I looked around as the room quickly filled up with excited, young women. I was the only guy in the room during one of the information sessions held by the College of Nursing at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, Alberta. Surely there were other guys interested in a career in nursing. “Who was I kidding?”, I chided myself. Nursing was not my first choice. It was actually my backup plan after deciding on pursuing a degree in Fine Arts. I had been working relentlessly on my portfolio for a year, but the time spent in the studio alone proved to be valuable in examining what I really wanted to do in life. I attended the information session without any expectations and walked away with the impression that getting accepted into any nursing program was just as competitive as getting into an accredited art school in Canada. The day I received my acceptance letter in the Fine Arts program, I submitted my application to the College of Nursing.

            There are moments in life that one remembers distinctly and for me it was visual. In the late spring of 2000, I informed the program coordinator that I was withdrawing my application from the Fine Arts program. She looked me directly in the eye, and asked “Are you sure about this?” All I could see were the hazy oranges that painted the registrar’s office, my charcoal smudged fingers, and the rest of that summer beckoning. Who knew if I were to get accepted into the nursing program? I picked up my battered portfolio and left her office.

            I started my undergraduate nursing studies in the fall of 2000. There was another guy in my tutorial group who was older than myself and was on his second career. After a few weeks, I met other guys in the program who were also on their second careers. I often wondered back then if I were to have a second career after nursing. My Eureka moment to stay in the program came after my first clinical at a long-term care home. The charge nurse had remarked dryly that if any of the students can survive the “home”, then we can work anywhere. It was a make-or-break clinical for some of the first year students. One of the students in our group quit halfway through the clinical. That summer, the nursing home hired me as a nursing aide after my first year of nursing school and I continued to work there until the next summer.

            After my third year of nursing school, I was fortunate to work as what the province called Employed Nursing Student (ENS) at that time. My ENS experience in hemodialysis proved to be an eye opener as my father had been on HD for a number of years before he received his kidney transplant. I was completely unaware of the technicalities of this life-saving treatment until then. This experience also gave me a set of nursing skills that were unique as a student. In the spring of 2004, I received my Bachelors degree from the University of Alberta and was immediately hired in hemodialysis and in a surgical unit. My next career transition was joining the province-sponsored critical care program where I was hired to work in the cardiovascular ICU.

            My cardiac ICU preceptor noticed my HD background and observed that I was going from “famine to feast” as she called it. I was immersed in open heart surgeries, valve repairs, lung, and heart transplants – a bonanza for learning and whetting my skills. This ICU experience would prove valuable later when I applied for a job in Hawaii. My boyfriend and I were dating long distance at that time and we would meet every three weeks. On one of our trips to Hawaii, we learned how to surf and decided to move together to Hawaii “just for fun”. I wrote my NCLEX and on our next trip to Honolulu, I applied at two local hospitals. One of the hospitals offered me a full time/nights ICU position before the trip was over. It was a no brainer and I jumped on this wave of opportunity. In September 2007, a chance to sign-up as a super user for the Epic electronic health record came up. Call me an eager nurse, but I volunteered nonchalantly. Little did I know that this would be my introduction to nursing informatics.  

            One of the many things I enjoyed about being a nurse is the endless opportunities for continued learning and to connect with different types of people, whether they may be the patient or a colleague. My own stereotypes of what nurses do and where nurses can work were also shattered. In the process of applying to graduate school, I started working as a House Supervisor (to save some much needed tuition money) in a 158-bed acute care hospital. Besides being responsible for the overall service flow, I fielded requests for difficult IV starts, transported and monitored patients in the Emergency Department when the ER was slammed, booked emergency OR cases (and scrubbed in at one time), participated in Codes and Rapid Responses, reassured an irate patients and families – never a dull moment! It is during these hectic times when thoughts about changing careers came to my head. Nothing came up and I couldn’t imagine what I would do besides nursing.

            My experience as an Epic super user piqued my interest in informatics, an area of nursing that I previously had not considered. What I enjoyed the most was teaching other nurses and some doctors during the implementation period. Going back to grad school after a nine-year hiatus was a minor shock to my system. Along with the cacophony of living in New York City, I had to adjust to being a fulltime international student. The Concept-Based Learning style I was exposed to in undergrad made me self-driven, a quick learner and a critical thinker in a profession that is constantly evolving.

            During one of our early tutorial sessions, the instructor asked our group why we went into nursing. Many of the women in my group remarked that they had always wanted to be a nurse. One of them said she wanted to go to Africa as a nurse, because it had always been her “calling.” And she had also never seen a giraffe! At that time I felt like an elephant in the room as I didn’t know what I wanted out of nursing and didn’t think of it as a “calling”. I’ve never felt compelled to use “calling” to describe my vocation in nursing. Instead of a “calling”, I would liken it to riding a wave, where one will meet many different people who are also on different parts of the same wave, at different times. Ride that wave as long as you can and take every chance to learn. And don’t forget to have fun!

Mark Samia is a graduate student in the Informatics tract at NYU College of Nursing where he is expected to graduate in the spring 2015 semester. His Capstone Project is titled Automating the CAUTI and CLABSI Case Review Process is being conducted in collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell hospital. Mark divides his time between New York, Hawaii and Canada