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Interview with a Nurse: Education and Experience Count

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Written by NS StaffJune 30, 2011

Q: What drew you to nursing? Were other members of your family nurses and doctors?

Jean Pachelbel: When I was six years old, I was a patient in a hospital for a tonsillectomy. The nurse who prepared me for surgery came in to my room to give me a pre-operative injection. She stood beside me and raised the syringe to make sure there were no air bubbles in it. The needle was just above my head. It had a barbed hook on the end that probably looked much larger to me than it actually was. She put that barb against the skin of my buttock and pushed while telling me, "This won't hurt." When she left the room, I told my mother that I was going to be a nurse when I grew up because I knew I could do a better job than that!

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There were no other family members who were in the medical professions. My mother wanted to be a nurse, but she had an aunt who was a nurse who discouraged her. That was in the 1920's when nurses worked twelve hour shifts, six days a week. Aunt Jesse paid my mother's tuition to become a school teacher.

Q: What was school like? Did you start out studying towards an RN, or did you want to specialize?

JP: Going to school was an adventure because I left a town of 1000 population, rode for 8 hours and 250 miles on the train to Philadelphia where they had streetcars and subways. We had doctors who did most of our lectures and were experts in their fields. I knew when I started that my first goal was my RN. My long term goal was to specialize in Pediatrics. My training period included practical experience and gave me a broad range of exposure to many kinds of nursing. As it turned out, I did specialize in Pediatrics---I raised four children of my own.

Q: At your first job after school, was it anything like you expected? What was your first job?

JP: My first job after graduation was private duty nursing. It was like a deep breath after the heavy schedule of studying. I was scolded by the director of nursing. "We need good nurses like you at the bedside." I told her I needed a chance to practice all that I had learned. I must say that I was also attracted to private duty because I could make the top dollar being offered at the time, $12 per day. To put that into perspective, in 1952 my room mate and I shared the $75 rent each month for our furnished apartment.

Q: How did you manage your work schedule and your real life? Did you find it hard to balance everything?

JP: Managing to keep a balance between my work and the rest of my life was not hard. It did take some arranging after I started a family, but nurses were in demand in the job market and most hospitals allowed a flexible schedule.

Q: How did the more experienced nurses treat you and other new nurses?

JP: Most of the older nurses took we new nurses under their wing and gave us plenty of chances to grow. They remembered how it felt when they started.

Q: Did it get easier to work with patients as you went along?

JP: It did get easier to work with patients as I got more experience. Each case provided another chapter in my knowledge base. As I tried to teach my patients good health practices, they taught me about cultural differences. I learned to respect those differences.

Q: What was your favorite nursing task?

JP: Teaching a patient to understand their disease, to relax their fear, and to see them getting well was a favorite nursing task.

Q: What was your least favorite?

JP: The hardest job was to watch a child die. The pain of the loss seemed harder to deal with.

Q: If you knew then, what you know now, what would you tell yourself?

JP: If I knew then what I know now, I would tell myself, "Good choice!" I had a job for over fifty years that I did not always like, but I always loved it. I learned so much about myself while I learned about taking care of others. It made me a better wife, mother, and person. At one point in my career I thought I wanted to be a doctor. Now I know that being a nurse allowed me to be much closer to the people in my care. Although nurses make much better pay now for their work, there are other rewards.

Jean Pachelbel grew up in Pennsylvania, went to nursing school at Thomas Jefferson Medical School, and met and married a traveling salesman. Their careers could not have meshed better; they moved nine times in the first 25 years of our marriage. Wherever they lived, she could go to work as a nurse almost immediately. She gained experience in all areas of bedside nursing, out patient care, and loved working in teaching hospitals. All those years of experience got her ready for the last 18 years of her career: doing telephone advice. She had a blast. Talking to 85 to 100 patients a day often presented a challenge. As much as she loved problem solving, one of the greatest lessons she had to learn was that she could not solve ALL the problems.

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