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Working in LTC was like Coming Home

From about the age of three, when I first bandaged up my dog to be my patient, I wanted to be a nurse.  As the youngest of my extended family, I was exposed to hospitals and nursing homes at a young age.  I loved the nurses in their white uniforms who seemed to magically be able to make people well again.

When I was in nursing school, I never thought of long-term care as an area of practice for me. My grandparents received long-term care 40 years ago. Forty years ago in long-term care was a very different picture than it is today, with the majority of time spent in bed, no socialization, and no psychosocial care. I couldn’t envision ever working in that type of environment, but it’s a whole different world now. 

I was fresh out of nursing school, and like all new graduate nurses, I went into the hospital environment, as that was what you were encouraged to do. I worked on the med/surg floor and intensive care. Once I was burnt out working the hospital route, I went into private practice working for a physician. That was like going from the frying pan into cold water. ICU is very busy, very demanding, and you work a lot of hours in the hospital, while private practice was a 9-5 job with a slower pace. This wasn’t for me either, and ultimately led me to my destiny — long-term care.

In long-term care, I’ve held several different positions: floor nurse, MDS coordinator, assistant director of nursing, director of nursing, regional director of nursing, regional clinical reimbursement specialist, corporate reimbursement specialist, and now my current position, senior vice president of health and wellness for a 20-chain CCRC and hospice company with locations in Kansas and Missouri. 

I was trying to find the niche that I felt most comfortable in and that made me the happiest. When I entered into long-term care, it really felt like I was “home.” I was able to build relationships with the patients and the families and make a bigger difference than I ever thought possible. 

For me, long-term care is about constantly improving the quality of life for residents. It’s about long-term care being a home, not a hospital.  

As a nurse leader, it’s important to me that the staff is engaged with the residents and the residents are engaged together. This family-like atmosphere between the residents and staff creates a bond, which is like an extension of their immediate family.  

In my current position, I oversee all of the clinical operations and education for the entire company. It is a constant evaluation of processes–how do we do it better? At heart, I’m always looking for how can we improve the lives of our residents and staff. I like to think because I’ve walked in those shoes and been in their positions that I understand where the staff nurse or the CNA is coming from. I understand the importance of making it easy and simple for them so they can spend their job doing what makes their job worthwhile, which is improving the quality of life for our residents. 

My advice for someone looking to go into long-term care nurse leadership would be to take the leap. If someone hadn’t encouraged me once, “Go ahead. Try it! What’s the worst that can happen?” I might not have found my perfect practice arena. Long-term care was the best thing for me, because it is so incredibly satisfying to make a difference. It’s more than you think it is; it’s not just a job. It’s better than you think it is, because it is one of the few realms of nursing where you get to build a relationship with the families and residents, which is what makes your job worthwhile every day.  

To any students or new nurses out there, I encourage you to have the willingness to take that step and be willing to be that agent of change. The long-term care profession only gets better if we make it better. It doesn’t happen if you sit on the sidelines. You really have to use your voice and take the chance that you can really make a difference. 

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