Meg: The healthcare community right now seems just really exhausted. You know that they need new people who are fresh, who are eager to work and help, who are optimistic, who can maybe inject some, I don't know, some brightness into what has been a really dark time. And through even the most difficult days of school, that just always is this marching tune in the back of my brain. Just get there and do it and get out there and start helping.
Welcome to Redefine U. I’m Dan Baum. Join us as we continue to explore what happens when we’re challenged to change our thoughts, beliefs or even who we think we are.
Do you think of yourself as brave? What makes some people want to run toward a crisis, instead of away? Could you trade the comfort of a desk job to put yourself in harm’s way daily to help strangers?
In this episode, we’ll talk with Meg Hamilton, a nursing student at AACC, about leaving her career in I.T., her passion for nursing and her openness to risk.
Meg: Hi. My name is Meg Hamilton, and in a couple of days, I'm officially starting my third semester with the AACC nursing program.
Dan: Excellent. Well, it's nice to talk to you, Meg. How are you holding up during this pandemic?
Meg: I think I am all right. I'm okay. I probably have had a much different experience with this pandemic than most people. Last April, I actually got sick and ended up having COVID, and it was awful.
Dan: Oh, no.
Meg: Yeah. And then unfortunately the few weeks I had anticipated being sick turned into several months. And I found out in, I think towards the end of May, that there was a word for people like me who had lingering symptoms. So, I am officially a COVID long-hauler, which means that I got COVID and then sort of never really fully recovered. So I'm still dealing with some lingering effects, but I'm really happy to say that, I think since the beginning of January, I've probably had my longest consecutive stretch of days where I felt better. So, I'm hanging in there and doing my best, but different probably than most people.
Dan: I'm sorry to hear that. That's tough.
Dan: How many are in your household?
Meg: So, it's my husband and I, and he's a nurse, and then we have a 10-year-old son. So just the three of us.
Dan: And then your 10-year-old must be studying online.
Meg: Yeah. But you know what, he really loves it. He's excelling. So, I think he's doing better academically this year and is more focused than we've ever seen him. So we've been really lucky.
Dan: Oh, that's terrific. How about yourself? How has the transition to online learning been?
Meg: I really can't complain. I actually am probably in the small percentage of people who really like online learning. It's really well suited to my schedule because I'm still working full time right now and balancing school in there. So, for me, it's been amazing, and I think probably without the online component and having the COVID and everything like that, I think I probably would have had to maybe wait a semester or two until I was feeling better if I hadn't been able to do a large amount of my schooling online. So for me, it's been really a blessing in disguise in a funny way.
Dan: Well, you mentioned that you've been working. So you did not originally attend college to study nursing. What did you originally study, when and what have you been doing since?
Meg: So, it's a funny, sort of long story, but I actually did start college to end up in nursing. But my very first day of school at Towson, my advisor was the head of the psychology department and he gave this speech to all of his advisees, and I just fell in love with his view of psychology and everything that he described about working with people and figuring out their motivations and how they think, and just being able to observe relationships and groups of people. And I immediately changed my major. So I studied psychology and graduated with a degree in that.
I think that I probably started to regret not going into nursing very shortly thereafter, but this was in 2008. So, the US was at that point heading into that really terrible recession. And I knew it was coming and I was eager to just start working immediately. So I ended up taking a federal job that I applied for and actually ended up working in IT.
So right now I'm a webmaster and a graphic designer. I'm part of a small team. We manage about 10,000 web pages for our organization. So, a very different path to get here. But after all this time, I'm finally back and I am finally studying to be in medicine and nursing. So I'm really excited.
Dan: Well, that's exciting. Nothing wrong with being a webmaster and doing graphic design, by the way, I should point out. So, what do you think has held you back from pursuing nursing sooner?
