You might think you have an idea of what life in an emergency room is like from watching the smash-hit TV drama that made George Clooney famous. But step into the shoes of an Emergency Department (ED) nurse and you’d get a much more complete and compelling picture.
“Looking from the outside, people think they have an idea, but it truly is a different world,” says Dominique Herndon, R.N., an ED nurse at VacaValley Hospital. “It’s crazy, hectic, busy, scary, exciting, fun, terrifying, and stressful all at the same time.”
And Dominique wouldn’t want to be any-where else. “The ER is in my blood,” she says. “It’s the place for me.”
Lisa Cann and Patti Stutte can relate. Both nurses have found a home in the ED. It’s where they absolutely excel.
“There have been so many days where I go home and feel like I fulfilled my purpose, of helping someone change the outcome of what could have been the worst day of their life,” says Patti, who has 20-plus years of experience at VacaValley. “I can’t imagine any other job that could give me that same fulfillment.”
“I love the fact that you’re not just taking care of the patient, but also helping to take care of the family by putting them at ease and educating them about the situation,” adds Lisa, who has spent seven of her 16 years as a nurse in the NorthBay ED. “And I love how so much is coming at you all at once and knowing that I have the energy to deal with it.”
A go-getter attitude is essential when it comes to a job that demands rapid, on-your-feet thinking and the need to make informed, critical assessments in an often frenetic environment.
Energy is a key trait in the makeup of any stellar ED nurse. Lisa describes herself as “a super hyper, peppy, constantly-on-the-go kind of person who has natural caffeine flowing through my veins.” Dominique says she comes from a family of “adrenaline junkies,” many of whom have been involved with law enforcement or emergency medical services.
“We’re a bunch of go-getters,” she says. “We go 100 miles per hour all the time.” That go-getter attitude is essential when it comes to a job that demands rapid, on-your-feet thinking and the need to make informed, critical assessments in an often frenetic environment.
Versatility is also an important quality, say the multi-tasking ED nurses who, on any given night, might be required to tend to someone experiencing dental pain one moment, and then swiftly shift focus to a gunshot victim or a cardiac arrest case.
“There’s a lot of juggling,” Lisa says. “You do your best to help one person and then you move on to the next one. I feed off that.”
“We thrive on change and enjoy the rapid response needed to do our job to the best of our abilities, while working as a team,” Patti adds.
Dominique, a relative newcomer to the ED, admits that it took some time to adjust to a job that often presents a series of heart wrenching life-or-death situations.
“In the beginning, there were nights I would go home feeling sad, numb, and confused all at the same time—trying to wrap my mind around ‘just another day in the ED,'” she recalls. “I soon realized what an impact a team of people can have on someone and I really knew then that this is where I need to be.”
Lisa began developing the kind of compassion an ED nurse needs while watching her mother struggle with cancer. “I was only 16 and I watched hospice nurses come and go,” she says. “I saw how happy the good nurses could make her—how her whole countenance would be light when they were around. But I also saw how the bad ones put her on edge and made her apprehensive. That triggered something in me: I told myself that I want to be the kind of nurse who makes my patients happy and comfortable.”
And that’s what these and other ED nurses constantly strive to do—amid some of the most stressful situations one can imagine.
“There is something truly humbling about being there for people when they most need you,” Dominique says. “If you appreciate life, you appreciate being able to help a life.”