By Matt Skoufalos

Christina Bobco is the kind of student who excelled in high school without blinking an eye and graduated without any clear vision for her future. So after high school, she spent some time at  Gloucester County College figuring it out.

“My mom’s an X-ray tech, so I thought, ‘Ultrasound sounds cool,’”
Bobco remembers. “Pharmacy sounded awesome, but I hated how stuffy the school was.”

An anatomy teacher asked her, “What do you want to do?” and pushed Bobco towards nursing, so did her mother’s best friend, a nurse whom she’d always regarded as a mentor. Nursing “just seemed like something she did versus being her life,” Bobco said; it gave a model for how to refine her vocational focus, inspiring her to “be professional but light-spirited.”

“You should work to live, not live to work,” Bobco said. “You have to have a balance.”

That distinction in no way diminished the workload she faced even after winning a full scholarship to Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The school is known for its immersive co-op experience, which places students in vocational roles throughout their courses of study. Bobco was in a nursing class of 15—the first that the university had enrolled in the program. Five years later, she was back on campus, delivering remarks to a graduating class of 120.

Bobco completed two cooperative learning experiences with Lourdes Health System in the course of her studies, spending six months apiece in PACU and critical care nursing environments. When she was ready to graduate, the institution took her on full-time, in part because of her additional vocational experience beyond the student clinical experience. Fresh out of college, Bobco began working bedside as a newly minted critical care nurse. Many of her patients were recovering from cardiac episodes, and she worked the night shift, learning by doing.

“They would throw me to the wolves,” Bobco said. “They would let me sink, and then come in at the last second and show me what to do. After my orientation, they were no longer precepting me, because I knew what I was supposed to do, but what was missing was the mentorship that would help me appreciate the finesse of the job.”

Bobco welcomed all of it; fell in love with balloon pumps, swan ganz catheters, and learning how to titrate medications precisely. She also viewed critical care nursing as a critical springboard to anesthesia school, which was where she believed she’d find her ultimate career path. After racking up six figures’ worth of student loans, she was finally ready to take the national certification examination – right as she was finalizing her divorce.

She never passed the test.

School again had come easy to Bobco, but it had also become a refuge while the rest of her life grew too overwhelming to manage. When it was all done, she knew she could do the job, but couldn’t pass the test to earn her certification. It was a major personal setback, and yet failing was the very thing that again helped her find clarity around her career plans. It was also something she had to face publicly.

“I had to face people that I was in school with,” Bobco said. “You pick it up, put your big-girl panties on. They don’t live your life. They’re not paying your bills. Things happen for reasons.”

Bobco took up travel nursing, and eventually parlayed that experience into a local per-diem job. She remembers the challenges of the position falling far short of any of the stresses she’d encountered in critical care or in anesthesia school. And along the way, she met and married her second husband, with whom she has two young boys.

Live to work, not work to live.

“I got caught up in trying to make a decision,” Bobco said. “[Anesthesia nursing] is a nice paycheck, but that shouldn’t be the only reason why you go to work. Nursing fulfills your heart. It fulfills your soul. When you don’t have that or lose that, you’re done.”

Today, Bobco is no longer working at the bedside, but neither is she chasing continuing education credits with a paycheck in mind. Instead, she works as a clinical nurse educator at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, New Jersey. It’s a lower-acuity setting than her critical-care positions with Lourdes – she’s at a community hospital, not a teaching hospital – but the benefits of her expertise and scholastic acumen are now turned towards helping to advance the careers of the nursing professionals around her.

“My job is new hires, and I have to make sure they’re aligned with certain preceptors, making certain benchmarks,” Bobco said. “What I’m finding is that that lack of mentorship after the preceptor’s done, it’s missing, either because the person’s not selecting that mentor themselves or the system’s not set up to have that mentorship.”

Instead, Bobco is helping her charges learn to reach out for what they need, the better to provide for their own professional and emotional welfare, all while helping build a workplace more aligned with both.

“A closed mouth doesn’t get fed,” she said. “If you don’t speak up, you’re not going to get the things that make you happy. So we’re talking in our department now to create this. I have a loyalty to the hospital, the mission they have and the community they serve. I don’t look at it as just a paycheck.”

Today, Bobco said she feels like the nursing field is still sweeping her up in its wake. She doesn’t know what’s next for her because health care is deeply variable. But helping develop nursing-based care pathways is a career that has, at long last, come clearly into focus for her.

“You can’t complain unless you attempt to fix it,” Bobco said. “You have to be the one motivated to make yourself happy – nobody else is! Always have a thirst to build upon your current knowledge. Things change everyday and you want to be that resource who can give up-to-date information.”