Destined for Nursing: Linking the Past With the Present
Angee Kilmer, BSN, RN-BC
Angee Kilmer is the nursing supervisor of Radiation Oncology for the University of Kansas Cancer Centers. She is a member of the Kansas City Chapter of Health Information and Management Society and the social media board chair of the Heart of America Chapter of the American Nursing Informatics Association. Currently pursuing both an MSN and MBA, Angee is an aspiring leader at her institution. Outside of radiation oncology, her interests include systems improvement and leadership development.
Growing up, I wanted to be an archaeologist or an architect. But as a nurse, I found that same sense of adventure.
Before attending a recent nursing retreat by LinkedIn’s Community Activation Team, the organizer asked the attendees what the most significant issue in nursing was today. The attendees were applicants of LinkedIn’s “Future Leaders of Nursing” program, FLoN’s for short (ironically, referencing Florence Nightingale). I was honored to be accepted as one of the applicants chosen who are described as, “nurses with a passion in their field, a desire to teach and learn from the communities that surround them.” Those of us selected are from all over the United States and hold a multitude of roles: from entrepreneur to nursing director, from new graduate nurse to a PhD prepared researcher; and came from every specialty throughout healthcare: medical device, intensive care, informatics, cardiology, education, oncology, and long-term care to name only a few. Though the path each nurse traveled was different, they all seemed to have witnessed the same issue no matter where they were: burnout.
We were all appreciative when we learned that the organizer booked a workshop about burnout. The speaker, Kristina Leonardi, began the session with exercises that asked us to look inward at ourselves, ironically, not addressing anything about nursing or our careers, just asking us to look at ourselves. We wrote down our likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc. — the usual feel-good things for a detailed, social media profile. At first, we thought this was a bit strange since we were all there as nurses at a nursing conference. In fact, all we wanted to do at the beginning of the day was to meet the other nurses we had come to know in the LinkedIn group, learn more about their nursing practices, get practice input, and give and receive nursing advice. We were all so excited to finally meet one another and then the momentum seemed to be brought down by taking the focus away from nursing.
One of the questions we were asked was: “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”. As an 80s kid in a town with a population of 400, I wanted to go on adventures like The Goonies and Indiana Jones; I wanted to learn about other places and the people there, so I wanted to be an archeologist. Later, when I decided that would be too dangerous, and having romanticized a life in “the city,” I decided I wanted to be an architect. I thought it would be fabulously urban and chic, until I found out how many hours they worked and how cut-throat the competition was. Then, a myriad of life experiences — including having my first child – led me to the profession of nursing and I have not looked back.
Then I made the connection between what I do now and what I dreamed of doing as a child. I thought deep down to the core of why being an archeologist or architect were so appealing. I wanted to be an archaeologist because I wanted to be an investigator who discovered people’s stories. I wanted to be an architect because I wanted to inspire using creativity. “Wow,” I said to myself, “I get to do this every day as a nurse!” I am doing exactly what my heart has longed for. When I staff in for my team, my investigation is assessment of a patient’s history, family dynamic, education level, and care coordination. This is especially important for oncology nurses as our patients have so many elements of care to navigate. As a front-line nursing supervisor, I use creativity in my approach with my nursing team to be inspired to strive for excellence.
This realization gave me a renewed vigor for what I do “for a living.” What I am doing as an oncology nurse and as a leader is what my personality has been drawn to over an entire lifetime. For me, this understanding is a key piece in a solid foundation to remain resilient in the face of burnout, or, more appropriately, moral distress — which is a whole other article. I hope that sharing this realization can inspire oncology nurses as it did me.