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National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Translational Medicine Branch - Nurse Specialist Research
What is your field/occupation?
I am a Registered Nurse, and my title is "Nurse Specialist Research", which essentially is a Research Nurse Coordinator (recruiting for and managing research protocols).
How long have you worked in your field? At NIH?
I have been a nurse for 37 years. I have worked at the NIH for the past 16 years. Initially I was a contractor doing diagnostic testing and other projects for the NHLBI, and then 10 years ago I was hired as an employee for the NHLBI.
Prior to NIH, where did you work? What initially attracted you to the NIH?
After I graduated from Nursing school, I stayed at the University Hospital where I did my training. When I became engaged to be married, I decided to move closer to where I would be living. While I was in high school, my mother worked evenings as a unit clerk on the diagnostic cardiology nursing unit at the NIH. She always had good things to say about her job and the staff with whom she worked. Since I really liked working at a “teaching hospital” I decided that I would apply to the NIH. Not only was I hired, but I was assigned to work on the unit where my mother had worked! I worked on 7E for a while, but then left to pursue other opportunities, always in the Cardiology field. But, in the back of my mind, I missed working at the NIH and always wanted to return.
The opportunity arose in 1992. I was working full time for a company as a Holter Monitor analyst (a test for abnormal heart rhythms). One of my co-workers, who worked part time for our company, also worked full time at NIH in the Cardiology Branch, performing the same analysis. He knew that I was interested in returning to work at the NIH, so when he decided to leave, he gave me the contact information of the physicians with whom he worked. After several interviews with various people, I was given a contract to perform some work for the NHLBI. At that time there was a Federal Government hiring freeze, so I was not hired as a full time employee.
Was there a defining moment that sparked your interest in your field?
In the mid 1970’s when I first worked at NIH, I worked on the diagnostic cardiology unit where patients were admitted for evaluation for possible cardiac surgery or tweaking of their medical therapy. Patients came from all over the United States or even all over the world—many times kids with congenital heart problems. I was so impressed that the doctors at NIH were such experts in the field and they were able to help so many people. Often people were referred by other doctors in this county because their doctors did not know how to best treat their condition. From this time forward, cardiology was the field that held the greatest interest for me.
What has been your most enlightening/memorable experience at the NIH that may not have been possible anywhere else?
Several years ago some of my co-workers and I were collaborators on a protocol with NHGRI. This was a study defining the phenotype, characteristics and disease progression of patients with Hutchinson-Guilford-Progeria Syndrome. Progeria is a very rare disease, affecting less than 50 people worldwide. It is a disease with a genetic mutation that leads to premature aging, and the children die at an average age of 13 of cardiovascular disease. Because of this, the investigators were interested in the diagnostic tests we do to help characterize the disease in these children, with the idea that this would also give them insight into the aging process for all of us. This study was undertaken at the NIH to take advantage of the expertise of the investigators and the facilities that we have. The children and their families were so appreciative of the fact that we were trying to learn more about the disease process and possibly develop some way to either stop or even reverse the premature aging process.
How would you describe your colleagues?
Many are almost like members of my extended family! Most of my co-workers have worked at the NIH for greater than 10 years, so you really become friends as well as colleagues. One of our co-workers retired last year after 30 years in the PHS—all of which were spent at NIH. And, that is a positive reflection on the atmosphere and working conditions at the NIH. Staff members are generally enthusiastic about their jobs. They come to NIH because they are interested in the research aspect of patient care. And, they continue to stay here because they enjoy what they do. We are all very supportive of each other—whether it is personal life or work. We share in joy, sorrow, frustration or whatever….We are all willing to help each other however we can.
What are the top reasons that make working at the NIH worthwhile for you?
- One of the most important reasons that I feel working at the NIH is worthwhile for me is that I feel like we do things that can make a difference is people’s lives. I have been involved in several types of studies. Some were designed to help understand more about the disease process, like the Progeria study I mentioned before, or to learn more about endothelial function or coronary artery disease. Other studies have tested novel therapies for coronary artery disease—nitric oxygen inhalation, stem cell mobilization or even comparing specific diets to see if food that is eaten could improve how blood vessels function. Currently we are testing diet and exercise to see if improvements can be made in cardiac risk factors.
- A second reason is that I truly feel that I am part of a team involved in a research study—from start to finish. Planning meetings are held where I am able to express my opinions and offer ideas about the study, recruitment, testing, etc. The protocol is written, and then we review it for additional comments and revision. As a research coordinator, my responsibilities include recruitment, initial screening of participants ensuring eligibility, explaining the study to participants answering questions, providing in services for staff who may be involved with either testing or recruitment, performing some of the testing, maintaining the data, analysis of the data, reviewing or editing manuscripts regarding the study, etc.
- A third reason for feeling that working at the NIH is worthwhile is the opportunity for education and personal growth. There are incredible numbers of lectures, seminars, multi-day conferences, etc that are that are presented on a daily basis here on a variety of topics. Fortunately, many are videocasted, so that if I do not have the time to attend, I could watch them at a later time or date. In addition, the investigators are very willing to take the time to explain all about their studies and why they are doing what they are doing. There is also an abundance of other work related classes that could be taken—from office skills to interpersonal relationships in the workplace to computer classes, etc. In addition, there are many clubs or interest groups that could be joined.
- Another reason I enjoy working here is the beautiful campus-like setting. In spite of all of the buildings, there are many trees and open areas, and plenty of sidewalks, so that time could be spent outside, time permitting. And, I don’t know about the other buildings on campus, but building 10 and the CRC are almost like walking through a museum. Art work of all types is abundant in this building—and changed periodically. There are even concerts given periodically in the atrium on the first floor of the CRC.
- And, of course, I would be negligent if I didn’t include all the benefits of working for the Federal Government. I don’t think I need to elaborate on those benefits. But, another advantage of working here is that you can change your position or even Institute and still maintain your time in service and not lose benefits.