It wasn’t until after Pamela Moss graduated college with a psychology degree that she came to feel like that field might not be the best fit for her.
“I just didn’t have the passion for it,” Moss said.
“Psych has a lot of recidivism, where people just keep coming back,” she said. “There’s very few opportunities to actually help improve someone’s situation because there’s so many more socioeconomic factors” contributing to their problems.
Those motivational hurdles – plus the feeling that she wouldn’t hit her earning potential without investing another two years in a master’s degree – led Moss to consider alternatives.
She came to realize she’d always been surrounded by nurses in her life, and began to recognize how the field offers a wondrous variety of appointments, whether at the bedside in direct care, or at an informaticist’s workstation. Then her sister saw a newspaper ad for a nursing assistant training program at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey.
“They had a program where nursing assistants become nurses,” Moss said. “They were going to help pay for that process, and there was a sign-on bonus as well. It was a really good opportunity.”
For three years, Moss worked as a nursing assistant in a step-down unit, caring primarily for cardiac patients. When she got the opportunity to work in the cardiac catheterization lab, Moss found out that she also enjoyed assisting on angioplasties, stents, and the treatment of cardiac arrest patients. Working with a talented group of interventionalists gave her even more of an appreciation for the field of cardiac care, but Moss knew she’d found her niche when she saw how well her patients treated her.
“My first week in the cath lab, one of the patients actually sent me flowers, which I thought was exceptionally sweet and wonderful,” Moss said. The husband of another patient with a chronic illness donated money in her name to the Hunterdon Medical Center.
Then there were the moments of lifesaving, like the 50-year-old man who came into her care already intubated and suffering from a heart attack. Moss and her team used an Impella device to withdraw blood from his left ventricle during a critical period of his injury, and he was able to make a recovery.
“The person who came in was somebody that you think wasn’t going to make it,” she said. “He was doing so well [that] he was, in a week and a half, able to walk out of the hospital as if nothing [had] really happened to him.”
“I really have the opportunity to help save someone’s life,” Moss said. “I don’t take that lightly. I enjoy the fact that I was lucky enough and fortunate enough to be in this type of nursing. I’m always learning something new. It’s exciting; it’s very stimulating intellectually.”
Soon Moss had an opportunity to work in another cath lab, where she learned how to perform primary angioplasties. Today she works at the 200-bed New York Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, N.Y. After 10 years in the field, she’s preparing to earn a BSN or MSN, and plans to continue in cardiac care.
“Heart disease is the number one killer of all Americans,” Moss said. “The improvements in the medication, in the devices, allow for a much longer lifespan than previously.”
“Dying from congestive heart failure is not an easy way to go,” she said. “It’s a long-term disease that keeps people from doing daily activities.”
Although there aren’t specific elements of her psychiatric education that Moss misses, she occasionally has moments when she recalls elements of that background, usually when working to calm an anxious patient before a procedure. But by changing careers, the person whose psyche she’s most improved has been her own, Moss said. In making the decision to go back to school, Moss discovered that she is capable of tackling a challenge she might not have had the confidence to approach as a younger person.
“In my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t believe I was smart enough to get into nursing because of all the science of it,” she said. “When I was 31, it was a question of, ‘How hard are you willing to work to make it happen?’ That’s part of the challenge for anybody who thinks they might not be smart enough.”
“Nursing school is still one of the hardest things that I had to do in my life,” she said. “You just continue to work hard, no matter what failures you have – and I’ve had plenty. It was really hard, and it was hard not to want to throw in the towel.”
“I’ve never been more proud of myself than when I graduated nursing school,” Moss said. “The field really does allow you to go anywhere and do anything, and that opportunity is worth the struggle of nursing school.”
On a week-on, week-off schedule, Moss has ample time to enjoy her hobbies – visiting art museums and the movies; going to yoga class or for a bike ride; cooking new foods with friends – and her favorite, which is travel. She’s headed to Dubai later this year, a trip she’s anticipating highly. All these opportunities are much more easily available to her thanks to the unique schedule and lifestyle that her nursing career has afforded her.
“I would encourage anybody who wants to pursue nursing to do it,” she said. “The field is changing, where we’re being looked at less as caregivers and more as providers.
We’re an active part of the health care team, [and] that really is part of being on the first line, looking after the patient, and being able to care for them.”