October 5, 2016

Why Do We Do It? - The Paths Of Three Successful Nurses

Why Do We Do It? - The Paths Of Three Successful Nurses

By Lee Nelson

The reasons people choose certain professions can be as diverse as the individuals themselves. For those who become nurses, it can be something they’ve dreamt of doing since they were children. Some choose nursng because they watched a relative do the job with great respect and commitment. Others fell into the career but can’t imagine doing anything else now.

Meet three nurses in different stages of their vocation as nurses. They all became nurses for very different reasons, but they all share a strong love for the professional paths they've taken. Here are their stories.

Childhood Hospital Visit Steers Career Path

Lisa Heertz, a registered nurse in the cardiovascular intensive care unit (ICU), has worked in the profession 38 years and counting. She currently cares for children at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.

Sometimes, Heertz says, it can be so heartbreaking yet so rewarding on many levels.

“Even parents who weren’t able to take their child home still tell us that we were with them through the hard times,” she remarks. “I feel respected, and I’ve always been proud to be a Riley nurse.”

When Lisa was a young girl, she joined the Indian Sunshine Society, a girls’ club in her small town. They visited Riley Hospital. They were shown a movie of a toy train that rolled through the halls of the hospital giving out toys to the children.

“I thought to myself that if I could ever be a nurse at Riley -- which would be the preeminent place to be -- I would be the best nurse ever.” She went to nursing school right out of high school and always had that feeling in the back of her mind.

Related: Registered Nurse Career Guide

Heertz earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing, and a pediatric instructors who worked at Riley talked to her about applying for a position there.

“She still works at Riley, too,” Heertz says. “I thought I wanted to work with toddlers. But at the time, there was a unit that took infants to 1-year-olds in need of surgical intervention.” There were 20 little cribs on the unit.

“That’s where I learned to be a nurse through the leadership and mentoring of the staff. I truly realized that was where I wanted to be."

They’ve demolished that part of the building, but the memories always come back to her as a special time in her personal and professional life.

“I was really mentored beautifully to be skilled in the care of an infant. I still run into many people who taught me how to be a nurse here, and I don’t know how many institutions out there have that kind of nurse retention,” Lisa says.

Heertz doesn’t know when she will retire. She works part time now, but still loves the challenge of working with physicians renowned in their field.

“Their standards are so high, which encourages us (nurses) to meet those standards and surpass them. Why wouldn’t you want to do that?” she asks.

Pre-Med Student Chooses The "Frontline"

Paul Schreiber is a staff nurse in the cardiothoracic surgery unit at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, St. Louis. He started out in pre-med major as a freshman at the University of Illinois in Champaign. But after a positive firsthand experience of nurses caring for him during a short hospital stay for removal of a lump on his neck, he switched to nursing. He also had great experiences with nurses while his mom was having medical problems. 

“I got to see that the nurses were the frontline -- they get to deal with everybody, often behind the scenes,” Schreiber says. “I learned pretty quickly that the doctors only come around in the morning for about five minutes, and the rest of the day and night the patients are surrounded by nurses.”

Schreiber decided that if he wanted to have more patient interaction and make a positive impact, then he should become a nurse. He switched majors and received only positive reactions from friends or family -- even his male friends were supportive.

Paul had a friend at Barnes in the children’s ICU who knew he was interested in heading in that direction.

“I did a job shadow during the spring semester of my senior year. I happened to fall in love with the place,” he says. “Surgery is very interesting to me. We are on the cutting edge of technology there. It's a very fast-paced and challenging floor .”

The unit he works on now has a high percentage of male nurses. The patients come to Schreiber and his team to get them prepared for their operations.

“We send them to surgery, and afterward they go directly to ICU. Some go there for a few days or months, then they come back to us. We get to see them come full circle and get better."

“You never know what you’ll get. But you get to see progression.” 

Paul would like to stay in this unit short-term – the average staff stay in that particular unit is 12-24 months -- and then transfer into an ICU. Barnes is a large hospital with multiple ICUs.

“I’ve learned in this job that you have to trust your gut. If you think something is going in the wrong direction, it usually is."

Nursing Abroad Gives Speech Pathologist New Direction

Michele Ellett, a nurse practitioner in neurosurgery, thought about being a speech pathologist before she ended up at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, Virginia. Then, a family tragedy changed everything.

In the fall of her sophomore year in college, Michele’s grandmother had a stroke.

“My family and I traveled back and forth from Massachusetts to New York City to be with her. We visited when she was in ICU, the general care floors, and rehab. During that time, I questioned my career choice. I was wondering if I wanted to be a Physician’s Assistant, go to medical school, or become a nurse.”

She continued with her undergraduate degree in speech therapy, and added some more classes she knew she was going to need if she decided to go on to nursing or medical school.

“When I graduated in May of 2008, I was totally lost. I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go.” So, she went to Romania to volunteer in hospitals for a few weeks.

Related: Explore Career Guides

“I worked with kids there. I fell in love with working with kids. On my 12-hour flight back, I wrote my letters to nursing schools, applied to early admission at the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University, and started there in June 2009,” she says.

Michele received a nursing degree within 13 months through an accelerated program.

“It was a stressful but wonderful experience. You have to have a bachelor’s degree before coming into the program, and you go straight through without any breaks,” she says.

During her public health rotation abroad, she had the opportunity to go to St. Croix for a week of clinical work. She worked at a Boys and Girls Club there to educate them on healthy choices and practices.

“It solidified my plans to go into pediatrics.” She worked for over a year in the pediatric neuroscience unit at Children’s National Center in Washington, D.C.

“Children are so resilient. It’s so amazing to watch these children and families fight through brain tumors and other illnesses. They come together.”

Ellet wanted to become a nurse practitioner and applied at VCU. She started in January 2011, at the age of 25.

“I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to manage patients from the beginning, through the diagnosis, through surgeries, and more.”

Her current role at VCU is working mostly with hydrocephalic children.

“I’m definitely considering a doctorate in nursing. VCU just started their doctor of nursing program,” she says. “In my role now, I’m still learning so much and learning new procedures. I could not have been happier moving down to Richmond. I don’t know why I didn’t think of nursing earlier.”

Next Up: Top 5 Most Important Nurses In History

Lee Nelson of the Chicago area writes for national and regional magazines, websites, and business journals. Her work has recently appeared in,, Yahoo! Homes, ChicagoStyle Weddings, and a bi-weekly blog in