From Cop Car to OR: One Nurse’s Journey

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Marshall blog 5-10-16
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Steve Marshall, RN, began his working career as a police officer for a large metropolitan area on the East Coast, but at 40 years of age, decided to leave the force and pursue a nursing career. His “new” career—though 20 years old—has taken him out of the police cruiser, into the OR, and as far away as Africa. We sat down with Steve for a brief chat about his career change and how his experiences have impacted both his life and the lives around him.

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You were a police officer in a large metropolitan area before you went into healthcare. Tell me a little bit about what made you decide to become a nurse.

Well, after being an officer for 15 years, I knew I was going to need something different to do for another 20 years. Sitting behind a desk at a computer is not for me, but I’d been an EMT, and had also been sick a lot as a kid, so healthcare was something that always interested me. So I went back to school to get my associate’s degree, and then received my bachelor’s degree through an accelerated program. I started working full-time in nursing in 1994, and it’s the longest I’ve been at one job! Which is interesting, because we have people who have been at the same hospital for 40 years.

That’s actually an interesting conundrum in nursing: There are number of nurses who have been working for so long and they’re all going to be retiring about the same time.

Exactly. I find certain aspects of that longevity interesting. I’ve noticed throughout my area that there are many nurses who will be retiring in five years or so. With them goes many years of experience and varying ways of doing the same job; however, it’s all about the patients we care for and truly enjoy. My hope remains that those who follow us will have the same fulfillment in caring for and treating their patients as they learn from us and fill our shoes. For me, I just changed facilities and I’ve been there for two years. Sometimes it’s hard coming into a new hospital being older like I am and having to figure things out. I’m also the only guy there.

That was something I did want to talk about, because male nurses are very much a minority. A recent stat quoted that in 2015, only about 9% of nurses were male.

You know, I’m surprised it’s that low. The first hospital I worked in was about a 50/50 split. That was a big university hospital. Then I went to a smaller community hospital and there were two other guys who worked there, although they were technicians and not nurses. That was the first time I was the only male nurse in an all-female environment. Now I work at a surgery center as a perioperative nurse, and once again, I’m the only male nurse!

Going back to your career switch, is there anything from your days as a police officer that you feel has impacted your nursing career?

In my opinion, nursing and police work go hand in hand. Working as a circulator in an operating room, I have an air conditioner. I had an air conditioner in my police cruiser. I did paperwork then, I do paperwork now. I ate donuts then, I eat donuts now! So there’s a lot in common. But in all seriousness, they’re both helping-hand professions. Although as a policeman, people may not always understand that you’re helping them. Whereas with nursing, they’re coming to you voluntarily.

Outside of your regular nursing job, you’re heavily involved in Samaritan’s Purse®, a charitable organization that provides aid to people around the world, donating your time and medical skills. What made you decide to get involved with that?

My wife went on a trip to Tanzania with our church while I was laid up after elective foot surgery. She went off to help set up a library and left me with two teenage boys and my leg in a cast up to my knee for three weeks! After her trip, we became interested in Africa Inland Mission’s tour to Kenya. About that time, my wife was suffering from some nerve damage. One physician predicted that she would be in a wheelchair within a year, so we figured that if he was right, we should do the trip sooner rather than later. While we were there, we went through the mission hospital where we do our medical work now. Someone asked my wife where I was, and she replied, “He’s still talking to the doctors, probably trying to figure out how to come back.”

And that’s exactly what I was doing. I had become a nurse so that I could help people, and I thought, “Hey, I could do this; it’s kind of neat.” Who knew it would lead to 13 years of doing it! Our first medical trip was planned for October 2001. Well, you remember what happened in September of 2001, so we were postponed for a year and traveled in October of 2002, and we’ve gone once a year ever since with a cleft lip and palate team.  I’m hoping that in a couple more years when I retire, I’ll be able to do more things like this. (By the way, we’re thankful that the physician was wrong and my wife is not in a wheelchair!)

Is there anything about your experiences in Africa that have impacted or even changed any of the ways you practice nursing back in the U.S.?

Here in the States when you open a peel packet, you are careful, but if something falls on the floor, you just go get another one. I’m more careful now because I realize that what we have here, they don’t have. You become much more conscious of waste.

One of the first few times I was in Africa, I saw an extension cord on the floor behind the stretchers and thought, “That’s an odd place for an extension cord.” Then I realized that it was the suction tubing. It was so stained with blood that it looked brown. There was a 5-gallon bucket filled with bleach and water, and you’d take the suction catheter out of one mouth, dip it in the solution to suction it through, and then stick it in the next  child’s mouth. They don’t have what we have. When you return to the States, it just changes your perspective on not wasting because these people don’t have the resources we do.

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Has there ever been a defining moment or moments on any of your trips to Africa where you thought to yourself, “This is why I became a nurse”?

You know, the first time you go over to help, you have a bit of a big head about it because you think, “I’m coming over to help you since you don’t have the advantages that I do,” and it’s kind of a wake-up call when you realize that they are more of a blessing to you than you are a help to them.

Maybe it’s weird to say I enjoy this, but… I enjoy this. I have the abilities to help others, so why not. There are things that we see in these countries that you’ll never see in the States.

What advice would you share with someone who is looking to make a similar career change mid-way through life and move into healthcare?

Healthcare has always been a good choice for me, and it’s what I wanted to do. People who want to do it as a second career and have the interest should do it. As long as you’re interested in it, pursue it. Things will work out. I couldn’t think of doing anything other than this.

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Medline

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