Standing Up for the Right to Be Ourselves, Part Two

Standing Up for the Right to Be Ourselves, Part Two

Nine years ago, I was so happy to have my first article published in Minority Nurse. The article was a discussion on whether or not it’s OK to be out at work as a gay person. Looking back at the changes I’ve seen over this time period, I decided to put together a few thoughts.

The county hospital where I work is rolling out some new ­intake questions for our electronic health record system. The impetus is to better serve our LGBTQ patients. A transgender person with residual breast tissue did not know he could still get breast cancer. An MTF person developed prostate cancer. These patients slipped through the cracks because they lived their true self but had body parts susceptible to illness that the caregiver was not aware of. By next month, we hope to have 10% of our patients properly classified using our new Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) questions. As the program rolls out, we will capture more and more of our population so caregivers can better serve them.

As a gay man in my 50s, I have seen great changes in my lifetime on LGBTQ issues. There was a time when just being out was a danger. But we bring some unique perspectives to our job that shouldn’t be overlooked. We know what it’s like to be the underdog. We cherish family because we worked so hard to have our families recognized. Respect for minorities come easily to us because we have suffered discrimination. Fairness in ­treatment under the law was not free for us or other minorities so we always strive to protect our patients’ rights. We know that being gay does not give you AIDS, but we also know what those risk factors are and we are able to educate our patients on the facts without judgement.

Now that we are rolling out a campaign to identify our patients’ unique needs regarding sexual health, reproductive issues, and mental health, we are working to destigmatize these issues in our community. Just asking these questions can be a litmus test of our own feelings. When the program was being explained in an employee meeting, there was pushback. “Our patients will be insulted.” Or, “Our patients won’t understand the terms.”

It occurred to me that we might be projecting our own feelings and, in some cases ignorance, onto our patients. Of course, there are what seem like valid issues when trying to tease this information out of patients in the geriatric clinic. My feeling is that you just throw the questions out there and you get what you get. The elderly are just as much part of the world as the young (and in between).I can’t wait to get some real world experience in asking these questions:

  • What is the sex on your original birth certificate?
  • What is your gender identity?
  • What is your sexual orientation?

Some explanation might be needed with some patients. Sexual identity is not your sexual orientation. Sexual identity cannot be inferred from your birth certificate. We are looking forward to the rollout but with a bit of trepidation ­because we are not used to asking such personal questions. But,if you want to better serve this population, you have to identify them. The FTM person who never got a breast cancer screening because his caregivers never informed him of the risk—that can be preventable with better understanding of our patients. More information is better than less.

I take away two points from the SOGI questions that excite me. The first is that caregivers are going to be more aware of the disparities in health care that can occur with our LGBTQ patients. We are charged with the care of all our patients, not just the ones that fit into neat boxes. Just being aware of the differences makes us stop to weigh implications that might have been missed in the past. The second is that by normalizing this conversation, both patients and caregivers can talk openly about a subject that was once taboo. It’s OK to be gay or lesbian, FTM, MTF, something in between, or nothing at all. We all have health care needs.

Annette Smith, a nurse and coworker with 35 years of experience, has insight into changes in practice like the new SOGI questions: “At the beginning, there is a lot of pushback. The sky is falling, the sky is falling. But after a while, the process becomes normalized and it’s not a big deal anymore. We end up wondering what all the fuss was about!”

There was a time when just talking about sexual orientation was not even ­considered. Now we are required to ask! This destigmatizes the whole subject. To revisit my first question: It should never be a question of whether it’s right or wrong to be out at work. It’s just a question of you being comfortable enough in your own skin to let other people know.

5 Practical Tips to Rock Your Clinical Rotations

5 Practical Tips to Rock Your Clinical Rotations

I recall my first clinical rotation as being one of the most exciting but stressful experiences as a student nurse. I was excited to finally apply the theories that we were taught in class to the ‘real world.’ However, I soon realized I was very unprepared. From the very early start times, extremely long days, and limited support from some faculty and peers as I ventured down this new path ultimately resulted in exhaustion and feeling unprepared. These feelings eventually affected my self-confidence more times than I care to admit. In addition to that, let’s not forget the culture of the units that I would be assigned to for weeks at a time. No one told us that the nurses would scatter when they saw students enter the ward and those that were forced to be with us made it known that they were not pleased with having us ‘tag along.’

