It’s not all smiling babies and cute children—being a pediatric nurse also involves crying, screaming, and parental overprotectiveness. Luckily for Madelaine Than, the good (almost always) outweighs the bad. Join us as guest blogger Melissa Nguyen interviews her about making kids cry—and laugh—every day as a pediatric nurse.
From her tiny tot days of bandaging friends’ scraped elbows to her real-life, hands-on clinical experience in an accelerated nursing program in college, Madelaine knew her calling and was determined to succeed in her path toward a nursing degree. The hurdles she crossed were monumental—attending one of Texas’s most difficult nursing programs and paying for it herself—and her day-to-day as a pediatric nurse at Austin Diagnostic Clinic—who, yes, gives wailing children their dreaded shots—is just as Herculean, but Madelaine is here to tell you the challenges are worth it. Find what drives you and speed on ahead to rewards so grand that most days hardly feel like work, she shares in this intimate, no-bull q&a.
How did you decide to pursue nursing?
I decided on nursing for a few reasons: I like helping others and I was very interested in the medical field. I had my first dose of being a “nurse” when I was little, putting Band-Aids on my friends after they fell. My mom initially wanted me to be a doctor, but my justification was that I wanted to show my compassion and to be in the direct care for others, rather than see each patient as a diagnosis to treat. My confirmation to my career choice happened when my dad passed away in 2001. My goal in life was to help others in the way I wish I could’ve done for my dad.
College was complicated for me in the sense that I knew what I wanted to do in life, but it was a question of “How do I get there?” My mom couldn’t afford to put me in school, so I decided to do an accelerated two-year Associate degree at Austin Community College since it was more affordable and I could pay for it on my own. Going to a community college versus a traditional four-year university initially made me feel inferior to my friends. I wanted to have the normal college life, but I had to work full-time while also going to school full-time.
The nursing program I was in at ACC was very intense. The class you start with is guaranteed to dwindle to half its size after completion. Each year, you have to overcome the chances of failing out of the program or being asked to leave for other circumstances. The exams themselves are purposely tough in order to prepare us for the Registered Nurse License Exam (NCLEX); and the program is known all over Austin hospitals for graduating very skilled and knowledgeable nurses—even when compared to university-educated nurses such as those attending the nearby University of Texas program. The reason for this level of refined skill is because ACC’s program is heavy on clinical experience. The program boasts a higher NCLEX percentage pass rate for first-time test takers than many four-year schools. At the end of my program, I had experience in most of the city’s major hospitals and networked with clinical managers in the Austin area.
What is a typical day like on the job for you?
I work in a pediatric clinic, Austin Diagnostic Clinic, that houses 12 physicians. I usually work alongside the physicians, triage incoming calls, or work as a “shot nurse.”
If I work directly with a physician, a typical day can be rooming patients for routine check-ups or sick visits, taking vitals, administering vaccines and medications, educating parents, drawing labs, or performing procedures (cleaning out ears, testing for strep, cleaning and bandaging wounds, to name a few), and calling parents to follow up on sick kiddos or to update them on lab results.
If I am on triage calls, I take incoming calls, usually from concerned parents that call about their sick child. My job is to determine if they need to visit with the physician to be evaluated, can stay home and I advise them how to care for their child at home, or—in the most extreme of cases—I have to tell them to go to the emergency room.
And lastly, the shot nurse is simply just that—I give shots to patients. I make kids cry. They can fight (and boy, do they fight back) but I somehow get the job done. To parents of sick children, my job is to help build their child’s immune system against diseases that are common for their age.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Seeing very cute kids that come walking in to the clinic. It’s the cutest thing to see a chubby baby give you the sweetest smile. The best part is that you get to see them grow and be a part of their family in the best way. We get family Christmas cards and pictures and they hang in the offices. These families trust us to care for all of their children and we see them as family, too.
What are the biggest challenges of your job?
I think my biggest challenge is talking with highly anxious parents. Sometimes, no matter how well you try to explain or teach parents, there is nothing you can do to ease their mind. They think, “Well, you don’t understand—this is MY child that is sick.” The best way I can handle these situations is to keep calm, sympathize with them, and understand that some of these parents are first-time parents and they aren’t sure what to do.
What advice do you have for students looking to get into nursing?
My advice for college students and new grads? Network. Networking in any field or major is really important when you are looking for a job as a new grad. Make yourself stand out from the rest and landing that job you want will be easier; you can go to the most prestigious school and be highly decorated with honors, but if you have no experience or are not open to the idea of continuing to learn, you will have a hard time transitioning to the working world.
And for students pursuing nursing, take the time in nursing school to explore what areas in nursing you are interested in. Have an open mind and make sure you enjoy what you do. There are so many branches in nursing that you might not have imagined you would like to do. Maybe you’ll like teaching nursing, or even being a nurse practitioner. Others love the thrill and fast pace of being an intensive care unit nurse or an emergency room nurse. Nursing is a profession that will always be needed, so determine what your “why” is—what’s the reason you want to be a nurse? It is that “why” that will drive you to love what you do, and not just enter a career for a paycheck. The words that I live by are “If you love what you do, you don’t have to work a single day in your life.”
Homework time! Interested in exploring the field of nursing? Check out the opportunities for jobs and internships in nursing on AfterCollege.
P.S. If you’re currently a nursing student, don’t miss the AfterCollege & Hurst Review Services NCLEX Review Giveaway. A free 30-day online NCLEX review is given to one graduating nursing student at EVERY partner nursing program each spring (April) and fall (October) semester. And all AfterCollege members are entitled to a 10% discount on Hurst 90-day online NCLEX Review courses. Not sure if your school is a participating institution? Check past winners here.
Melissa Nguyen remembers when her mother asked her to be a doctor—but the fear of icky germs caused her to run and hide in the library’s literature section, where she only occasionally peeks out from to this very day. Find more of her freelance writing at www.writingsbymelissanguyen.wordpress.com.