Meg: I'm sure there's a lot of factors. School can be expensive sometimes. I ended up having my son not too long after I graduated, I think maybe only two years after college. So then I had a little kid at home, and part of me really wanted to wait until he was older and a little bit more independent so that I could focus on school without feeling like I was taking anything away from that. And not to put down parents who make that difficult choice. I mean, I work with some moms who are just incredible and can balance everything. But, so that was definitely a part of it. The other part of it was just needing to work and establish myself and pay bills and things like that. But the timing finally, after this long stretch, finally all lined up and it happened really fast, sort of out of nowhere unexpectedly, but it worked and we're here and I'm finally doing it.
Dan: That's great. Did you sense any risks involved in switching careers?
Meg: When I talk about switching careers, when I tell people that I'm back in school and what I'm going to school for, people often are really just surprised and can't figure out why I would leave a cushy government job and an IT job. But for me, I think it's just, my heart feels really called to work in medicine. And if anything, I think the pandemic and having COVID just cemented that even more into place. I love the work that I do right now. I think it's incredibly fascinating, but anybody who's known me for the past 15 years knows how often I talked about coming back to school and doing it. So for me to finally be here, it's almost like I don't think about the risks too much just because I'm ready for it and I want it so, so bad, and everything else is kind of secondary to that.
Dan: It can be tough though, if you're getting some negative feedback from others. Have you had some helpers on the journey that have been encouraging?
Meg: My family has been really amazing. Like I said, they know that I've wanted this for such a long time. And I think for them, knowing that I'm finally having the opportunity to pursue this and try it out, they have totally been on my side. And then my husband is a nurse as well. He has been just the biggest advocate and he's been so supportive of this the whole time. So I think between family and him, and then my closest friends, I don't think anybody was surprised to see me get to this point. And doesn't have any doubt, really, I think about me doing this. So, that's really wonderful.
Dan: Yeah, tell me more about this passion. Obviously, there was some internal dialogue to convince yourself to pursue at this time. Tell me a little more about that.
Meg: So, like I said, when I started college at Towson in 2004, I wanted to go into nursing, and I wanted at that point to go because as a senior in high school, I had shadowed some friends who were already in university and one of them was my god-sister and she was a nursing major. So I got to spend the day sitting through her nursing lectures and just loved how complex they were and how fascinating I found them to be. But then when faced with actually pursuing it myself, I was 18 years old and I'm sure that that's part of it, but there was a part of me, and I'm so embarrassed to admit this, but there was a part of me that felt almost grossed out by some of the medical aspects of it. And I remember just being 18 and young and just being like, "Oh, I really don't want to have to give people bed baths." So I was like, "I'll just do something else. I'll pursue other avenues. And then I won't have to do this."
But I think as I've gotten older and I've had a kid, I also spent a few years working in a barn with horses. And when you're shoveling 400 pounds of manure on a weekly basis, I think you really get past some of the being grossed out by almost anything honestly. And I think I just maybe grew up a little bit and realized that through all of this time, all these years, I still felt just so called to help people and to feel like I made a difference.
There's a joke in government work that you are just a person in a seat, and if you leave the very next day, they'll have that seat filled by somebody else, and basically your absence won't be felt. And I think I got to a point where I was old enough and I had done it for long enough where that didn't feel like enough for me anymore. And I was willing to take the jump, even if it meant a totally different career and having to start over to be a person who had a job that impacted people around me more directly. And even though I've heard people say similar things about nursing careers, but I think that for your patients and their families, the people you work with, that once you've had that initial impact on them, that really stays with them. And I think that's where my heart is. That's what I want out of life.
Dan: Oh yeah, I applaud that, and I really appreciate your candor. If you could've seen me, I was laughing at recognition, having two kids. I think in the beginning, when you think you've got to change a dirty diaper, and then at a certain point, when you see them as infants just really sick or not knowing how to get rid of phlegm or they throw up on themselves, you get past the gross part, and you're just this enormous compassion for them. I recognize what you're saying.
I've spoken candidly on this podcast about my personal experience, the number of nurses our family had when my mother was ill. We depended on them. We needed them. They became part of our family. So I really applaud what you're saying and your passion.
It must not be the easiest program then, and we're in a pandemic. So, what's keeping you motivated at this point?
