Why did you decide to become an NP? What drew you to functional medicine?
This is part 1 of 2 because the answer is too long to reasonably fit on one blog post!
I get asked this question a fair amount. People are curious about what draws their providers to make the choices they have, and they want to know more so they can decide if their experience matches what they need. Typically, in my office, it’s a simple answer: a few sentences that summarize my choice and the type of medicine I believe in. But as I continue to be asked this, and as I continue to evolve as a person and provider, I’ve been able to reflect on my choices. There are multiple pieces to this answer, with some of it being tied into my own health journey. I have shared some of that over on Instagram and will continue to share in the future. I wanted to put into better words some of what’s led me on this journey!
I remember when I decided to go into nursing school, I didn’t really know what to expect. I just knew it was a profession where I could combine my love of science and emerging love of health with helping people. Medical school was only partially on the table—my father is a physician and I often envisioned caring for people the way he did. But when I realized the reality of medical school, I didn’t think I wanted that life. I explored becoming a nurse and it seemed like a great compromise that would allow me to meet my professional and personal goals. So off to nursing school, I went!
One of the first things we learn in school is about the “art of nursing” which is, in part, the art of compassion and caring. It’s about listening to the people under our care and really understanding what they are going through in order to really serve them. It’s whole-person care, which I connected with because I knew the importance of addressing health from multiple angles because I had been a patient, too.
When I started working in the hospital, I soon realized the art of nursing was not what I had envisioned. My colleagues deeply cared about people, but the fast-paced, task-oriented mentality of hospital care meant there was little time left to spend getting to know our patients outside of their illness or their immediate needs. The sad truth is nursing is not the same now as my more experienced colleagues remember it when they began as nurses.
I remember one time, a couple of years into my career, working with a patient who unfortunately frequented the hospital. She was being treated for diabetes and COPD, as well as Clostridium difficile. If you’ve never worked in a hospital with someone being treated for C. diff, you don’t realize how difficult it is for both the patient and the providers. The staff has to gown and glove up before they can enter the room, which means the patient has to wait longer to have their needs met. And they don’t feel good—C. diff is a bacteria that infects the gut and gives you frequent, fowl-smelling diarrhea. When you have to go, you have to go! I had a rare instance of time to spend with her. She had a book on her bedside table she had been trying to read, but she was feeling so poorly it was hard for her to focus on the words. I offered to read to her and sat with her for a period of time, just reading. She was profoundly grateful, she told me. And at future visits when I cared for her, she would reminisce on how much she appreciated this seemingly small gesture.
This is what I envisioned nursing, and healthcare in general, to be. The sad reality is instances like this are rare. It’s not because we don’t care. It’s because we don’t have time. We feel rushed to provide care—both in and out of the hospital—because we know we have to move on to the next task to meet productivity levels and meet everyone’s needs.
It’s an impossible job some days. But it also can be so rewarding. Twenty minutes of my time reading a book to a patient seemed trivial to me, but to her, it helped her get through a difficult time. This simple human connection is vital to us providing whole-person care.
Stay tuned for part 2, where I talk about becoming a functional medicine nurse practitioner.