We invited three alumni to join us for dinner at the College of Nursing for an evening of conversation and camaraderie. Pull up a chair and join us while we get to know a little more about Bradley Quarles,‘18 BSN, cardiovascular ICU nurse at Prisma Health-Richland; Lisa James,‘17 DNP, director of nursing, critical care administration at Prisma Health-Richland; and Lucy Marion,‘67 BSN, ‘74 MN, dean and professor at Augusta University College of Nursing.
Let’s start with the basics. What drew you to the nursing profession?
BRADLEY: I wanted to pursue business, but my parents always preached to me about job stability. They wanted me to be able to parachute anywhere in America and have a job, so I chose nursing. And I’ve really found my niche. Once I got into clinicals and started doing my rotations, I fell in love with it. I kind of stumbled upon this career, but I don’t regret it for a day. I love it.
LISA: My journey was a little bit different. I grew up in Mississippi and had a lot of sick family members. My mom was a juvenile diabetic, my grandfather had a heart attack early, and I helped to take care of my family. My mom would go to the hospital all the time and would pull me out of school to go with her. She was afraid of the nursing staff because she felt like they had to stick her all the time to start IVs. Little did I know that she was just a hard stick; you know you have to stick several times sometimes. It wasn’t a matter of the nurses being mean, but I wanted to be a nurse so that I could be an advocate for patients like my mom.
LUCY: I’ve always wanted to take care of people. Like you, Lisa, my family identified me as a caregiver; I never knew anything but that. As a child, it was clear to me that nursing was my future and that the University of South Carolina would be my university. My grandmother’s home was right over there on Greene Street. Actually, where this building is, there used to be a large and lovely home painted green. The woman who owned it was my grandmother’s friend, and she would take me to visit and play. We walked across this area of campus to get to “town”, meaning Main Street. I have strong roots with this space and this university.
What do you think makes a good nurse?
BRADLEY: From what I’ve seen in the hospital, the biggest and most tangible thing that makes a good nurse is not knowing it all. It’s the compassion and the will to come in early to help turn the patient, to be a team player. That is what makes a difference.
LISA: It’s that human touch, which cannot be taught, that’s sometimes missing.
LUCY: You can role model “high touch” nursing along with the “high tech”, though, and reward it when you see it. Our systems don’t always capture this aspect of nursing or support it either, but it is our duty to show our novice nurses—students or clinicians—how to show deep caring for better patient outcomes. Too many new nurses don’t have a seasoned role model to help them through this learning and help that budding empathy grow.
BRADLEY: Last night, I had a patient come in critically sick, and one of the biggest things I did for him (besides the care I provided for him) was the care I provided for the family. I let them stay in the room and made accommodations for them. They were so appreciative. It’s the smallest details. The way I look at it is that I could provide Florence Nightigale- care, but if the room is a mess, what do the patient and family leave thinking?
LISA: When I round now as a director, I can tell what kind of care that patient is receiving just from like you say, the way that room has been taken care of. It does make a huge difference.
BRADLEY: So I have a question. As someone new to the career, I’m wondering, what’s the driving force that has made you push through? You know, when you get up and say this is tough, I may be burned out, but this is why I’m doing it.
LISA: It goes back to the reason that I got into nursing in the first place. You have to believe that you can make a difference. It’s not going to be easy at all, and you’re going to get pushed back. But that drives me even more. You need to surround yourself with positive people and keep pushing through. Just remember what’s in your heart and what got you here in the first place.
LUCY: I believe in possibilities. What are your possibilities, what are you going to do? You may not even know yet. You keep your wagon hitched to the north star of quality nursing care, and you have to stay true to nursing ethics. You have to stay knowledgeable. You cannot slip, and you cannot let things get ahead of you. Just stay right on that cutting edge all the time. If you have that, possibilities will unfold before your eyes.
LISA: You have to trust yourself and trust your heart. You won’t go wrong if you do that. You cannot be afraid to ask for help or admit if you don’t know something because we’re always learning.
LUCY: And take a break.
LISA: And take a break. Go to a football game! Do you plan to advance your degree, Bradley?
BRADLEY: I’d like to do anesthesia. It’s what I really want to do, but it’s kind of difficult for a talker like me. I love holding hands, and I love being an advocate. I’m so fresh to everything that I’m learning a lot just from the job itself. But for me, at the end of it all, it’s about the benefit to the patient.
Lucy and Lisa, what was the catalyst for continuing your education beyond the baccalaureate level?
LUCY: I’m a knowledge person. It transformed me every time I went to school or pursued a next knowledge level. It’s like looking under the microscope or over a wide horizon – I could see so much more than I’d ever seen before and this just unfolded over and over again. I don’t have a hunger for knowledge just for the sake of it – I love to take in new information, connect the old with the new, and test just how we can use it in nursing.
LISA: I was taught at an early age that knowledge is power; if you want to make a difference and get anywhere in this world, you need to go to school. My journey took me through the military – that’s where I gained my leadership experience. And when I got my DNP, I knew I wanted to focus on clinical practice. I don’t want to be a researcher; I wanted to take what researchers produce and bring it into practice. Getting your DNP is like the connective tissue pulling everything together for our profession.
What advantages does advanced education bring to the table for nurses?
LUCY: Reliable and valid studies have looked at the mortality rate and the ratio of nurses with a BSN and above to those with less than a BSN. The findings indicate lower mortality and morbidity rate in systems with more BSN-prepared nurses. The BSN program teaches nurses to think differently, more strategically and critically, and gives a better overall education.
LISA: Before I got my DNP, I could be invited to the table and participated, but with the DNP, now I’m able to dance with them at the table. I’ve learned to talk the language, have avoice, be intentional and be confident when I speak.
BRADLEY: It empowers me when I can advocate for a patient and get them what they need, and I get that confidence through education. I speak to that from a standpoint that I received here as a student, that I received on the unit and from my preceptors, but they all had the education and the evidence-based research to back it up.
What about your legacy? What do you hope to leave behind?
LUCY: You know, I once contracted with an experienced administrative team coach, and she said to think about what legacy you want to leave and plan for it. I said, wait a minute, I don’t think you can/should plan your legacy. I think your legacy evolves from your career goals and achievements. You might plant it, but you can’t know if it will take. There are so many opportunities in nursing. You can do some of the highest level things you ever thought of. Just say yes to requests and fill in voids as you go. Any failures will teach you more than successes. Embrace as you go!
BRADLEY: My thing is, I can be anything in the world, but ultimately, at the end of the day, I want to make a difference. If I haven’t made a difference, I haven’t left my legacy, and then what have I really done? That is the beauty of nursing. It’s not necessarily a job or a profession; it’s a lifestyle. It’s who you are, and it calls into question everything about you. But ultimately it’s what we’re all here to do. At your sickest moment, what can I do to make it better? What can I do to make it better for other people after me? That’s what I love about nursing.