Those 3 little words…that get me all tingly from head to toe…BACK. TO. SCHOOL. Yeah, I get it…most people probably feel horror-movie chills as opposed to a buzz of excitement when hearing that phrase, but what can I say? Back to School Season GIVES. ME. LIFE. Don’t get me wrong, after graduating nursing school I was MORE than ready for a break from academia. I had spent the last 16 years of my life operating on a “school calendar year” and putting school first and I was SO READY to finally put LIFE first instead. And I did. It has felt so wonderful to LIVE these past few years post-graduation…to travel, to move to and explore new places, to focus on my career and developing professionally, to write FOR FUN, and to just focus on creating an independent life for myself.
But now I can tell I’m itching to hit the books again, to flex my brain, and to take this next leap of faith on my nursing journey. Going back to school has been in the plan for quite a while. I knew I needed time to rest and recharge, and now it’s time get back at it.
In just a few weeks I’ll be starting on the path to obtain my DNP (Doctorate of Nursing Practice) Degree from Creighton University. By the end of my specific program, I will be a Dual Certified (Acute/Critical Care and Primary Care) Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and I may even add on a Certificate in Nursing Education, who knows? So how did I decide on this school, this program, this degree? I know deep in my soul that I am meant to serve and care for the pediatric population. I want to gain a deeper understanding of pediatric health, to learn more about contributing to nursing research, and to engage in the important clinical and academic work that advanced practice nurse leaders are doing in this day and age. I want to share my knowledge with others, by educating families and patients, and by mentoring nursing students. But I’m not sure WHERE I want to do this work. Primary, Acute, Critical Care, Specialty Clinics, some combination of all of that…I want a degree that will work for me, and allow me the most flexibility possible to create a career that can adapt to my life as it inevitably changes. And I wanted similar flexibility with the school itself. I’m approaching school in a different stage of life this time: I have a career I’m working on, a job, a life outside of all of that to balance. Creighton has designed this program to be online, requiring a short visit to campus once a semester for in-person clinical skill days, seminars, and workshops. But I can continue my current job, set up clinical rotations in my home area, and complete school work on my own schedule.
One of my favorite things about Creighton is their emphasis on the value cura personalis. This Latin term translates to “care of the entire person”…THIS is what it should mean to be a nurse, or any sort of healthcare provider. We’re taught in nursing school how to address ALL areas of a patient’s health (physical, emotional, social, etc.) and it makes so much sense when you study how all these different areas of health affect one another, but incorporating this into real-life practice is easier said than done. Healthcare workers and patients/families may often have similar “to do” lists for the patient situation, but they often prioritize different things. As providers we tend to prioritize interventions and data and physical health, making it more “about the numbers”. We often approach care in a checklist format, a list of things we need to get done to help the patient move towards recovery. I’ve found it’s more common though for patients and families to prioritize feelings and sensations and more personalized health goals instead (caring more about feeling less pain, being able to walk to the unit door to greet a visitor, being able to hold their baby to bottle feed them at last….less about what their net fluid balance will be for the day, how many milliliters of milk they drank, etc.) Not to say both parties can’t care about the same things…they often do. Families become deeply involved in their child’s care, and they do know about “the numbers”, the goals for intake and output and hemodynamic monitoring parameters and what they mean to the team of providers. And observant, involved providers genuinely care about the more personal goals of their patients. Much like in any type of relationship, it takes both parties being able to articulate their priorities and work to balance those priorities together so that everyone involved can be satisfied with the overall outcome.
It takes conscious effort and discipline to put cura personalis into practice. And the more I’ve reflected on it, the more I realize this value shouldn’t just apply to the care I provide my patients and families, but to how I care for myself as well, and how I approach life as a student. In the past, I had the tendency to focus on “the numbers” (grades, scores, getting my checklist of work done on time) and less on balance and prioritizing more “holistic” goals, like “feeling balanced this week between being productive and relaxing/being social”. I wasn’t always caring for myself as a whole person. I know there are others out there who have been in my shoes, and while we should certainly be proud of our accomplishments, we can always strive to try to achieve more balance.
Distance learning is going to be hard. It’s going to be lonely at times. Frustrating, confusing, overwhelming. It’s going to take an elevated level of discipline to maintain balance now. But it’s going to be worth it. I just need to remember my “why”, and focus on caring for myself as a WHOLE person. This isn’t just something I’m going to “get through” or just “get done as fast as I can”. I’m entering a new chapter of life and embarking on a journey…I want it to feel like an EXPERIENCE, not just a checklist of classes and assignments and exams I need to finish. I’m sure I’ll have good weeks and bad weeks. I’ll feel balanced for a few days, and then fall short. But I’m no stranger to getting up and pressing on after falling down (both literally and figuratively). It’s all about that ongoing journey to creating a sustainable balanced lifestyle, and striving to translate cura personalis into reality.