Based on my personal experiences, I decided to put together a few key steps that I know would have been beneficial to me when I was a student nurse entering my clinical rotations and hopefully will be a benefit to you today.

Let’s begin…

1. Be Prepared.

  • If you’re able to get some basic information regarding your specific patient or the types of patients on that unit a night or two before your clinical day, take some time to do some research.
  • Look up the diagnosis and medications attributed to these patients.
  • Write this information down in a small notebook that you can keep in your pocket that is easily accessible for you to review.

2. Be Early.

  • It’s a good practice to start this habit now in preparation for the real work world. Treat clinicals like your job!
  • Arrive a minimum of 15 minutes early. Grab some coffee or tea and take this time to review your material. This will also give you a few minutes of alone time with your clinical instructor, which is always a plus.

3. Look the Part.

  • I know that ‘looking good’ is NOT on the list of priorities for someone who is sleep deprived and stressed. However, it’s necessary and will leave a positive lasting impression.
  • Always make sure you are dressed per your school’s policy. If scrubs are provided or purchased, make sure they are always neat and pressed. If you are like me (i.e., not a morning person), pick a day during the week to complete this small task and NOT the night before.
  • Carry a small personal hygiene bag with you always so that you can ‘freshen’ up midday. This will revitalize you, especially if your clinical days are long.
  • Most importantly, don’t forget your necessary equipment: pens, stethoscope, penlight, scissors, etc.

4. Be Professional.

  • ALWAYS address your patient by Mr. and Mrs./Ms. unless they say otherwise, especially with patients who are older than you are. This is not only professional but also respectful.
  • ALWAYS introduce yourself to your patient when you enter their room and let them know that you are a student nurse and will be a part of their care team for the day.
  • Most importantly, SMILE. Patients and staff will appreciate it.

5. Be an Active Participant.

  • It’s OKAY to say ‘I don’t know but I will find the answer for you.’
  • It’s important to ASK for help when needed. As we all know, there is no I in TEAM.
  • I encourage you to ASK questions and ANSWER questions. This shows that you are not only prepared but eager to learn.
  • Whenever possible, volunteer to observe as many procedures as possible. The more you can observe the better!
Are You Mentoring Someone?

Are You Mentoring Someone?

One of my greatest pleasures in life is being a mentor to the next generation of nurses (not all of them, obviously!). I’ve learned over the years that the mentor/mentee relationship should be taken seriously. Mentoring relationships have often grown organically in my career. Though they are informal in nature, they provide a touchstone, an outlet, and a path for success to the mentee.

One thing you have heard in this career is that nurses eat their young. I’m not convinced that this is unique to the profession. Look around you and you’ll see someone in need of a helping hand in their life, and I’ll bet you have something to offer.

Here are 10 ways you can make the most out of your mentoring relationship.

1. Start by taking inventory of yourself.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a nurse? With experience can come bad habits, corner cutting, and sloppiness. You don’t want to pass those on as wisdom. Conversely, I’ve gained deeper insight into the process of nursing, how to work within a system to promote change, how to put patient safety and outcome at the top of my priority list. These are the things I want to share.

2. Model the behavior you want to see.

I hate to say it but anyone can talk the talk. Oddly enough, I found that hand washing is a great silent instructional tool to model the correct behavior. There are plenty of nurses modeling bad behavior, but it only takes one person to do the right thing for it to catch on.

3. Be quick with praise.

The new nurse often works in a vacuum of praise. They are just expected to always be correct. I point out the correct behavior when I see it. That moment of reinforcement will last a lifetime. I’ll bet you can think of a time when someone praised you.

4. Don’t let a bad habit take root. 

Gentle correction like, “You are doing great. I can see why you did it that way, but let me show you the right way… and here’s why.” The trick is to give constructive criticism in a way that works to change behavior without humiliating the receiver. One humiliation can sour a relationship. I never give correction in front of other people. I just don’t do it. Gentle correction in private is the way to go.

5. Be willing to learn.

Medicine requires a lifelong commitment to learning—and not just doing CE’s to renew your license every few years. Every day I find some new facet of my practice where I don’t know something. How does this medicine work? What is the natural course of this disease? What is the meaning of this lab value? Modeling to my mentee that I’m a learner encourages him/her to be a learner as well.

