Donna J. White, CRNA, MS is an accomplished nurse anesthetist working and living in Rhode Island. She started her nursing career in the 1980’s with a nursing diploma degree from the Shadyside Hospital school of nursing in Pittsburgh, Pa. After testing her skills in a number of settings, White determined she wanted to challenge herself more, both in her professional and personal life.
White earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She also decided to spend six months hiking the Appalachian Trail with her husband, where she went back to basics and discovered what she really needed to survive in the wild and to thrive in her nursing career. On that trip, she decided to earn her degree as a nurse anesthetist from Southern Connecticut State University, and now, she makes her career work with her active and involved lifestyle as a mom.
For January’s Nurse On the Move
, White talks about her experiences as a busy nurse and how she makes time for herself in between her family members’ schedules. Learn what her New Year’s resolution is for 2016 and her number one piece of advice for nurses looking for a balance between work and home.
Q: What made you interested in becoming a nurse and what was it like starting out with a nursing diploma degree?
I was 17 when I graduated high school, and I spent a few years fumbling. I was earning college credits, and my mother kept saying, “You should be a nurse.” I did always love the sciences, so finally, I decided to go into nursing because I knew I would always have a job. My motivation was to get a job right away – I needed to work. I was in a hospital-based diploma program, which was excellent. It was a 24-month program that was year-round. At that time when I got my first job, I was better prepared than the baccalaureate nurses to care for patients. In the 80’s, BSNs went through a period where they were very book oriented and you could tell the difference between us, but I believe that has changed.
Q: Why did you decide to go back to school and earn your bachelor’s degree and eventual master’s degree to become a nurse anesthetist?
As I was working, I found myself moving around a lot. I think it was because I needed more of a challenge. Changing setting brought a challenge, but after six to nine months, I was already getting bored. I knew that the only way I was going to advance was to continue my education. I preferred clinical care rather than management, so I knew I wanted to work with patients and not manage other nurses.
Q: You’ve held a number of different roles, such as staff nurse, advice nurse, home care nurse, and emergency nurse. Which setting did you enjoy working in the most and why?
As part of being a staff nurse, I worked in the ICU. Definitely, working in the ICU or in my position now as a nurse anesthetist in the OR I’ve enjoyed the most. You have more independence and make more critical decisions in a collaborative way. As an anesthetist, it gives me satisfaction to have the patient feel better by easing their pain.
Q: You’ve also accomplished many things in your person life. In 1990, you hiked the Appalachian Trail for six months with your husband. What was that experience like and did your skills as a nurse come in handy?
The experience was phenomenal. I’m not an extreme sports person, but I’ve always enjoyed being outside and hiking. What hit home the most about being out there is it came down to what you need in life to survive. The basic necessities for survival are water, shelter, and food. Being a nurse, I took hygiene seriously. We filtered all of our water; we never drank directly from a stream. We were very healthy. I had been a nurse for about six years at the time and while on that trip, I thought about going to anesthesia school. I worked with my husband on how we could make this work.
Q: You now also hold the role of a busy wife and mother. For other nurses trying to find a balance between work and their home life, what would be your number one piece of advice?
You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of others. For me, sleeping well and exercising every day for at least an hour keeps me sane. If you’re not well, nobody is well.
Q: Nurses are caregivers and many often put the needs of others before their own. With your busy schedule, how do you factor in time for yourself?
The main thing is whenever you find a gap in your day, use it wisely. Do not wait until you feel like exercising or the day will be done as you fulfill other priorities.
Q: How has nursing changed since you began your career? Do you find the expectations and technologies of today help you or hinder you when trying to manage your time?
Technology has definitely helped in the care of the patients in terms of diagnosing and the speed of treatment. Today, the expectations related to payment, reimbursement, and the expectations from management and the hospital to turn over things quickly can leave room for error at times. They may say you have 15 minutes to turn over, but they want it in five minutes. Patients are still people and they are not going to behave the way the statistics say they should every time. Mistakes happen because of the pressure to produce.
Q: You currently work part-time as a nurse anesthetist at Guardian Brockton PC, Good Samaritan Medical Center, where you are scheduled for a 24-hour shift every Friday. What is the most challenging part of this job and how do you work through it?
I’ve always been a worker bee. If I can go in and continue to work throughout the shift, that’s fine. The challenge becomes when the cases are done, your mind tells you to relax and then suddenly another emergency requires you to be focused and do your best for the patient.
Q: Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2016?
I would like to start working more this year. The trick is finding the day that I can do that without affecting my girls. I really enjoy my part-time schedule, and being home in the mornings and the afternoons with them. I do hope to work more as my kids get older. I feel very fortunate for my schedule now.