By Matthew N. Skoufalos
Looking back on it, Beth Cohen remembers that she entered the field of nursing “kind of by accident.”
Having already been accepted to law school, Cohen started to have second thoughts, which were only amplified as her grandparents on both sides of the family started to fall ill, one after another. As she became more involved with their care, she met a nurse who told her, “You can do this.”
“I was always interested in helping professions,” Cohen said, “[I was] thinking of law, police work; somehow I fell into nursing and it ended up being the perfect fit for me.”
Today, Cohen is an adult registered nurse practitioner and clinical specialist at Broward Health North in Pompano Beach, Florida. After working in multiple areas of the hospital, she’s realized that being a bedside generalist “and seeing more of everything” has fulfilled her love of helping patients and people.
“There’s always something new coming down the pike,” Cohen said. “I get called in when they need education on something; when there’s a particularly difficult case.”
Cohen also assists with clinical education in the Broward Health virtual hospital, a realistic human patient simulator that runs a variety of life-threatening health scenarios in a classroom setting. She describes it as an effective teaching tool that helps build clinical skills and practice critical thinking.
“We can do everything from have [the virtual patient] stop breathing to have a heart attack to have the nurses practice how to handle that,” she said.
Education and one-on-one engagement are the elements of her day-to-day experience that allow Cohen to remain fresh and interested in her career. She speaks of how the professional burnout that often dogs nurses in the field is something to which she hasn’t been immune, either, but that by switching up assignments, she’s been able to overcome it. Cohen credits the multi-facility Broward Health system with giving her ample opportunity to change her circumstances as well.
“[When] I felt that way, I applied for a different position in a different area of the hospital,” she said. “If you’re feeling crispy or burnt out and you allow that to continue, that’s your fault. You can go back to school and take classes and become certified. You can apply for positions in different areas of the hospital and learn new things. There’s really not a good reason to say that you’re in a rut unless you choose to be in one.”
The necessity of enthusiasm is an attitude that Cohen said has kept her focused on the outcomes of her work; she describes it as being couched in an ability to view her work as part of “a career, not a job.
“It’s not a nine-to-five thing and you wash your hands and you’re done,” she said. “You need to maintain your skills. You need to be willing to work as a team. You also have to be able to fly on your own.”
At least part of the reason Cohen has maintained her path in clinical education and professional training is because the severity of patient need has escalated across the board in hospitalization settings, she said.
“You need to actually critically think [because] you have to realize that you have people’s lives in your hands,” Cohen said. “Now when you’re hospitalized, you are very sick, and the skill level of the nurse really needs to be built up and stay up. If you’re not willing to take on those responsibilities, it’s probably not the position for you.”
Just as Cohen entered the nursing profession “accidentally,” she’s also built up a depth of volunteer work with SHARE (Shepherd Help And Rescue Effort), a South Florida German Shepherd rescue, in much the same way.
“All the best things in my life have been accidental,” she laughed. “My daughter needed a bat mitzvah product; my husband and my daughter volunteered. Now my whole family is involved. It’s one of the few volunteer organizations that I’m aware of that actually gives every single dime to the charity itself.”
Just like her work in the nursing field, Cohen dove into the effort headfirst, and brought her family with her. Today her husband and nephew maintain the SHARE website, and she brings SHARE adoptable pets to the Parkland Farmers Market. Of course, she also adopted a shepherd as well, a two-year-old named Abby, whom Cohen describes as a “failed foster” because the family ended up keeping her.
“When we first met her, she was 10 months old [and] from a kill shelter in Miami-Dade,” Cohen said. “At 10 months old, she had been abused. She only weighed 30 pounds. You could see every bone in her body. She already needed hip surgery; SHARE raised the money and paid for the hip surgery.”
“We felt so bad [that] we kept visiting her at the vet,” Cohen said, so they brought Abby home to live with their dogs during her rehabilitation — and she stuck. Abby “did beautifully after surgery,” Cohen said, gained necessary weight to fill out, and is a weekly “example dog” of the work that SHARE does at the Parkland market.
“My family’s always loved animals,” Cohen said; “we’re all animal-crazy. The stories [of SHARE rescue animals] are just so awful, animals that have been starved … put in plastic bags in the garbage and were found because they were making noise.”
“I work in a caring profession and I love it,” she said. “I love restoring health to people and easing their pain and helping them be more comfortable. [Volunteering with SHARE] is an extension of that, and a chance to use my brain and connect with the general public and let them hear our story.”