After being a stay-at-home mom for several years, then going through the aching process of dissolving a marriage, Cindy Nieves had a calling to do something more with her life.
Two key priorities in her research and soul-searching was helping people in need, while being able to have the financial resources for raising her two young children -- both now 25 and 21.
For the Columbus resident, nursing just seemed to be a natural fit. That led to her earning a bachelor's degree in nursing from Columbus State University in 1996, which landed her at a local nursing home for three years and now at Doctors Hospital for nearly 14 years.
"It gives me a chance to interact with a lot of people," Nieves, 45, says of the profession. "I really like that I can be really personal with my patients and get to know their families."
In early 2011, she earned a certification in wound, ostomy and continence care from Emory University in Atlanta. Though there is an aspect of administrative work with her job, she still is actively meeting with patients and consulting with physicians about treatment and care. She sees and average of 12 to 15 patients per day.
The field Nieves has chosen also has a very bright future. Projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show there were just over 2.7 million registered nurses on the job in 2010. That number is expected to surge to nearly 3.5 million, or roughly 26 percent, by 2020 as the mammoth Baby Boomer generation ages.
What's more, being an RN can be lucrative. A job posting online last week for a Veterans Affairs wound, ostomy and continence nurse in San Francisco came with a salary range of about $88,000 to $140,000 per year based on experience and other criteria. Salary.com lists the median salary for an RN nationwide at just under $66,000 annually.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with Nieves recently to discuss her career, duties and why she enjoys taking care of people. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to become a registered nurse?
My decision to become a registered nurse has been a decision I've never regretted. I chose this profession as a single mom raising two small children. I needed a career that would provide financially, allow for diversity and where I could be able to impact the lives of others. I wanted to help people, and I wanted something that wasn't boring, it wasn't stagnant, it was always changing. There are so many opportunities in nursing. So it seemed very exciting. And, also, people respect you as a nurse. They know you're there and that you can help them.
You knew that the health-care field in general, but nursing specifically, was a sound profession?
It was very needed. There's always shortages of nurses and you're always going to have a job. People are going to be sick and they're going to need help.
How did your nursing home job help you later on?
It was a good place to get started. There's a lot of things that you can learn there because there's so many different patients with different medical diagnoses and different things to see. I worked there as a supervisor, so I had to learn how to manage people. Of course, I was the RN, so if something needed to be done, the RN took care of it because there were a lot of (licensed practical nurses) that couldn't do certain things. So I was able to take those skills that I used in nursing school and immediately start using them.
I had to be the one who was responsible, whether it was mixing medications or starting the IVs or recognizing when the patient wasn't doing quite as well as they needed to be doing. I was making decisions on if they needed to go to the hospital or we needed to call the physician or make some changes.
What do you do at Doctors Hospital?
I'm part of the nursing administration, but I'm actually their wound, ostomy and continence nurse. I'm doing active patient care everyday.
Would you have it any other way?
No. I'm rarely in my office.
What's a typical day like for you?
I'm there for any wound consults that they need, and if I need to come in and see (patients) and write orders and make decisions on what I think that they need based on my training to help take care of the wound. Or, say, if there's a new ostomy patient and they need to be trained how to take care of that and how to get their products or any continence issues or skin breakdown issues. I see a wide variety of patients.
Skin breakdown is when people lay in hospital beds and get bed sores?
Yes. We don't want those bed sores. That's very important.
So it's guiding the staff and putting in measures that will help prevent any skin breakdown.
What causes those skin breakdowns and wounds?
It can be diabetic wounds. It could be surgical wounds. It could be pressure ulcers. Any kind of wound that a physician isn't comfortable with or isn't quite sure how to manage, they'll call and consult me.
I'll go in and see the patient and make a recommendation. And it's up to the physician whether they agree with what I recommend as a course of treatment for that patient.
What did you do before that at the hospital?
I worked post-op on the GYN floor ... where there are female surgeries.
Would you like to work in the emergency room?
I've never tried it. I know that everything that I've done in my career I have liked. It would probably be good for me because if it's fast-paced and if there's a lot going on, a lot to do, then I'm going to like it.
What's your biggest challenge on a day-to-day basis?
I guess the toughest thing is sometimes you have patients who you get attached to and they're at the end of their life. Sometimes it's very tough if they're young and the family's having a hard time. You have to really care for the family. Some families have a better support system in place. But it's really being there for the family. You see younger people everyday with terminal illness, and you cannot do your job without caring for them. And when they cry, you cry right there with them. That's part of it.
You're still relatively young. Where do you see yourself in five years?
I don't see myself coming out of nursing, that's for sure. The way my certification works in wound care is it's a five-year certification. So since I'm relatively new to that, I see myself at least five more years doing wound care. I really have enjoyed it, so right now I don't see myself coming out of wound care.
Do you think administration is in the cards for your at any point?
I don't. I really like patient care. I don't see myself behind a desk. I'm really hands on.