Meg: That's a good question. I think I just love it so hard that I don't mind that it has its hard moments or that it's challenging. I think that the pandemic makes me at least even more eager to hurry up and finish just to get out there and be a helping hand to just shoulder some of the responsibility. The healthcare community right now seems really exhausted. You know that they need new people who are fresh. And working in my job for so long, because I've been in IT for almost 13 years now, we always joke that the new people coming onto our staff are so fresh and new and optimistic. And I think that probably is true of any field. I just feel like that's what the nursing community, the medical community needs right now is fresh people who are eager to work and help, who are optimistic, who can maybe inject some, I don't know, some brightness into what has been a really dark time. So, I just want so badly to finish so that I can jump in and get started and help, and through even the most difficult days of school, that just always is this marching tune in the back of my brain. Just get there and do it and get out there and start helping.
Dan: Do you have any concerns about entering this profession during a global pandemic?
Meg: I think it would be silly not to have some concerns, especially after being one of the people who ended up with, as part of the pandemic. So I think there's always that little bit of fear or worry, but I think that, that might be a good thing. This pandemic alone is only one piece of what you have to worry about in healthcare. There's still things like TB and other infections and viruses, bacteria that you come into contact with on a regular basis that are just as dangerous or worrisome. So I think even without the pandemic, there's always a little bit of worry, but I think when you use that worry to keep you safe, to make sure that you follow procedures and protocol, I think it helps you out. I think there's a smart dose of fear, but hopefully one that will just motivate good habits and safety. So, yeah.
Dan: That’s a really good perspective. What do you hope to do in the future? What’s your path or plan?
Meg: I wish I had a better answer right now for that. Before last semester, I had never walked into a hospital as a non-patient, or parent of a patient, or something like that. I’m still very, very new to hospitals and figuring out how everything works, and I love every moment of it so far. I feel like I’m just a sponge, I’m still just trying to experience as much as possible. I have really no idea where it’s going to take me. I would love eventually to end up in either a very advanced practice with certifications that are highly specialized or possibly even as a nurse practitioner. I also really like being open to just seeing where all of this leads and figuring out what I love and what calls to me. So I guess we'll see. I just don't have ... no hard plans yet.
Dan: Yeah. Lots of possibilities. Has your husband given you any advice on what he thinks?
Meg: He is really, really fun to talk to about all of this. He's been a nurse for such a long time, I think, 16 years. So he has a great instinct and we talked often about where he thinks I'll end up and what sort of specialties he thinks that I would be well suited to. That's been really fun to find out and it's been really fun to see if he's been right or not when I go to clinicals and experience different floors. I think he also sees me in some sort of advanced specialty, just because I think that's my personality, is to really find something that I like and then dig deep into it. I don't think either of us would be surprised if that's what happened.
Dan: Of course, we all know nurses don't work nine to five. Have you all talked about what schedules would be like with raising a child in that environment? Do you see that as really helpful that you'll have these different kinds of schedules or do you perceive some challenges? What have you all talked about? Or have you talked about?
Meg: We definitely have talked about it. He, actually right now, is very lucky. Before the pandemic, he was working in a traditional hospital job, as well as a federal nursing job that isn't nine to five. When the pandemic started, both of his jobs had asked for him to just choose one, to kind of like contain the risk of spreading COVID back and forth. So he's doing the nine to five job right now. It's nice to know that there are opportunities out there to make it a more traditional job if that's what I want to do. But I think we're trying really hard not to worry too early right now. We have a full another year before I can even start working full-time. If last year taught us anything at all, it was just to not plan too far in advance and not to stress out and try and figure things out before they happen.
Dan: So true. You're obviously getting some really great technical skills in your program, but what would you say you've gained most by going back to college?
Meg: That's a tough question. There's so many different ways to answer that. Before I started school, I had heard that the friends that you make in nursing school are some of the best friends that you'll ever have, and that has definitely been so very true so far. Some of the people I've met, I'm incredibly close with, just closer than almost anybody else that I know, and very quickly, but I think there's also been a lot of validation that I've gained for myself.