6. Be comfortable enough to share your mistakes.

We’ve all made them. I let my bad experience be a learning tool for my mentees.

7. Show the wonder of medicine.

Enthusiasm, excitement…these things can die if not frequently watered and fed. We have so much pressure on us as nurses that we can forget to see that caring for another human is a wonderful experience. The human body is an awesome machine for carrying around our mind. Even in great states of stress or disability, it can surprise us with its tenacity. It can also surprise us with its fragility.

8. Invest time in your mentee.

Time is all we have on this good earth. It’s my most valuable gift and when it comes to mentoring, I give it freely. Someday, one of these young nurses is going to be caring for me, and I want the compassion that I have for my patients and my craft to be reflected in the next generation of nurses.

9. Have fun.

If you aren’t laughing, you aren’t alive. Caring for the sick and injured at the bedside is tough cookies. Having a ready joke, seeing humor in difficulty, smiling…these are valuable coping tools that I use daily.

10. Finally, be compassionate.

It’s our most valuable asset. Having compassion for our fellow humans sharing this journey of life helps give us meaning. Compassion leads to love, and kindness, a desire to understand the plight of others, to intercede in tough circumstances, to be a good servant to mankind. That’s what we should want to pass on to the next nurse.

Don’t let a mentoring opportunity pass you by. You’ll find, like I did, that being a mentor is fun, rewarding, and a two-way street. I get 10 times as much as I give.

You Will Never Know How Far You Can Fly Until You Spread Your Wings

You Will Never Know How Far You Can Fly Until You Spread Your Wings

I have been a nurse for 30 years and have worked in various areas of nursing: Oncology, Gyn-Oncology, Home Health, TeleHealth, Legal Nurse Consulting, Teaching, and Endoscopy. During nursing school and as a new nurse I thought that I could only work in a hospital as a floor nurse or in a nursing home. As I gained experience and began to grow, I found that there were many other areas that needed to be explored. Nursing is a constantly changing field and in order to grow, you must move and spread your wings. You should never stop learning. Nursing is a rewarding career and if you always remember why you became a nurse (other than for the money), it will help the bad days appear better. If you ever get to the point that you feel stagnate, don’t give up, GET MOVING!! Some ways to help you grow is to go back to school and advance your education, change your specialty, and gain new knowledge and experience.

Too many times nurses are quick to give up after a few years in practice, but with anything that you want to perfect it takes time, commitment, and patience. There is no rule that states that you have to stay in a certain area for years. Oftentimes, nurses stay in the same area and they become frustrated and burned out. This can have an untoward effect on the care that is delivered to patients and affects the morale of the nurse and the unit. These are the nurses that are angry and complain, but they are afraid to change. Often these are the same nurses that are selected to be preceptors for new nurses. This is not a healthy environment for the new nurse, because this can cause them to question if they want to stay in the nursing field.

So as nurses, we need to explore other options to work, without giving up on the career we worked so hard for. One positive change that needs to be implemented in nursing school is for instructors to inform students that there are multiple fields available to them. There are several non-traditional areas to choose, such as doctors’ offices, walk-in clinics, school clinics, insurance companies, and you can even work with attorneys, where they rely on you for your health care background.

If I had never realized that I could work in other areas, without giving up nursing, I probably would not have been a nurse as long as I have. Even at this point in my career, I am still seeking and searching for new learning opportunities. I want to expand my knowledge and experience, and I would encourage other nurses to remember to spread your wings so that you can grow.

We All Had to Start Somewhere

We All Had to Start Somewhere

Did you ever look back upon your career and reflect on those humble beginnings? As educators, we sometimes forget that it was not easy to aspire to the higher academic goals we have been so fortunate to have attained. When we counsel our students, we must not disregard that they too have many barriers to overcome in their journey to be successful. In retrospect, we can embrace the challenges we must face in the effort to ensure our students’ academic success.

One morning during break, I overheard one of my student’s discussion with her colleague regarding how lucky she was that her children would be cared for over the weekend. This would allow her time needed to study for the final exam. Knowing this student, I was aware that she was a single parent and working mom, and more importantly, my student was pursuing a future career in nursing no less. It was a revelation that this fortunate incident for her was not expected, but was a gift. I began to ponder how this student would have prepared for the final if the childcare issues had not been resolved. Upon review, I realized that this student’s grades were not always consistent. During counsel, her excuses for poor grades or incomplete homework assignments were due to illness (whether be it her own or one of her children’s) or because of a busy work schedule, which entailed all shifts conceivable. So, when did she have time to study?

