Nurse Takes Advantage of All Career Has To Offer

September 7th, 2011


By , BSN, RN

Working as a nurse offers more opportunities today than ever before. You can be a floor nurse, nurse educator, geriatric, pediatric or maternity specialist, and much more. Nurses work with physicians during treatments, provide direct patient care and look to the future researching cures for disease. In other words, a nurse's world is unlimited.

Valerie Poulter, RN, OCN, has taken that world by storm. While spending most of her career in one institution, she has taken advantage of all it has to offer. And, she didn't even start out as a nurse. She has just always had an open mind to all the possibilities.

Where did this nursing journey begin?

"My first degree was a bachelor's of physical education. I was an athletic trainer, and all the biomedical stuff got me interested in becoming a nurse. I worked for a rugby team, and my days were filled with physical assessments, wound care—you know, stitches in, stitches out. The one thing I hated was the "snick" of dislocated joints going back in socket. It's the sound that makes my skin crawl. Anyway, I got interested in doing more in health care. So, I went back to school at the University of British Columbia. I was 24 and already considered a "mature" student. They offered to let me do an accelerated program, but I decided I didn't want to go that fast. Some of my classes from my previous degree transferred over, I attended regular classes and I did some correspondence classes.

"Summers and holidays I worked at a nursing home, really honing my skills in psycho geriatrics, learning abilities like how to tell the difference between symptoms of Parkinson's disease and dementia. I went back to the nursing home after I graduated. That job absolutely gave me the best direct patient care, hands-on skills. "

So how did you get from a nursing home in Canada to a major cancer treatment and research facility?

"While in nursing school I completed an extended practicum in pediatric oncology. I knew several professors and nurses who had studied here in Texas and I was interested in going myself. Then in 1994 with the signing of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) I was able to get a one year work Visa for $50. It was super cheap to move here and easy to get work.

"I started out in Genitourinary (GU) Medical Oncology as a floor nurse. We were doing IL-2 continuous infusions with three pumps—one for the interluken-2, one for dopamine and one for fluids. They ran for five days straight and you saw so much hypotension, it was painful. Now, they only do those infusions in the ICU but then, it was straight floor work. It was great learning experience. With all my nurses aid experience and since I worked evenings I also did a lot of direct patient care and patient care teaching. I stayed there for two years."

Where was your next stop?

"I transferred to pediatric inpatient care, pursuing my interests from nursing school. I was in that department only 13 months when I was offered a position as a pediatric research nurse. I would coordinate surgeries, special equipment needs, special medication needs, collect data and follow the kids all the way to the operating room, often helping with procedures. I was there three years then the research grant ran out. I had a two week heads-up. Luckily, I was able to transfer again, staying in my favorite hospital.

"My next stop was the Cancer Prevention Center as the coordinator of colorectal cancer screenings one day a week and the rest of the week I worked in breast cancer screening and prevention. We were specifically looking at people with a lot of risk factors for breast cancer to increase the prevention of breast cancer. I worked with Tamoxifen studies. The results were so successful we had to unblind the studies and Tamoxifen treatment has become the standard."

Seems like you stayed there quite a while.

"After almost five years I was missing the autonomy of research, having my own schedule and my own patients so I went back to GU as a research nurse, primarily working with renal cell, prostate and testicular cancer research. I did that for three more years, and then I was offered the chance to become a research nurse supervisor in palliative care. I wrote grant proposals, edited research, did proposal submissions and had 21 people working for me.

"In 2009 I transferred to Quality Assurance. That year my mother was diagnosed with endometrial and gall bladder cancer. I took time away, returned to Canada and cared for her.

"When I returned, I knew I didn't want to stay in QA, among other things — there wasn't any direct patient care, which I love. While cruising the hospital's career center I saw an announcement for the operating room residency program. I signed up. I've been on my own in the OR since July, and I love it. I'll stay here a while."

What makes the operating room so special?

The OR is great for me. There's a certain degree of predictability in every given day, so it's comfortable. However, there is enough variety of cases to keep my ADD satisfied, particularly since I work the lower staffed evening shift, we get to do a little bit of every specialty. The job involves some direct patient care, working some with the families, and lots of teamwork."

Do you think you will ever change careers, or just job descriptions?

"Nursing is great for all the opportunities it offers. At this hospital, I will stay, "cradle-to-grave." All my work here, my experiences with staff, patients, families, researchers and physicians has helped prepare me for my own life's experiences. "

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