by Kathryn Free

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Kathryn Free with Dr. Margaret Grey

On November 17, 2015, the  William F. Connell School of Nursing hosted a casual luncheon with Dr. Margaret Grey, an influential and inspiring nurse researcher who was this year’s fall Pinnacle speaker. Dr. Grey’s groundbreaking research has influenced health providers’ understanding of how to best enable patients to successfully manage type 1 diabetes. After learning about  Dr. Grey’s campus visit earlier in the year, I was very eager to meet her—not only because I worked as a camp nurse for girls with type 1 diabetes, but also because we grew up in the same hometown, Easton, PA. We reminisced about growing up in Easton and attending Easton High School’s annual Thanksgiving football game.

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Kathryn Free, Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, and Dr. Margaret Grey

When asked to describe her career trajectory, Dr. Grey paused, prefacing her narrative with, “I did not dream of becoming a dean,” referring to her ten year career as the Dean of Yale School of Nursing. As an undergraduate, Dr. Grey initially wanted to become an ICU nurse after working as a nursing assistant during school. However, this all changed after she fell in love with her pediatric clinical. After graduating and working in a NICU, her inquisitive and investigative nature flourished. Dr. Grey’s interest in the obstacles and struggles premature babies face later in life kick-started her career in nursing research. Dr. Grey’s passion has always been in integrating research with the art of nursing to change clinical practice.

After the insightful discussion, I personally took three pieces of advice to heart:

  1. Be open to new endeavors and fully embrace opportunities presented. As a nursing student, who does not have an inkling of what she wants to do after graduation, it was helpful listening to Dr. Grey’s career trajectory. When meeting someone as successful as Dr. Grey, it is easy to assume that her career path was smooth and figured out from the start. However, I quickly learned that this was the farthest from the truth. Dr. Grey even stated that it is absurd for new grads to know what they want to do. New grads may think they know what they want, but their interests will most likely evolve. For instance, Dr. Grey was a tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania before working at the Yale School of Nursing. Dr. Grey shared that she thought she would be a professor at Penn until she retired. However, the opportunity at Yale was great and Dr. Grey was open to a new experience. As she recently stepped down from deanship, Dr. Grey’s career continues to evolve as she remains open to new endeavors.
  1. New graduates do not need to work on a medical-surgical floor for two years in order to be successful. This was very different advice than what I have been hearing from other nurses. Many nurses have recommended working on a med-surg floor after graduation to learn the fundamentals of nursing care. Dr. Grey shared that if you are passionate about fields like pediatrics, psych, or maternity, two years on a surgical floor is not necessary. While I think that it may helpful to “get your foot in the door”, since many urban hospitals will not hire a new grad in these specialties, it is a relief to know that it is not necessary.
  1. Strong interdisciplinary relationships and a team-based approach to patient care are necessary to provide the best care. One of the most important things I have learned this year is to know and embrace your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and consult the “experts.” Having strong relationships with the provider and other members of health care team such as social workers, nutritionist, endocrinologists, or psychiatrists is key!

It was a pleasure meeting Dr. Grey at the luncheon. The informal atmosphere allowed discussions to flourish naturally and conversations to be filled with insight and humor.