Lack of study time was also noticeable in the part-time evening students. I ­recall the blank stares on their faces during a Q&A session in preparation for the day’s lesson. Upon inquiry, the group confessed that they had not prepared for the evening’s lecture in their attempt to balance work, family, homework, and study hours. The weekends had been relegated to study time in preparation for the upcoming week’s assignments, albeit incomplete. Add this to childcare, spousal duties, and familial responsibilities and you have one overworked, fatigued, and ill-prepared ­nursing ­student.

Many times, as educators we focus on the negative aspects of our students: the fatigue, lack of engagement during lecture or clinical, and the behavioral issues (tardiness, ­absenteeism, and disputes with colleagues). This can hinder our ability to focus on putting interventions into place to enhance our students’ learning abilities. We might complain about time consumed due to providing an inordinate amount of time with a student that was not responding to intense tutelage. Perhaps we should invest in discussions about the ever-changing policies affecting our curriculum or work hours. Somehow, the drudgery of this negative outlook overshadows a focus on the academic pursuits of those ­struggling to attain a portion of our accomplishments. We must be sensitive to the vulnerability of this population during their journey. Whether it be in the case of the traditional, the returning, or the recycled adult learner, financial constraints are taxing. Adhering to professional and attendance policies takes effort. Striving to maintain a precarious balancing act to function commendably in multiple roles are all central themes of the adult learner. In acknowledging this, it is incumbent upon us to assist our students in getting past these barriers.

I have contemplated methods to assist nursing students, which have resulted in ­better outcomes. Some interventions I have put into place have made the difference in my students’ success as evidenced in their test scores. The following interventions are worth noting:

  • Games: the Millennials love them. Who said learning should be boring? The younger generation thrives off the technological ­support, which ­surreptitiously enhances learning. The games can be competitive, informal, and applied individually or after breaking the class into groups. Games are used best when they can be accessed as a resource after classroom sessions as a study tool before testing.
  • Provide a quick recap at the end of class. Some students may be so attentive during lecture that they do not take notes that were imperative to have as a review for the next test. This is easy to rectify by providing a short review of pertinent facts at the end of the day, paying special attention to the material that will be included on the test. This quick review gives the learner another chance to process and make note of what the instructor was attempting to stress in the previous lecture(s). This may seem redundant, but we cannot forget that this is all new information for the learner.
  • Remind the student of your availability. I state my office hours on a weekly basis most emphatically after testing. This publicly reinforces my commitment to their learning needs and hopefully abates their reluctance to seek my instruction.
  • Review one-on-one over the previous tests taken with students who have scored poorly. Allow the student to reflect, write, and question the material covered in the test(s). Educators have gained insight about their students during these sessions (e.g., what type of learner they are, if there are linguistic barriers, and/or if there is a lack of effective study habits). This session also establishes a rapport between you and the learner, which can be motivational.
  • Allocate extra time to be available for hours before testing. You would be surprised to see how many students will attend for review after a long, clinical day in anticipation of a test pending the next day. Is it more time consuming? Not nearly as much as counseling them one-on-one would be.

These are a few tips I have used to incorporate in teaching my students before I notice a decline in test scores. As I look back on my humble beginnings, I realize that the barriers I encountered are not so different. I am fortunate enough to have had support and encouragement throughout my career as a student and as a practitioner. It is as challenging for both the educator and the learner; diligence is required from all parties. But we are in the trenches together. We all had to start somewhere.

How Nurses Can Make Better Financial Decisions

How Nurses Can Make Better Financial Decisions

Few nurses have a solid grounding in personal finance about making decisions about their own financial future. Money management can be overwhelming. But you don’t need to learn the fine points of microeconomics – just the fiscal facts that pack a wallop on your wallet.

The good news is that the economic outlook for most nurses is rosy. Employment prospects are strong, says Donna Cardillo, RN, nurse entrepreneur and inspirational/motivational speaker. “The job market for nurses is much better. The market is cyclical and always has been. The last slump lasted about seven years, but that has all changed and many employers are now offering sign-up bonuses,” she explains.

