My Unusual Path Into Nursing

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I’m an odd duck, and I relish it these days. My life path has had it’s ups and downs, successes and failures, joys and despairs. For a long time I mostly hid my unusual story and tried to ignore it, distract myself from it. Over time, I’ve learned to embrace it instead. It has increasingly become a strength, asset, and public role: the injured caregiver, both patient and treater.

I graduated from high school with an ROTC scholarship from the Air Force and no real sense of my purpose in life. I had earned good grades on auto-pilot, driven by the idea that you ”should” do so, little more. I started out at Cornell in engineering, for no more reason than my dad was an engineer and people assumed I’d do it too. I soon got bored and left ROTC (I just couldn’t do the do-what-we-say thing) and engineering to study philosophy and pre-med classes. I had a quaint and outdated country-doc career in mind, but I got into Harvard, and everyone around me got excited. Soon I got caught up in the hoopla, and off I went.

I had no problem with the academics: you might see by now that I have some talent for it. I ramped up the studying even more. Why? I assumed that’s what medical students do. All was basically fine, until depression took over. Medical school became a series of successes and hospital admissions. Finally I locked myself in my dorm room, lined up a lethal dose of imipramine – a rather effective suicide tool – and took them. At that time I was worthless, doomed, finished: in my mind. I awoke from a series of seizures and unconsciousness 36 hours later, and emerged from my room, confused and a bit bloody here and there. A friend took me to the ER across the street: we both lived in the dorm on Longwood Ave., next to multiple hospitals. Another admission, and then a ‘year off’ doing a NIMH Research Fellowship at McLean Hospital resulted. Such Fellowships were the preferred way for folks like me to regroup, it seems. After some more such debt-building experiences, I finally withdrew mid-third year, hopelessly (it seemed) in debt and without any plan.

I’ve suffered from depression now and again since then, but less and less often, especially once I finally figured out my medications.

I still liked the idea of clinical work, so I got a job in a group home, working with people who had been State Hospital patients for years to decades previously.  The pay was awful, the job thankless and stressful: one January, a new resident burnt the house to the ground. The state hadn’t told us she had an arson history, not wanting us to “overreact.”  Later we were told our agency would lose all state work (and thus fold) if any of us told what we knew of this matter. Life is such an education!

I chose nursing for all the options it offers, and earned an MSN in Adult/Geriatric NP.  To this day, I remain a nurse with no undergraduate nursing degree or certificate of any kind. Masters only – odd duck again! At the time the job market was weak, and I knew psychiatric work inside and out, so I got a staff nurse job at McLean. I’d been a patient there, actually – twice – but no one seemed to notice. When I finally got an NP job at a local hospital, I got tripped up by union politics: nurses who didn’t do their work would claim I’d told them it was OK, to avoid trouble. The doctor who hired and supervised me (so he said) suddenly left under a cloud, and the doctor who officially supervised me (no one told me that detail until it was far too late) had my credentialing rejected. So once more, I returned to McLean. I haven’t left since, although I’ve worked one way or another on all the inpatient psychiatric units at McLean and the ECT service. I’ve also taught CPR, MALS (nursing practice during medical emergencies) , and clinical placements for various nursing schools.

At some point I noticed that I had some unusual advantages over my nursing colleagues. I deeply understood depression, suicidality, and the inpatient patient experience. I had also been trained by physicians, the social workers who ran the group home agency, and nurses. I knew how to manage agitated patients without meds or force, after three years of doing just that in the group home. My toolbox was unusually rich and diverse.

Thus my curriculum Golden Rule Care was born. I began researching to build on my experiences and instincts. I practiced new clinical approaches, learning and refining them repeatedly, based on the results. Eventually I started teaching others about it and gave it a name. More recently I began blogging at what has become Big Red Carpet Nursing, and writing. I could have written this book years ago, I suppose, but finally I’ve got it done. Welcome!

Odd, unusual, atypical, a bit accidental. Such a life path offers great resources, once you get over it somehow not fitting the usual mold!

Being unusual can be quite liberating and informative, if you let yourself see it that way.


  1. There’s never one road is there? I appreciate when people share their stories because it is so easy for us all to feel alone and though you may be the only one to take this path, I think the lessons you an share are universal and remind us of the commonality of the human experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so glad you survived your suicide attempt and are where you are today. Your patients are extremely lucky to be in your care. Thank goodness for folks like you who are uniquely qualified (even if they came to it in an unconventional way) for the positions they are in!

    Liked by 1 person

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