|ALWAYS ADVANCING: The cardiology services staff at the Atlanta VA Medical Center includes Lillian Cleveland, RN, Michelle Davis-Watts, PA, Heather Bloom, MD, Cheryl Handy, RN, A. Maziar Zafari, MD, Roger Phillips, MSHA, BSN, RN, Sean Beinart, MD, Bernetta Howard, RN, Janice Miles, RN, Deborah Anderson, MIT, Kenya Barbour, RN, LaKendra Walker-Stuckey, RN, Cynthia Gates, LPN, Marsha Westerman, RN, Elda Mathias, RN, Bobbie Hilliard, PSA, Rebecca McKenzie, NA, Rhonda Rhodes, RN, Baafi Okyere, RN, Aron Hitchcock, NA, Jody Crouch, RN, Yvonne Simpson-Miller, MIT, David Pacheco, MIT, Dorene Chatmon, MIT, Lindsey McTush, PSA, Edwina Small, RN, Joann Smith, PSA, Cesar Cruz, MD, Harold Arroyo, MIT, Brian Pearson, MIT, Peter Dunn, RN, Thomas Green, MIT, Jana Gibby, MIT, Alan Carter, MIT, and Gadi Silberman, MD. (courtesy Atlanta VA Medical Center)
Kenya Barbour, RN, didn't have preconceived plans as a travel nurse when she took a full-time position at the Atlanta VA Medical Center 3 years ago. But when she landed in the cardiology services department a year later, she quickly got caught up in what she describes as a trend among nursing staff to achieve advanced education and certification. Today, she's within 12 months of earning her MSN.
"It's been almost like a domino effect," said Barbour, 30. "One person started going back to school, and then it just kept happening. And we encourage each other; help each other - we're like a family."
With the current down economy, the job market and workplaces have become much more competitive. But nurses on the cardiology staff say they have a rather friendly competition under way that's resulted in half the group returning to the classroom and/or receiving specialty credentials directly related to the care they provide on their unit. And they say there are no threats on their job security - that it's all about becoming more educated for the sake of their patients.
One of 20 RNs on the unit, Barbour is also one of 10 nurses pursing a level of education higher than they were at when they took their jobs. Additionally, of these 10 nurses, eight already hold a BSN.
"I think this is a totally unique situation," said Roger Phillips, MSHA, BSN, RN, nurse manager of the unit. "There's also a camaraderie that's formed on this unit - a definite esprit de corps. I see a lot of encouragement from one to another, trying to make sure they each and all finish their respective programs."
Working 'The Grind'
Enrolled in an online program through Walden University, Barbour takes classes full time and said she devotes about 20 hours to her coursework on average each week. She also works full time, handling a caseload of up to four patients each day.
A mother of two, Barbour's current schedule sees her starting each day at 5:30-6 a.m., taking her kids to school, working 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., doing homework with her children, cooking dinner, and finally doing her own coursework in the evening after her children are put to bed. If that weren't enough she also recently began training to provide interrogation of pacemakers and internal implantable defibrillators. (During this process, the patient's device is scanned with a wand and results are generated to determine whether the device is working correctly.)
"It takes a lot of time and dedication to do everything I do," Barbour said. "You have to stay very grounded and focused because it takes a lot of discipline. It can be a challenge, but for the most part it takes looking at the end result - keeping your eyes on the prize."
With a background that includes work as an agency nurse in med/surg, telemetry and radiology, Barbour said she found herself in cardiology about 2 years ago when there was a need for more staff in the department. One whose mother died of a sudden heart attack at age 41, Barbour said working in cardiology has practically been a calling.
"I think the biggest fulfillment I get is seeing how much better patients feel after their procedures and helping them make lifestyle changes to stay healthy," she said. "Most portions of the heart are fixable, and seeing the end result - whether it be due to a stent, valve replacement, open-heart surgery, pacemaker or defibrillator - there are so many things we can do procedure-wise to extend people's lives and make their quality of life better."
Slated to graduate in fall 2011, the Washington, DC, native said the benefits to her advanced education have already taken effect on the unit.