The hundreds of nurses who report to work each day and evening at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital pursue careers in nursing for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s following in a family member's footsteps or fulfilling a personal drive to care for others, St. Jude nurses bring a unique combination of compassion, determination, focus and skill to their jobs.
As National Nursing Week is celebrated across the country, 10 nurses who have been in the field less than five years share what inspired them to become nurses and how working at St. Jude allows them to do their best work.
By Brea Bowers, RN
Bone Marrow Transplant Inpatient Unit
When I was 20 years old, I decided to pursue a nursing career. I'm a hands-on person, and nurses provide hands-on care. I get to make a difference in patients’ lives. And making a difference is important to me.
Before I became a nurse, I was a student intern — a community development coordinator in our Department of Infectious Diseases. I helped promote HIV awareness and prevention efforts throughout Memphis. And now I’m back again, working on the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit; my two-year anniversary will be in August.
We have many resources at St. Jude to care for patients and their families. For example, child life specialists and "Happy Cart" volunteers regularly visit our BMT patients and add a little joy and excitement to their day. It’s definitely a collaborative working environment. We’re all determined to help our patients reach their goals.
The biggest challenge of my job is an emotional one. I see how strong our patients are in the face of their illness. Their positive spirit is an inspiration to me. St. Jude uses its resources to help patients, families and staff cope during difficult times. But we don’t always get the outcomes we hope for. So sadness is part of the job, too.
The best part is that when I come to work each day, I know I can make a difference in the life of a patient. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
By Holly Cullum, RN
Nursing Surgical Services
I had many medical issues growing up and remembered how nurses cared for me. Nearly 20 years ago, I decided I wanted to do the same for others. As a mother of three, I had to wait a few years, but I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2009.
Working at St. Jude is a humbling place, but nurses here are given comprehensive training, including orientation and educational materials, so I can learn more, and better help my patients.
Every day has new challenges at St. Jude. Since I work at the point of care where the initial diagnosis of patients is made, it’s a stressful time for patients and families. As a nurse, it’s important to be there to support the family and show compassion while maintaining my emotional composure in the face of their grief.
I believe nursing is where I can make the biggest difference in the lives of others, but my coworkers are the ones who make each day at St. Jude the best. Their support is top-notch. We’re less like a hospital unit and more like a family.
By Jasmin Elizarraras, RN
Solid Tumor Inpatient Unit
My family moved from California to Tennessee in 2003 so my sister could receive treatment at St. Jude. During her two-year battle with a brain tumor, I met a lot of incredible nurses. Although my sister passed away, the compassionate care shown to her and to my family inspired me to pursue a career in nursing.
St. Jude values nurses and encourages them to be lifelong learners. I have a learning opportunity every time I come to work, but what I’ve learned in the year I have been here is the importance of teamwork. My coworkers are great resources. They’re more than available to jump in and help, sharing their knowledge and expertise.
One of the greatest things about working at St. Jude is that my point of view and my input is taken into account. Because of our incredible resources, St. Jude nurses don’t need to worry about things that most nurses outside of this institution worry about. I can just focus on my patient and provide safe patient care.
Some of those patients I meet on Day One, and I watch their progression…their ups and downs, and the challenges they face. I try to encourage them to keep fighting and keep hoping, and I offer love and compassionate care. Some of these children, unfortunately, do not make it. When that happens, it makes me want to keep fighting — to keep the hope alive that one day we will have a cure for cancer.
By Andrea Garrett, RN
Nursing Surgical Services
I became a nurse because I saw how well nurses treated my grandmother when she was ill. My family supported and encouraged me to become a nurse — I wanted to give others the same treatment, love, support and encouragement I saw given to my grandmother.
Being a St. Jude nurse allows me to become more knowledgeable, resourceful, educated and compassionate in the clinic and at home. The support is incredible: continuing education, re-evaluation of processes, technology training and the collaborative culture here with my teammates in the hospital helps me to be the best nurse I can be.
It’s a challenge sometimes to hold back the tears. In this job with these children, it can get emotional. But I still come to work every day knowing I am providing care for children and families who are in need.
Seeing the smiles of families and children makes being a St. Jude nurse worthwhile. I know I have the full support of my St. Jude family, and whatever obstacles I may face at work or at home, we will help one another and work together to overcome them.
By Nour Haddad, RN
Intensive Care Unit/Stepdown
I always knew I wanted to work with children, but it wasn't until my sophomore year of college that I decided to become a nurse. With a passion for caring and helping others, I became a nurse because I love children and because I wanted to grow as an individual. I believe my work provides a light in their life in a dark moment.
Every morning when I enter the St. Jude campus, I get an overwhelming feeling of being in my second home. Working here allows me to be the best nurse I can be. How can I not want to do my best when I see our patients' cute smiles or when they laugh at my silly jokes, despite the illnesses they are battling?
