A Special Guest Post, by veteran dermatology nurse, Lisa Cheek.
Last week’s observance of National Nurses Week got me thinking and reminiscing. As a veteran dermatology nurse (16 years!), I’ve got plenty of stories, and memories. Some of them good, some of them bad, some happy, some sad.
You may wonder how a young woman gets into dermatology nursing in the first place – and how and why she sticks with it. Allow me to share my story…
I was living in a small Indiana town called Kokomo, going to school for graphic design. A friend working in a dermatologist’s office tells me one day just how busy the office is, that they need help. She asks if I’m interested.
I needed a job and thought to myself, “how hard can it be to treat acne?!”. Little did I know how little I really knew about skin, skincare, and dermatology. It didn’t take long after plunging in for me to realize; I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The jargon and terminology, the difficult diagnoses, the multitude of symptoms, treatments, fluids, smells and more…were just the beginning.
On my very first day, I experienced the smell of cauterization (burning skin) while observing a procedure. Wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the day and remember it like it was yesterday. Could hardly eat my lunch I was so haunted by the smell. But kept telling myself we were helping people…and managed to get past it and move forward.
Onto my next early hurdle. Cysts. If you haven’t seen and smelled what’s sometimes inside one of these, you don’t know what you’re missing – and you don’t want to. Didn’t help that the nurse practitioner working with me seemed to express deliver cyst cases my way. Sometimes they ruptured while I was simply numbing the surrounding skin. It seemed like cyst goo followed me around the office.
Then there’s the unique language of dermatology. It was daunting and difficult to get accustomed to. And it kept going into far more depth and detail than I ever imagined it could or would.
To be honest…I really did think dermatology would be mostly acne problems. It didn’t take long to see firsthand just how far offbase I was. I had no idea dermatology nurses did so much case-by-case documentation either – the lion’s share, and then some.
There were also aspects of dermatology care I wasn’t even aware of when I started. I had no clue that cosmetic treatments and aesthetic medicine were involved!
Back in the day, it felt like the doctor had to chase some patients around just to inject the filler they’d come to be treated with. Because so unlike today’s treatments, injections involved a very large needle, and it could be painful. Frankly, it was sometimes hard to watch. Thank goodness for the genius who decided we should start adding numbing, painkilling lidocaine to the mix!
I had a lot to learn. A lot. Just like any dermatology nurse, even the ones coming out of nursing school with knowledge and skills I didn’t have when I started. But more so. I set about getting up to speed as quickly as I could, with help.
The dermatologist I was working with would quiz me about each patient’s diagnosis, sometimes right there in the exam room with the patient! It made me nervous and uncomfortable in the beginning. I thought he was just being a pain and trying to make me look dumb.
In fact, he was helping me learn, and grow. It worked. I was like a sponge. I couldn’t get enough of it. I would take notes every day, then go home to study and research dermatology conditions and cases even further.
My compassion and caring for patients and their problems combined with my curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Together, they fueled my professional growth. Developing those habits early on helped make me a better-and-better nurse. They still do. Even 16 years later, I’m still learning about new diagnoses and treatments, still seeing cases I’ve never seen before.
And I am proud of the nurse I have become.
There’s nothing to compare with the gratitude of someone whose suffering has been eased, much less entirely eliminated. To play some small part in that is a great reward.
At the end of the day, that’s what keeps me and most dermatology nurses going, seeing how much we can help people in great distress. That; and for me, the pleasure of sharing my experiences and knowledge with others. Which I look forward to doing more of with all of you, from time to time…