The bad news? Many nurses still struggle to lead financially empowered lives, rather than being slaves to debt or just getting by paycheck to paycheck. Here are nine ways to make powerful personal and career decisions.

Evaluate an Employer’s Salary and Benefits Package

Often nurses decide to accept a job offer based only on the hourly wage, without being aware of the entire salary structure and how it can drastically pump up your pay.

Jon Haws, RN, CCRN, nurse educator and founder of NRSNG, wrote a popular article about how he doubled his first-year earnings as a new nurse. In “How I Made Over $70,000 My First Year as a Nurse (how I learned to game the system),” he recounts his experience as a newly graduated critical care nurse at a Level I Trauma center in Dallas, Texas.

According to Haws, that article “is a bit dated and I realize the $70,000 is nothing to a California nurse, but I outline some step-by-step ways to really maximize what you can make right out of school.”

Some of his steps included grabbing the pay differential for nights and weekends, getting an automatic raise after 6 months and a year, and working overtime and bonus shifts. That strategy requires that you make yourself an expert on your HR department or union contract rules, of course, which may be difficult before you’re hired. Not every employer is transparent about its pay policies. It’s easy enough to check Payscale.com or Salary.com for comparisons. Also, be sure to consult with a tax professional about the ramifications of higher compensation—you want to be ready when the tax bill arrives.

“The benefits package is something that employees don’t always take into consideration, but it can be significant,” says Launette Woolforde, EdD, DNP, RN-BC, vice president for nursing education and professional development at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York.

She encourages nurses to plan for the next step of their education and especially note those related benefits. “Some organizations offer employees some sort of tuition reimbursement plan. When you get a job and get through adapting to your new role as nurse, that’s the time to take advantage of those benefits.”

According to Woolforde, some organizations provide employees with a discounted rate or deferred payment options for a number of nursing schools. “So a $500 a credit may be reduced to $400 a credit and the student isn’t invoiced until after the class is over. By then the tuition reimbursement will have kicked in so students don’t suffer out of pocket expenses that disrupt their cashflow,” she says.

In addition, many organizations pay a stipend or differential based on a nurse’s educational achievements. “For example, let’s say the salary is $50,000 a year to start, but if a nurse has a bachelor’s degree, they may add $5,000 a year. If you’re certified they may add even more,” she explains.

Decide on Your Financial Priorities and Make Every Step a Learning Point

There may be a sunny employment outlook for nurses, but you still have to earn and save to fund your priorities. Not every nurse will have the same financial needs and not every nurse will experience life transitions in the same order. Yet, there are some goals, such as starting a family, buying a house, or early retirement, which many nurses aim to achieve and can—with some work on their inner and outer game.

“I made $35,000 or $45,000 my first years in nursing and had to figure out a way to increase income or reduce spending,” says Brittney Wilson, RN, BSN, nurse influencer at TheNerdyNurse.com. “I opened the door to those possibilities.” Wilson carried $40,000 in student debt that she now believes was avoidable, if she’d lived at home, attended a community college, worked a part-time job, etc.

As a young wife and mother, she tried many methods to economize, as she wasn’t emotionally able to work more hours at the bedside. “One example, I tried extreme couponing and was able to take our $600 grocery bill down to $100. I had to figure out a way to get diapers and formula for my baby,” she explains. Wilson started her blog a couple of years later, mainly for personal expression, but she also started getting free products and fees from brands. “People kept offering me money but initially I felt some guilt about it,” she says. “When I came to terms with it and actively decided to monetize my blog, I hung the ‘I’m available to be paid’ shingle directly, and even more offers came in.”

As Wilson felt more and more confident that she was providing a valuable service, she increased her ad and consulting rates, and focused her blog on her nursing specialty. “Earning extra income is like walking down a hospital hallway. It’s a journey. You can open each door and look around or keep going down the path. Just keep opening doors until you find the one that is right for you,” she advises other nurses.

Wilson got so good at earning and saving that she and her husband are on-track to pay off their house mortgage in a little over five years.

If you’d like to get better at the nuts and bolts of budgeting, bill paying, and tracking various financial accounts, you may want to try apps and programs like Mint.com. By corralling everything into one place, you get a better handle on your spending and saving, and can see in charts and graphs how well you’re doing with your finances.

