July 17, 2018

From Nurse To AGT 2018 Finalist - His Backstory Will Make You Cry (Super Inspirational)

From Nurse To AGT 2018 Finalist - His Backstory Will Make You Cry (Super Inspirational)
Angelina Walker
By: Angelina Walker Director of Nursing Content and Social Media

By Mariam Yazdi

You saw him on America's Got Talent. You heard his amazing voice. You cried when Simon hit that golden buzzer (it’s ok, we were all bawling.) And now, Michael Ketterer speaks to us at Nurse.Org! We learned about the man behind the music - the fellow nurse, the father of six, and his dreams and aspirations. Although that glorious day on June 5th changed his and his family's life dramatically, there are some things in Michael’s life that remain unchanged: the love for his family, the impact he makes as a nurse, and the desire to eliminate the stigma on mental health illnesses in kids.

Image source: Instagram @kettermusic

A decision to make...

Image source: Instagram @kettermusic

MY: What inspired you to go into nursing?

MK: I have a lot of nurses in my family and as you can see, I'm a musician and an artist. Back around 2008 when the housing market crashed, I needed a job I could rely on. Something more stable than pursuing music in order to provide for my wife and kids. So the nurses in my family began to tell me, “Michael you should get into nursing! The work schedule can be flexible and it's perfect for what you want to pursue in music.” So I went to nursing school and the rest has been history. I entered an accelerated program at South College in Knoxville, Tennessee and I've been a nurse for about 8 years now.

MY: Where do you work?

MK: I am currently a charge nurse at a pediatric mental health inpatient center in Southern California.

Image source: Instagram @kettermusic

MY: If and when your music career takes off, do you see yourself maintaining your nursing license?

MK: Absolutely. I am absolutely in love with being a nurse. Once a nurse, always a nurse. It's just in you, you can't escape it. And in some ways, my own family is a lot like my work. I take care of my kids in a lot of the same ways. So I will always be a nurse.

Working in pediatric mental health

MY: Can you walk me through a typical day at work for you?

MK: I come in from 7 am to 3 pm. We do 8-hour shifts in order to be a consistent presence in the children's lives; they have a better experience if we aren't introducing them to a new nurse every third day like with 12-hour shifts. We have our report, then we meet up with our kiddos and assess their needs. Some have greater needs than others. Throughout the day we teach them coping skills and ways of understanding their illness. We help them find medication regimens and techniques to help them get through a typical day.  There are many things we take for granted that for these kids, are very difficult. Something as simple as going out to eat at a restaurant is impossible because they may suffer from internal voices that are sending them constant messages. So we teach them how to overcome these obstacles and to be successful in life and in reality. With a lot of these kids, we give them hope and a chance at a different life.

Image source: Instagram @kettermusic

MY: What advice would you like to share with readers on children who may be experiencing something like this?

MK: I always say this: if our heart tries to kill us with heart disease, we have sympathy as a population. If our lungs try to kill us with lung disease or asthma, families and friends are going to bring over a casserole. I like to call this the “casserole sicknesses.” The community makes casseroles and brings them over to support the person and their family. But the minute our brains try to kill us, there's this stigma that is immediately placed, and these kids are seen as "crazy" or dangerous. What they really need is our empathy, our support, and our research. They need our help and deserve it just as well.

MY: What motivates you?

MK: There's a lot that motivates me right now. I'm really passionate about pediatric mental health nursing because it's such an unexplored part of medicine. We're learning something new almost every day. But the number one thing that motivates me is my family. Being a good husband and a good father is the number one motivator of why I do what I do.

Family, career and the pursuit of music

MY: How did you and your wife meet?

MK: We met right out of high school. I had just graduated, and she was still a senior. We both got jobs at Baskin Robins at the same time, and that's where we met!

Image source: Instagram @kettermusic

MY: How do you find time to integrate work, family, and music?

MK: Thankfully we've always been able to balance everything, and my nursing schedule helps a lot with that. But what makes everything possible is the support of my wife. She helps me in all those areas; she's over my calendar and knows more about what's going on in my life than I do. Some days I just do what I'm told and it all seems to work out. I've got a very strong support group with my wife and my family.

MY: What do you and your family enjoy doing on your days off?

MK: We love to go to the beach! We are big beach bums and right now it’s only a few miles drive for us. Disneyland is also just around the corner and we always have a fun time there. The kids love going to parks to skateboard and ride their bicycles. We also spend a lot of time in the pool, in the hot tub and on the trampoline. We’re action junkies and we like to keep busy! 

Image source: Instagram @kettermusic

MY: What are your goals?

MK: Right now my main pursuit is America's Got Talent. I'm excited to see where it takes me and my family. After that, it's unknown what the future will look like. I've also always had a vision of furthering my education and becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner. However, at the same time I’m in a season in my life where, if I'm going to pursue music, I need to get on it.  So that's where I am right now and I'm absolutely loving it. I'm loving what I’m experiencing through America's Got Talent. Not just in the excitement of the golden buzzer, but even in the aftermath: interviews, talking to organizations like Nurse.Org, and hopefully inspiring others to get into foster care and to love on this population that needs so much of it.

Image source: Instagram @kettermusic

Impact, empathy and human connection

MY: What's the biggest way that this new path has changed you and your outlook on life?

MK: One of the biggest things that have changed me has been seeing the amount of excitement people have over our story. I've realized that there are so many people that really want to get out there and help. People have commented to me: “your story has restored my hope in humanity!” But just hearing these comments and seeing people's reactions has restored my own hope in humanity! Many people have been moved to jump into the foster care and mental health communities and it makes me so happy because it all makes a difference. Everybody doesn't have to adopt five kids and I understand that. I wouldn't expect that from anyone. But we all can do our part; if we all give a little we can do a whole lot.

Image source: Instagram @kettermusic

MY: What message would you like to share with fellow nurses who have a passion outside of nursing?

MK: You've picked the right career to explore other passions. We get to go to work and we get to clock out, at least for the most part. And when you work three 12-hour shifts, you’ve got four days the rest of the week to explore and to pursue whatever you want. I would actually recommend people getting other hobbies because it helps us deal with a lot of the hurt and the sickness we see on a daily basis. It helps us disengage with the population we care for every day. This profession lends itself to finding and exploring other things in your life that bring you joy.

MY: Is there anything else you would like to share with the Nurse.Org community?

MK: I'm so proud of everyone that's chosen this career path because it's a huge need we have in our community. We have a big need for people to be empathetic and to care. As nurses, we know that medications are important but they're not the most important thing we have to offer. We get to offer the human connection. We know that the human connection is often more healing than anything else. So I want to give you props for choosing this career and going after it with your heart.

Image source: Instagram @kettermusic

Next Up: How To Move To Australia As A Travel Nurse

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