Self-reflection has been a powerful tool practiced in all of my clinical experiences and is essential in my professional development. I have been able to choose areas of improvement to focus on and learn how to better address client needs through in-depth assessments and selecting priority nursing diagnoses to guide my nursing interventions. Application of the nursing process using faculty-led discussion and worksheets has been helpful as I identify patient priorities and develop care plans. Although my clinical journals were and continue to be time consuming, they remain crucial to the development of my assessment, intervention, and evaluation skills. Weekly clinical conferences have also enhanced my learning through analyzing collective strengths and weaknesses as a group to achieve professional growth and confidence.

Cultural diversity, awareness, and humility are at the forefront of ECU's nursing program. I experienced it first-hand with the enormous honor of participating in an international immersion course in Guatemala as part of the CON. I learned more about myself and my role as a nurse advocate for health around the globe during this service learning program. This international opportunity piqued my curiosity about Latino cultures. So, with the exceptional guidance of dedicated professors and mentors, I conducted research in Guatemala to learn about beliefs and cultural practices during end-of-life (EOL) care with the goal of improving the quality of EOL care that the Latino population receives in the United States. This study resulted in identifying a novel member of the community who was an essential member of relieving suffering during this life transition. It was the ECUCON that enabled me to begin my research career as an undergraduate and that has lit the spark to embark on continued research efforts.

The CON embodies ECU's commitment to leadership and service. Faculty leadership in practice, research, and service is evident, and I have had opportunities to explore my leadership potential through research and service in professional organizations. I am an active member of the Beta Nu Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International where I have presented preliminary findings from my qualitative study in Guatemala and was awarded a grant for the research. The East Carolina Association of Nursing Students (ECANS) is an active community partner that provides multiple volunteer opportunities by educating students in after-school programs about nutrition and by cooking healthy dinners for patients recovering from cancer, to name just a few of their service projects. As the secretary of the Multicultural Student Nurses Association (MSNA), I have become more aware of the duty that nurses have to advocate not only for patient rights, but also for other healthcare professionals who identify as a minority. These people certainly need a voice in healthcare to create an atmosphere of culturally sensitive care.

For me, being a student of an NLN Center of Excellence has meant that standards are unwaveringly high. Nursing school at ECU has never once been easy. The nursing knowledge and application of content, both in the classroom and clinical setting, demand that you spend hours in preparation. The reflective assignments for clinical necessitate detailed attention to each patient. Yet when the lives and futures of mothers, fathers, sisters, sons, and grandparents will be in my hands, I would not want it any other way. So for all my future peers in the nursing and greater healthcare professions, here's to a difficult but beautiful journey ahead that constantly reminds us of what matters most in life. I give my fullest gratitude to all my professors, clinical instructors, administrative faculty, and others at ECU who have contributed to my knowledge and growth. This Center of Excellence has made me see the nurse I was meant to be...and will be.