There are also minority personal finance experts you can follow for advice from someone who figuratively speaks your language. For example, African American pros include Michelle Singletary, who writes “The Color of Money,” for The Washington Post and syndicates. Or, if you prefer podcasts, Rich Jones and Marcus Garrett host Paychecks & Balances for Millennials aiming to pay down debt

Decide When to Make Major Purchases

Even if a purchase is appropriate for your life stage, try to minimize your total household overhead. Even well-paid nurses risk fatigue from worry or overwork to manage bills and payments for one-time splurges or ongoing financial commitments.

Woolforde encourages nurses to carefully consider whether a major purchase is a sound money investment. “I see this often—the first thing a nurse graduate buys is a flashy, brand new car, as a reward for all that hard work in school. A flashy new car is nice but it’s a rapidly depreciating item as opposed maybe holding out for a down payment on a new home that appreciates for a good long-term return,” she explains.

You might decide that your next major investment will be in your own higher education or specialized training. If so, be sure to take advantage of employer-provided assistance programs before taking out large student loans. Maybe your current workplace has a tuition reimbursement plan if you’ll commit to working there after graduation, but you hesitate to limit your options. Find out how often graduates using that program decide to stay with that employer; usually the figure is high. If your circumstances and goals match theirs, you’re likely safe in taking the same route.

So many students lament how little they knew about educational loans that a free interactive game called Payback was created by a financial literacy non-profit. The makers warn: “College can help you realize your dreams, unless it leaves you with a student loan nightmare.” Students navigate an online maze of decisions: What school to attend, what major to declare, whether to focus on studies for a higher GPA or social life for more connections, etc. At the end, if a player does decide to borrow educational funds, it’s with eyes wide open.

Choose a Specialty That’s Fulfilling—And Remunerative

Whether you’re a new nurse graduate or you’ve been in the field for years, now might be a good time to switch to a specialty or workplace with better long-term prospects for pay and benefits.

Cardillo encourages nurses to explore non-traditional career options and to take risks. “Your next job may not pay as much, but may have many other advantages. When it comes to being a bedside clinical nurse in a hospital, there’s only so much you can make, even with overtime. Some other health care related industries have greater earning potential over the long run even if you have to take a pay cut in the short term,” she says.

Cardillo points to a variety of popular nurse settings and roles that pay well, such as: Nurse informatics, quality management nurse, corporate wellness nurse, insurance nurse, or nurse consultant.

You may also want to check out DiscoverNursing.com for interactive features that guide you through the process of choosing from scores of specialties. Some under-the-radar titles have surprising rewards, including high demand or ease of entry. You’ll get information on the education, training, and certification required to fill a role, as well as its average salary and employment outlook.

Decide to Cut Hours or Leave the Bedside Altogether

Reducing your hours to, say, care for a family can be a difficult choice that depends on many conditions, but it can be the right choice, if done right.

“If you opt to get out of the job market for a while, stay in touch with nursing colleagues through professional associations [and] keep up with credentials and licenses,” advises Cardillo. “Keep yourself current, marketable, and connected.” She warns that nurses who let their licenses lapse—accidentally or not—won’t be ready to jump back in when they need to or want to.

“Some nurses drop out of the workforce to take care of elderly parents, but then the parents die and they’re left with literally nothing and can’t find a job,” she warns.

Cardillo recommends that you first explore opportunities to work at home, which are more common today for nurses. If that’s not possible, check to see if your state allows for an inactive status license, rather than outright letting it lapse.

Another life stage when nurses may be tempted to let their license lapse is at retirement, but Cardillo sees downsides to that. “Nurses retire, but after so many years they get bored or financially need to work again because they don’t want a lower standard of living.”

Care for Yourself and Your Career Longevity

“Nurses are leaders—they advocate for their patients, but they struggle with advocating for themselves,” says Diane Neustadt, director of operations at New York-based Forest Hills Financial Group.

Her firm supports the National Association of Hispanic Nurses New York chapter, of which Neustadt is an active member. Because of her involvement with the chapter, she’s able to explain the importance of managing one’s own financial life in terms that nurses relate to. “I tell them it’s like being proactive about your own health. Nurses work long, unpredictable hours so self-care is so important: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m a spiritual person and also know the importance of financial well-being—live one day at a time but not just for today.”

