By Elaine Mahon, ONS Member

As a student graduating from a traditional four-year bachelor of science in nursing program, career opportunities in nursing are seemingly endless.

It’s exciting to enter a field that involves helping and caring for people and provides an opportunity to work with patients of all different cultures, ethnicities, ages, and personalities. I initially chose a nursing career because I’ve always been interested in the science of the body. I love making connections and communicating with people, and I have a passion for helping people get through their worst times. As a student, the only goal I had as an aspiring nurse was to work in pediatrics.

During nursing school, we completed clinical hours with all different patient populations: pediatric, adult, older adult, psychiatric, public health, and maternity. I realized—after I completed my six 12-hour clinical experiences on the pediatric neurology unit—that my love for kids was bound to influence my academic decisions. As I continued to complete four more clinical rotations after my stint in pediatrics, I knew without a doubt that I was meant to be a pediatric nurse. I had wonderful clinical experiences with other populations, but nothing compared to the hours I spent on the pediatric unit.

After my junior year of nursing school, I wanted to find an externship to work on my skills and develop new ones. I applied for a summer student nurse externship, and, to my surprise, was placed on the hematology/oncology unit at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The program was an opportunity for me to grow as a nurse, but it also became a direct path into my future career. Because of the 10-week program—along with my hard work through nursing school—the faculty and staff nominated me for the St. Louis Children’s Hospital critical care fellowship. I was accepted into it for my preceptorship of my senior year with rotations in the emergency department and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Not only did I gain confidence, skills, and knowledge from both programs, but I also forged amazing connections with the unit staff members and managers. I had the privilege of interviewing in the NICU, as well as on the hematology/oncology floor, and I received job offers for both. After considerable reflection, I accepted the job on the hematology/oncology unit at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

I’ve learned a lot about pediatrics and my passion for oncology nursing, but I’ve also learned the value of networking and being open to new experiences and opportunities. Staying diligent in academics and as a student athlete afforded me the opportunity to apply for and accept a summer externship that exposed me to the fascinating world of oncology nursing.  My free student membership to ONS exposed me to oncology nursing journals and led to my first professional publications as a student and coauthor with another ONS member. Each experience and opportunity has opened a door to something better.

Because of the oncology nurses’ love and dedication shown to every patient and family on the hematology/oncology unit, I’m beyond excited to start my new job. The opportunity to serve children and their families in the most difficult moments of their lives is a privilege for me. I’m thrilled about the possibility of developing wonderful relationships with these patients throughout their care journey.

Looking back on my freshman year, I had the goal of working with children, but now I can say I have the goal of putting a smile on a child’s face by providing safe, evidence-based nursing care. Networking and embracing new opportunities have made all the difference for me, and these skills will serve me well as I embark on what I know will be the start of an amazing and fulfilling career.