Spotlight On: Cindy Pisa, RN

Matt Skoufalos

Before she became a nurse, Cindy Pisa spent nine years as an Early Intervention Service Coordinator at a rural hospital in Monticello, Kentucky. As the team coordinator bridging the distance between children with developmental disabilities and the service providers who treat them, her role was to help families navigate the early intervention process and ensure they were able to receive the services they needed.

As the single parent of a child with disabilities herself, Pisa eventually entered nursing as pathway to take control of the delivery of care that she saw being provided to her family.

“I was in a rehab hospital with [my child] with this one nurse who was so horrible, and I said, ‘I can do better than that,’ ” Pisa said.

“The doctors give the medicines and the treatments; the job of nursing is to help individuals adapt and cope and learn about their health issues,” Pisa said. “I always try to remember it’s their life, not my life. My job is to inform them and support them, and then I can let them make their own choices. I’m not bossing them around. I try to guide them, and if there’s some kind of a barrier they have, see if I can help with those barriers.”

As a service coordinator, her skills at forming those interpersonal connections helped Pisa’s clients understand how to access a complicated health care system. She empowered them to advocate for their children. Indirectly, it ultimately led to her interest in long-term and hospice care, where she found an ability to “really make a difference.” Shifting her focus to supporting a geriatric population didn’t require a significant change, she said, because “everybody has the same wants and needs, essentially [and] if you find a way to connect with someone, it’s pretty cool.”

“You’re really getting close with the patient and their family,” Pisa said. “[It’s] birth and death, the essence of humanity; a lot of time spent doing the basic, functional needs but also the emotional needs, helping people cope and adapt to the stress and change of the inevitable.”

Today, Pisa is an in-home service nurse at the Life at Lourdes senior citizen center in Pennsauken, New Jersey, a component of the Lourdes Health System. The facility provides all-inclusive elderly care, including an onsite day clinic with primary care, access to specialists, transportation, medical needs, and specialized medical equipment. Its mandate is to provide support that allows the individuals in its care to live as independently as possible, ideally in their own homes, for as long as possible.

Pisa’s day-to-day experience “usually changes very rapidly,” she said. Every in-home nurse on staff at Life at Lourdes travels to the homes of clients residing anywhere within the 227-square-mile area of Camden County. Several of them are located within Camden City, one of the poorest and most dangerous urban centers in the country, a fact that also bespeaks the need of the residents in their care.

“If they’re sick or have an injury, we give them education on how to care for themselves and their disease processes,” Pisa said. “If they can have somebody who can help, we can send in a home health aid if they need some equipment to help them be safer.”

Pisa visits a regular rotation of clients daily, including those on an intensive visitation program, but her schedule can change rapidly. She enjoys the opportunity to connect with the people for whom she cares; to make a difference in the quality of their lives. Despite a general impulse that “health care is all about rush, rush, rush,” the volume of patients with whom Pisa interacts never matters to her as much as the quality of those encounters.

“I fear that the way health care’s going, we’re getting away from quality and connecting with people, and getting into volume and making a profit,” she said. “A lot of the people that I go to see really are looking to touch someone else’s life. I might be filling someone’s pill box, but I’m providing that one-to-one interaction that people don’t have so much as they get older. They do need the service, but it’s the interpersonal connection that they get the most out of.”

“I never went into nursing to give medication,” Pisa said. “I went into it to be a teacher.”

Pisa said she prefers visiting care to hospital shifts because she finds the variety of environments in which she works to be more interesting. She also appreciates the flexibility in her schedule, and still interacts with the Life at Lourdes clinical nurses and her fellow visiting nurses to help inform their delivery of care.

Pisa’s advice to nurses or to those looking to enter the field is first, to enjoy being with people and interacting with them, and second, to keep a sense of humor. She said her specialty isn’t any one aspect of the discipline; rather, it’s just “people.”

“Be ready for anything,” she said. “Keep wanting to be a perpetual student of people. Just because you’re a nurse doesn’t mean you have all the answers. In this time where things are so busy, [take] the opportunity to slow down and really connect with another human being.”