When I come to work, I feel like I am coming home to my family, and I care for the patients and families like they are my own.
I have learned so much from my fellow coworkers at St. Jude. I truly believe I am the nurse I am today because of every nurse I have encountered in the past. Nurses here set a high standard of how to practice, and our work is all about teamwork. I always want to do my best, because I am working with the best.
Melodie Hoggard, RN
Nursing Surgical Services
The best part about coming to work each day is that I’m part of a team. I feel like I make a difference.
St. Jude nursing is unlike nursing anywhere else. We care for very fragile patients and families. Every one of us must be at our best always, because we make the difference for them. For me, the greatest challenge is when patients relapse or begin to do worse despite their protocols. I am still learning to deal with those inevitable events, and it still breaks my heart when children hurt.
But through nursing here, I not only discovered my limitations, I am supported and coached so I can stretch my abilities and expand those limitations.
I was 42 years old when I started nursing school. In addition to full-time nursing school and a full-time job, I had two preteen girls at home. But I will never regret becoming a nurse. Behind my children, it is my greatest accomplishment. My children, who are grown now, tell me that they were super proud their mother was able to do it. They also chose health care careers — I have one daughter in pharmacy school, and my other daughter plans to go to medical school.
By Camille Jenkins, RN
Bone Marrow Transplant Inpatient Unit
When I was 3 years old, I often doctored my dolls and teddy bears: I initially thought I wanted to be a pediatrician one day. But my heart pulled me in a different direction, and I decided to become a nurse.
Today, I work on the St. Jude Bone Marrow Transplant unit; in fact, I just celebrated my one-year anniversary. St. Jude is a special place where families do not have to pay for treatment. Unfortunately, families at other institutions often do.
I’ve learned a lot on the job. For example, children can be resilient, but many things that happen in a children's hospital — taking medication, being sedated for a procedure or being stuck for IVs or cultures — can be scary. It's part of my job to help a distressed child stay calm. Sometimes a smile or a hug works wonders.
I love Danny Thomas and the St. Jude mission: Finding Cures. Saving Children. Working with our patients is — 100 percent — the best part of my job, so I try to give my all to them every day.
I work the night shift, and it can be a challenge. Sometimes I wonder if I can do the job with the resources at hand. And there are days when it's particularly difficult. But getting to work with our incredible patients makes every day worth it.
By Ashley McTyre, RN
Solid Tumor/Neuro-Oncology Inpatient Unit
I was inspired to become a nurse through interactions with my nurses while I was a patient at St. Jude. In the most fearful time of my life, they each made me feel hopeful, loved and cared for. I could feel their intense desire to do everything humanly possible to make me comfortable and to care not only for me, but for my entire family. It created a passion to do the same for others.
It is now such an honor, a gift and privilege to be able to work among some of the same nurses and doctors who took care of me as a patient and to help give hope and fulfill the mission of St. Jude.
The best part about coming to work each day is that I’m giving back. I know that I am in some small way making a difference in the life of someone who needs hope. The most difficult challenge I face is the realization that not every child will have the same outcome I did. With that, comes great responsibility to care for that patient and all patients to the very best of my ability, not only physically but with sensitivity to their journeys. It is what drives me to be more compassionate and to strive for excellence as I care for each and every patient and family.
I am in this fight to find a cure for all.
I am so blessed, so honored, to be a part of this wonderful hospital, the one that saved my life and now is giving me the great privilege and great responsibility to care for others walking the same path.
By Brendan O’Reilly, RN
Solid Tumor Inpatient Unit
I decided I wanted to become a nurse a little later in life than most, when I was in my mid-twenties. What led me to nursing is twofold. I had established that my life's calling was to help other individuals, but I didn’t feel I was adequately meeting that goal through my career as a personal trainer. When I thought about the individuals who had impacted me over the years, the nurse who took care of me when I was a sick child came to mind. This nurse taught me to walk again and alleviated much of my fear about being in the hospital environment.
I said, "I want to do that."
St. Jude lets me pursue my best work by providing the resources necessary to successfully care for my patients. Supplies are always stocked, and nurse-to-patient ratios are fair. In the hospital's nursing simulation lab, I've been able to hone skills I felt were lacking so that I could execute them perfectly on the floor.
Another thing St. Jude does is encourage scholarly inquiry. As an evidence-based practice fellow, I was able to delve into certain aspects of nursing culture, corresponding with nurses from as far away as Australia to benefit the nursing experience here.
The best part of coming to work has to be my coworkers or work family. They're always willing to help. I can bounce ideas off of them. And if I'm stressed, I can always count on a joke or prank from one of them to alleviate that stress.