In this Q&A, SCSU Health Center Associate Director Brigitte Stiles and senior nursing student Katherine Miller answered 10 questions about their respective experiences as a nursing student and as a career nurse.
1. What made you want to become a nurse?
Brigitte Stiles: I was interested in the medical field, and I’ve always been the type of person who likes to help. I mean, I knew in high school I wanted to be a nurse, so that’s the career path I took.
Katherine Miller: When I was in high school, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I was with her through the whole experience, and the nurses and everyone that were helping her out through the whole process—they were really great, not just to her, but to my whole family. So, then that’s when I kind of got an interest and a spark in helping others in that way.
2. Who is your inspiration in nursing?
BS: Well, it would have to be my first nursing supervisor in the emergency room that mentored me and showed me what emergency nursing entailed.
KM: My mom is definitely one just because she fought so hard when she was in breast cancer, and she was like, “You can make other people feel so great when they’re in their worst time, so you have to keep pushing through.” My grandma—she was a nurse, so she’s always telling me to keep going, it’s gonna be fine, you’re gonna make it, you’re gonna get to the end. And then my Auntie Cheryl, who just recently passed away from leukemia. She would call me after every exam. Any time I had a really stressful week, she would call me and she would say, “You know what, it’s gonna be OK, you’re gonna be fine.” And as one of her last wishes, she really wanted me to pursue and finish nursing school.
3. What made you decide to be/become the kind of nurse that you are?
BS: I have worked in the emergency room for over 20 years, and I loved it because as I always say, “Jack of all trades, master of none,” because I’ve always got a little bit of everything and I didn’t really want to specialize in one area. I like to be constantly learning, so by working in the emergency room, you were always learning different things and it was like being part of a health care team.
KM: I really like child psychology because I think a lot of issues, and a lot of reasons people are the way that they are, is rooted in childhood. And, I feel like a lot of people don’t give mental health, and everything enough credit.
4. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career/nursing education?
BS: Halfway through my career, I got Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had to be a patient. So, after going through that experience, it helped me to be more compassionate and understanding with my patients. Because I had to go through a lot of diagnostic tests and treatment, etc., for my own health issue. It just made me more compassionate.
KM: Patient safety, and the patient always comes first.
5. Biggest challenge as a nurse/nursing student?
BS: Advocating for my patients. Sometimes you run into stumbling blocks in trying to navigate and help your patient get what they need.
KM: I think being able to separate. You see a lot of crazy things in the hospital setting, even in clinical setting; I think being able to debrief about a death that you might’ve seen or a code or something, that’s probably the most challenging.
6. What do you think would be/are the most challenging aspects of meeting patients’ needs?
BS: Helping them navigate through the healthcare system. For instance [at Southern], some students don’t have health insurance, some have limited health insurance, just trying to get them what they need within. Trying to get them the resources and the help that they need.
KM: I think the most challenging aspect for meeting patients’ needs is having the patient understand the things that you’re doing. It’s a lot of times, it’s a lot of medical words, and a lot of medical usage and everything, and not everyone’s very familiar with that.
7. How do you think nursing education in general has changed in the last few decades?
BS: I think nursing has advanced quite a bit since I went to nursing school because now nurses become nurse practitioners, they can get a doctorate degree in nursing, so the education in nursing has really advanced remarkably since I became a nurse.
KM: I think patient education. That’s a huge thing that’s changed is making sure that the patient knows how to give insulin to themselves, ‘cause if they don’t, that can cause a major medical emergency that they’ll have to go back into the hospital for. Cultural competence is also a huge thing. Understanding people’s backgrounds and what is acceptable to them and what is not acceptable. I think that’s become really heavy in the nursing field, which is very important.
8. What are some misconceptions you have encountered about nursing/being a nurse/nursing student?
BS: We don’t play cards on the night shift. I think that’s insulting, OK? Because I think nurses work very hard, especially since they have a lot to do, and a lot of times they work short staffed.
KM: I think the funniest thing is like when, you know, “Grey’s Anatomy” is a really big [TV] show right now and you see all the doctors going in and doing all the procedures and the assessments and everything, and it’s funny because the nurses do most of that.
9. What advice would you give to aspiring nursing students?
BS: Don’t overthink things. Be the best caring, compassionate person you can and try to understand what your patients are going through.
KM: I would say take every mistake, every failure that you have or that you make in nursing school—it’s gonna happen, you’re not gonna do great on every exam, it’s just the way it is—take every mistake and failure and learn from it.
10. What are your goals as a nurse/nursing student?
Where do you see yourself next in your nursing career?
BS: My goals now are to retire. I’m enjoying what I do. I think the students are great here. I enjoy helping them with their healthcare issues, but truly I’m at the end of my tenure, my career.
KM: I just wanna be able to be placed in any situation and know kind of what direction to go to. You have to expect the unexpected in nursing and nursing school. So I wanna be as prepared as I can for any situation, and I wanna be able to have that empathy for the patients. So that if they are in a stressful situation, we’re stressed out, imagine how the person feels going through all that.