An Interview with Dawn Spittler
“The most enjoyable part of nursing is that I am constantly learning.”
Dawn Spittler has worked for over 30 years in nursing, including 15 years in the mental health field as a licensed practical nurse. In addition to her nursing certification, she also holds a Master of Science in Healthcare Administration from University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. She lives in Manchester, Iowa.
Dawn’s favorite part of being a nurse is that she is constantly learning new skills as the healthcare environment changes. She also enjoys the variety of her job duties, which allow her to specialize in many different areas of nursing.
In your own words, what is a nurse?
A nurse is the person who is responsible for the care and comfort of patients in a hospital. Nurses perform many different duties, such as administering medicine, treating wounds and monitoring the health of patients.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming a nurse,” what would your response be?
I would tell them that nursing is a wonderfully rewarding field, but they should know that it can be an emotionally frustrating profession too. You are not supposed to let yourself get attached to the people that you care for, but it is human nature to do so. It is difficult to deal with death and sickness, so if you want to be a nurse, you will have to steel yourself for that.
What level of education is ideal to become a nurse?
I think the ideal level of education that a potential nurse needs to complete is an RN, or registered nurse, program. That means going a step further than the 1-year licensed practical nurse, or LPN, program. RN programs are offered in both 2-year and 4-year formats, but regardless of which format you choose, you will take the same licensing test.
The difference between an RN and an LPN is that registered nurses get to perform a wider variety of duties. A hospital is a very hierarchical environment, and registered nurses get more responsibility. In fact, they oversee the licensed practical nurses.
Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become a nurse?
Yes, nurses have to pass certain licensing tests at each level of education. The tests get progressively more difficult at each level, but they generally cover different fields of knowledge, like pharmacy and nutrition.
Why did you decide to become a nurse?
I decided to become a nurse because I needed to find a profession after I was divorced. Right after high school, I had worked as a nurse’s aide. Through that job, I gained exposure to the nursing field. So when I needed to choose a career, my mind naturally gravitated toward what I knew best, which was nursing.
What were the biggest misconceptions that you had about becoming a nurse?
The biggest misconception that I had about nursing had to do with the types of job duties that I would be expected to perform as an LPN. Each state works a little differently, so when I went to school in Iowa I was told that I would not be allowed to act as the primary nurse for a patient. My instructors said that I would always have an RN overseeing me. That may have been true in Iowa, but then I moved to Texas, where that wasn’t the case. In fact, I was the primary nurse, so I was fully responsible for all of my patients. There was nobody standing over my shoulder. It was certainly a baptism by fire.
What do you enjoy most and least about being a nurse?
The most enjoyable part of nursing is that I am constantly learning. No two patients are exactly the same, so even if I see similar medical situations, I still have to look for different ways to make their experience easier.
However, what I don’t enjoy about nursing is that this job requires me to be very flexible with my personal time. Nurses are often called in to work an extra shift when they are supposed to have a day off. And even though a nurse might be on the schedule to work the 2-to-10 shift, they might be asked to stay for the 10-to-6 shift too. A lot of nurses are overworked, and that is a difficult aspect of this job.
What is a typical day like for you?
My typical nursing shift is 12 hours long. For instance, on weekends, I work 4:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. in my facility’s dementia unit. I start my shift by administering medication to patients. Then the nursing assistant and I bathe patients and get them ready for bed. Since people with dementia don’t keep the same hours that the rest of us do, my patients are often awake and hungry in the middle of the night. So we fix them breakfast and attend to their other needs. Working in a mental health ward requires a lot of flexibility to ensure the well-being of the patients.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to balance work with personal time when you work as many hours as a nurse does. In fact, when they were young, my children used to refer to me as the “nocturnal mom,” because since my work schedule meant that I would get up at night and sleep during the day. I try to remember to put myself first by going out with friends and reading to relax, but it is hard to find a balance.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a nurse and what traits would hinder success?
A couple of personality traits that a nurse must have are compassion and caring. This is a wonderful field if you are a nurturer. But if you are not a caring person and you are just looking for any job that offers a paycheck, don’t bother with this field.
A personality trait that would hinder a nurse is a quick temper. Sometimes accidents happen in a healthcare environment. For example, a patient may fall down, and a nurse has to notify the family. Sometimes family members are accusatory, and so a nurse has to learn to keep a cool head and not take negative comments personally.
Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes, I wish that I could have become an RN when I went through my nursing training. Unfortunately, that was not a possibility for me at that point in time. But, in 2009, I completed my masters degree in healthcare administration through the University of Phoenix, and I am very satisfied with the education I have now.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming a nurse should pursue?
I recommend that students who are considering nursing take the time to volunteer in a hospital or work as a nursing assistant while they are in high school. That experience will give you a good taste of what is to come. It won’t always be pleasant, but you will know from the start what the job will be like if you choose to pursue it.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most and least valuable for the work you do today?
The most useful classes that I took were those that covered specific types of nursing, like pediatric nursing or mental health nursing. Those classes let me survey different areas of nursing so that I had an idea of which specialties I wanted to work in and which I didn’t.
I think the least valuable class that I have taken is nutrition. It isn’t that I think nutrition knowledge has no value, but there is a trained dietician in every facility where a nurse works. That means that nurses don’t make nutritional or dietary decisions, so it seems redundant to require us to take those classes.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming a nurse?
I would advise potential nursing students to thoroughly research several programs before they choose a school to attend. In some cases, you will get as good an education at a technical school or at a community college as you would at a 4-year school.
This is especially true if you are attending an RN program, because whether you go to school for 2 years or 4 years, you have to take the same board exams. It is a good idea to look at the board exam passing rate of students who attend different nursing programs because that is an indication of where you will get the best educational experience.