Neustadt believes in “protection first,” which means having enough insurance and the right kind. “Employer-sponsored benefits are a good thing,” she explains, “but not only may company benefits not be portable and go with you, generally those employer-provided benefits are minimum benefits and should be viewed as the base of benefits to build upon. Three areas that normally need attention are disability, additional retirement income, and long-term care.”

Make the Most of Expertise from Family, Friends, and Coworkers

Woolforde received informal money mentorship from two unexpected sources who guided her to become financially savvy. The first was her older brother, who went to college when she was in her senior year in high school and was surprised at the expenses beyond tuition that he hadn’t anticipated. “When he came home at his first break he told me frankly, ‘You’re going to have to get scholarship money if you plan on going to college.’ So, we spent countless hours in the library combing through books and catalogs looking for scholarships. That was before everything was available online.”

She was doubtful about her ability to garner scholarship funds—others will have a higher GPA, more financial need, better applications. “At first, I said, ‘there’s no way I’m going to get it’ and he said, ‘you don’t know until you try,’” she explains. After piecing together several small scholarships—$600 here and $2,000 there from various sources—Woolforde was able to fund her freshman year at a commuter college. Good grades allowed her to garner full scholarship funding for the rest of her bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Woolforde next got valuable advice from a nurse preceptor who insisted they visit the hospital credit union after one shift. “She helped me open a retirement account and set up direct deposit of part of my paycheck into that account. I was just starting my career, so retirement was the farthest thing from my mind as a 21-year-old,” she says.

Try to find a money mentor who understands your situation and connects or relates to you in that way, advises Woolforde. “My brother understood the home situation and my preceptor maybe recognized me as her younger self—she was an African American female, too. Everyone who has walked this path, grown in professionalism, grown in a nursing career, it’s our responsibility to share what we’ve learned,” she says.

Make the Most of Your Employer’s Financial Programs

Your organization may offer employee benefit education, such as having an HR representative provide short updates at staff meetings, or making a vendor available for one-on-one consultations. Take advantage of these resources if they can help you fill in the financial puzzle pieces of your life.

“My family emigrated from Armenia when I was nine years old,” says Anna Dermenchyan, RN, MSN, CCRN-K, senior clinical quality specialist in the Department of Medicine at UCLA Health and a PhD student at UCLA School of Nursing. “At the time, my parents didn’t know the language or the culture, and thus we struggled financially as a family.”  When she worked at a bank as a senior in high school, she learned about financial concepts and became more proactive about managing money.

Dermenchyan now actively engages with the University of California system’s excellent financial program for employees and students, which include onsite classes as well as live webinars on financial wellness and retirement.

“I’m an early Millennial and we think about work-life balance and living in the moment, and this necessarily doesn’t help us save enough money for the future. We want to earn, spend, travel, and just enjoy life,” she explains. “However, financial health is part of achieving wellness and maximizing potential benefits for the future. Just like with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—personal finance is at the basic level, and everything rests on it.”

Most nursing schools don’t include a financial component in the curriculum, so many workplaces fill in the gaps with seminars, consultations, and program “nudges” to encourage fiscal health. “At first, I just put in $100 a month towards retirement; that’s what I could afford after paying loans and family expenses,” says Dermenchyan. “The automatic deduction from each paycheck makes it easier, and some institutions make a matching contribution. In addition, I was advised by a financial consultant that with every salary increase, I should increase my contribution to retirement,” and she has continued to ramp up her rate of saving and investing.

Prepare for Retirement

Some nurse leaders point to numbers of disengaged older nurses who are forced to continue working because of under-funded retirement plans. They didn’t put aside enough money for the future, and early social security payouts at 64 are too small to support even modest lifestyles.

“Nurses are unlike other caring professions—police, firefighters, and teachers—because they don’t earn pensions from municipal government employers,” says Ric Edelman, a #1 New York Times bestselling author of personal finance books such as The Truth About Money and The Truth About Retirement Plans and IRAs. “That puts their financial future in jeopardy.”

Edelman is also the founder of Edelman Financial, one of the nation’s largest independent financial planning firms. His firm offers a free financial plan to nurses, waiving its customary fee for the two-meeting process—either in person or via teleconferencing—which results in recommendations for investments, insurance, estate planning, and more.

By starting the process toward financial stability and independence, you can empower yourself as an earner, saver, and investor. It is possible to experience the feeling of security that comes from having your financial life firmly in hand. This moment is the best time to take that first step.