All nursing jobs have instances of stressful situations in them. It’s the nature of the field. But working at a Shock Trauma Center can be even more so.

Rashidah B. Francisco, BSN, RN, CCRN, CPAN, TCRN, with the Lung Rescue Unit at the University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center (STC), took some time to answer our questions about her amazing job.

What follows is an edited version of our Q&A:

Rashidah FranciscoAs a Shock Trauma Nurse, what does your job entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

On the Lung Rescue Unit, our shifts are extremely unpredictable. Taking care of some of the sickest patients in the state of Maryland—and possibly the world—at the only Primary Adult Resource Center is something that demands skill, dedication, communication, and a sense of teamwork like no other.

Our exclusive Veno-Veno extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VV ECMO) unit at Shock Trauma is one of the only units of its kind in the country. Our patient population on this unit consists of patients in need of a machine that bypasses their lungs to deliver 100% oxygen to the patient’s blood, as their lungs are incapable of this function. Having the critical care skills, knowledge, and critical thinking to recognize when your patient is in trouble is half the battle of managing this patient population.

Our patients are suffering from acute illnesses and come to us at the most critical moment in their lives. Because of this, we have little time to think, but must come together as a team and put our skills and expertise to work. The interventions for our VV ECMO patients can also be very different from your typical ICU patients, but are directly in line with evidence-based practices. We may prone our ECMO patients, walk them, and get them out of bed daily and into a chair to optimize their recovery.

Why did you choose to work at Shock Trauma? How long have you worked there? What prepared you to be able to work in such a stressful environment?

Coming to Shock Trauma was not my initial plan, but critical care has always been a dream of mine. I have been in the nursing profession for almost 20 years (three as a patient care technician, 11 as an LPN, and seven as an RN). After going through a critical care fellowship at a large hospital in Virginia, and spending a couple of years on their complex critical care unit, I felt that I was ready for something bigger and more challenging. I wanted something that would enhance my skills, and push me to go further in bettering myself and my career.

When asking myself where I could go to be a part of the best, where only the best is expected of me, and where my skills and education would be the only determining factor in how far I can go in my career, I chose Shock Trauma. I have been at STC for over 4 years, and there is not one day that I have not been pleased with my career choice.

How do you keep yourself from bringing the stress of the job home? What do you do to relieve your stress?

Gratefulness and self-reflection helps me to de-stress. Reflecting with my team and relying on them while I am at STC helps me to keep things into perspective.

What are the biggest challenges of your job?

The biggest challenge of my job is knowing that I cannot save everybody—that everyone’s story is not to be taken on as my burden, but it is my duty to do the best that I can. Knowing that I am human, and I can only do so much. Remembering that I am here by choice, and that some of my patients, no matter what choices they have made, are there because they have to be, and are depending on me to utilize my skills to help them in their most critical hour. Remembering that it could be me lying in the bed, and them taking care of me.

What are the greatest rewards?

Seeing a patient get off of ECMO and return home or go to one of our critical care units. Just seeing that they have reached a point where they are able to evade such a lifesaving piece of equipment is a reward. Hearing a patient’s voice after they have been extubated. Seeing them walk after being in the prone position intermittently for days. Hearing that a patient who has been waiting months for lungs has finally gotten them.

Being a part of a team—that these things are just as important to them as they are to me—is also a reward in itself. To have someone who is going through the struggle with you and cares as much as you do.

What would you say to someone considering this type of work? What kind of training or background should he or she get?

No matter what your background, come with a sense of teamwork, with a sense of family, and with the ability to take on the most challenging situations, but with the humblest attitudes. Be ready to learn, no matter what you think you know. At STC, you will see and learn things beyond what you even thought. Have a strong critical care background for some of our units, but if not, have an open mind and a willingness to learn. Be ready to see and care for people who are very different from what you may have experienced, but be ready to save them, and care for them as if they are one of your family members.

Is there anything else that is important for fellow nurses to know?

Wearing the pink uniform is something that for the last four years I have been very proud of. It is to me like putting an “S” on my chest when getting ready for my shift. However, it is something that comes with a heavy responsibility and a possession of skills that I am expected to have and use when I walk through the doors of STC. My days are not blissful, my days are not easy, but they have been more rewarding at STC than they have my entire nursing career.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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