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The name Sandy means one who defends men, (with another interpretation as God’s helper), and for Registered Nurse Sandy Hoffman, her name has always given her purpose.
“I’ve always wanted to…help [God’s] people,” she said. “This is something my parents fostered in me from a young age.”
At 17, Sandy remembers learning about of the global efforts of medical missionaries at church and said their mission spoke to her heart. It was an epiphany moment for Sandy who says she knew deep in her gut that she would become a doctor or a nurse. But as a young single mother, Sandy quickly realized the challenging reality of going to medical school or traveling to a developing nation to work as relief agent while caring for a young son. But the practicality and possibility of becoming a nurse was a viable and exciting option for Sandy, who would still be able to serve the needs of the sick and poor in her own community.
“I realized I didn’t have to travel to a [developing] country right now,” she said. “And a career in nursing would afford me the financial independence to support myself and my son.”
In a journey that Sandy says was “a road paved by blood, sweat, and tears; hard work; and [God’s] grace,” Sandy set out to become an RN.
“Concretely, I had to study hard, earn good grades, establish good references and recommendations to get accepted into the nursing program. After that, as a new nursing student in a small, competitive program, I had to fight to prove myself [and show] that I was capable of working hard, critically thinking and solving problems.”
In addition to the physically demanding workload, Sandy was also trying to balance single parenthood. Being a full-time mother and student meant juggling her son’s schedule with her own classes and finding time to be with family and friends.
“I had to figure out what I was willing to sacrifice in order to succeed,” she said. “Which usually meant entertainment time and social time. I [was] trying to spend enough time with my son without feeling guilty for the time I spent away from him and I had to learn how to accept help from others.”
Sandy inside the isolation room at her hospital.
Early in Sandy’s career she worked in the Burn and Trauma Unit at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., and had a 17-year-old motor vehicle crash (MVC) patient with spinal cord damage.
“I wasn’t sure if he would ever walk again,” she said. “It’s a priceless feeling, six months later, to see him walk through the doors with a big smile on his face! All nurses can relate to this experience.”
But not all aspects of the job end with smiles and progress, Sandy says. While the opposite end of the spectrum can mean heartache and loss, Sandy says a nurse’s job is especially critical during that time.
“[Some of] my most effective care is to just be with a dying patient and their family; being kind to them, praying for them or with them. It’s a [special] feeling to know that you are with someone for the most important or critical moments of their lives.”
Today, Sandy works as an Acute Care Coordinator at the Prince William Hospital Acute Dialysis Unit in Manassas, Va., and says she considers herself to be both a caretaker and advocate for her patients.
Sandy with one of her favorite patients, Edith, on their way to church.
“I do for my patients what they cannot do for themselves,” she says. “Despite their level of education, too often my patients don’t know what questions to ask of doctors or other healthcare professionals, or for resources that they need. I am their voice.”
Sandy’s advice for anyone considering nursing as a profession is to hone in on getting as much experience as you can before graduation and to focus on education. She says despite the long hours studying and some of the initial hands-on patient work, it’s common to feel overwhelmed with the amount of information you still have to learn even after you’ve passed your RN exam.
“Work as a nurse’s aide in school, as a tech in the ER; take medical missionary trips, learn how to start IVs, every little bit will help,” she says. “No matter what, when you graduate school, you will still feel like you know nothing. But don’t let this negatively impact your studies, or [your drive] to finish your 4-year degree. I have seen others make this mistake; it’s not fun to take 5 to 6 years to finish nursing school.”
While Sandy says nursing has been worthwhile, she says the career shouldn’t be pursued solely for the money; and the education required on this path should not be taken lightly.
“I have been a nurse for 6 years, and even with my supervisory role and level of expertise, the only reason I make close to my sister the engineer (who also carries a 4-year degree) is all my overtime!
Sandy with Alice (left) and Blake.
“There are lots of different areas in nursing and not all are strictly involving patient care,” she says. “Healthcare is becoming big business in the U.S. and abroad and there is no shortage of jobs. Although it is possible to become a Registered Nurse with an Associate’s degree, go for the Bachelor’s degree in nursing and don’t just plan to stop there. Education is becoming more and more important in nursing and the best way to distinguish yourself as a professional in the field is with a 4-year degree.”
While Sandy says she has an incredible support system, she is still the primary caretaker in her son’s life; he’s now in middle school. While she continues to use her nursing skills at home and her motherly skills at work, Sandy says her perspective as a working mother has changed in some ways over the last few years.
“I realize how important it is for women to try to maintain their presence in the home and keep a support network. You have to try and stay balanced spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally. I have seen what happens when a woman fails to maintain this balance by sacrificing too much for the career or too much for family. Working can really add to the richness of family life and bring a lot of personal satisfaction, but it’s definitely not for everyone.”
Sandy says that nursing has helped her to become a more complete version of who she is, but wants to remind people that nursing isn’t just for women, “although women are great caretakers!” she says.
“Men will always be an extreme minority [in nursing], but some of the best trauma and burn nurses I’ve met have been men.”
Sandy and her running partner, Michelle, at the Divas Half-Marathon, Long Island, NY Oct. 2012.
Sandy’s son Tyler, and Alice. (All photos courtesy of Sandy Hoffman) ______________________________________________________________________
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