I did well in school the first time that I went and I liked psychology a lot, I found it really fascinating. But it's incredible to go back to school as an adult who's older and just in a really different place in life, and work incredibly hard and study. I think it almost just means more to me now than it did when I was 18 and 20 and 22. It's amazing to sort of put my whole heart into it and work as hard as I possibly can and succeed on a level that I just never really reached as my first time through, to feel this sort of love and passion for what I'm studying, and everything that I learn and experience.
Meg: I feel almost like I got a second chance to do school, and I feel like somehow, even though it's hard to explain, like somehow I'm doing it just the right way now.
Dan: Has that changed your self-perception in any way?
Meg: I like to think that I am so much braver now, and not to say that I haven't been brave earlier in my life. I think I do a lot of things that other people would consider brave, but I feel this freedom to be incredibly brave and intelligent and successful in what I do right now, this like, almost permission, to just work to my full potential, I think it takes a lot to walk into a hospital with no experience and jump in, especially in a pandemic. I really feel brave these days.
Dan: Oh, I totally agree. I think you're very brave. Would you say you're redefining yourself in that way or in some other way?
Meg: Yeah, I think so. I'm in my mid-thirties now and I feel like I can look back and I can see different periods of time where I have redefined myself already. So I don't think that this is like the first time that I've done it. I think I've had other stages in life where I've managed to accomplish this, but I think this is definitely the beginning of a new stage of my life, a new chapter. I'm really proud of it right now, and I really like it, and that is incredibly fulfilling.
Dan: Yeah, you should be proud. What advice would you offer fellow students or people considering returning to school?
Meg: Find and get into a rhythm before you even start, meaning just to develop all of the habits in your day-to-day life that will help support you in school. To have a schedule and days where you do things, a specific day for laundry, a specific day where you commit to taking care of yourself, a day where you will spend time with your family, or times of days that you'll do that, just so that you have a rhythm and a pattern that you're used to and that works for you, before you get overwhelmed with classwork and lectures and homework. If you're in a medical program when you're in clinical settings, so that you can really focus on school and not worry so much about all of the different facets of family life that go into supporting you as a student.
I just hope it makes sense to people what I mean. That has been one of the biggest favors that I've done for myself, was I feel like I've spent the year or two that I was doing prerequisites for the program, just getting into a habit and a rhythm. So that by the time I started nursing school, my personal life felt really organized and supportive.
Dan: That's good advice. Meg, it has been really great to talk to you. I disagree with the government perspective, the world of web and graphic design will miss you, but thank you so much for pursuing this profession. We need you and appreciate you.
I just hear so much compassion in your description and your passion for nursing. You're going to be fantastic. Take care and be well.
Meg: Thank you so much, you too.
Meg is pursuing her passion by leaving a job in IT for a career in nursing. She’s driven by a desire to help people and make a difference in their lives. And despite being a COVID long-hauler, she’s running toward the crisis — compassionate, determined and brave.
So many have shown great courage during this pandemic. Our first thoughts go to the healthcare workers, the emergency responders and other essential personnel. We really can’t thank them enough.
There are other forms of bravery that many have shown during this time as well – caring for loved ones, feeding the homeless or even wearing a mask despite ridicule. The little acts of courage can go unnoticed – from learning something new to changing an old habit. Often these are the early and necessary steps to making lasting change.
Not everyone feels called to be a nurse. But many of us can identify with the desire to do something meaningful, pursue a passion or start fresh, which can require a leap of faith. We have to put aside our fears to take action. Are you called to something? If so, what’s holding you back? What step can you take to be more brave?
Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College. Our executive producer and creative director is Allison Baumbusch. Our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte and our writer, Amy Carr Willard.
Others who helped with this podcast include Amanda Behrens, Angie Hamlet, Ben Pierce and Alicia Renehan.
Special thanks to Meg Hamilton.
Find show notes, how to subscribe and other extras on our website: aacc.edu/podcast.
I’m your host and creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.