Part six of our week-long series highlighting some of the amazing nurses of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Pennsylvania.
What does Tara Householder love about being a nurse?
“Everything,” she said.
“The people,” Tara continued. “The families that I see, the patients I come in contact with, the work that I do — whether it’s seeing them get better and helping them get better or just making sure that they’re comfortable when there’s no chance of getting better.”
These are a few of her favorite things.
To hear her talk about her job as an LPN in the acute care unit at JC Blair Hospital, you would think she was the happiest person in the world. Perhaps she is, but it wasn’t always so. Tara has long struggled with depression.
“When I was like 11,12 years old, I tried to kill myself twice,” she revealed. “A lot of my coworkers know this about me, but some don’t. I talk freely about it.”
When she talks about her battles with depression, she admits that it’s not something anyone would guess on first meeting her.
“A lot of people are surprised by it because I’m so outgoing and seem all happy and bubbly all the time,” Tara said. But yeah, I suffered from it. I still suffer from serious depression, but I continue to work and keep going.”
To help, she underwent a procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation, a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. Tara said that has helped her tremendously.
“It’s been under control for about a year now,” she said.
Tara said one of her greatest joys is that her mother has been able to see her career in nursing take off. She also worked in the healthcare field, in the pharmacy at the hospital for more than 40 years.
“My mother never thought that she would see me get to where I am today,” Tara said. “Now people come up to her and tell her how well I took care of them or a family member and she’s like, ‘Yeah, she’s a wonderful nurse. I never thought I’d get her to this point.’”
That point is finding the joy in taking care of everyone from pediatric to post-op patients and everything in between. She’s also cross-trained for behavioral health. It’s a far cry from where she started in the field in her early twenties.
“I was actually working in a nursing home in the kitchen,” Tara explained. “I was in my early twenties and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I liked being around the residents and I had a coworkers who was going to LPN school, so I figured ‘Well, why not. I’ll give it a chance.’ And I absolutely love it.”
Tara thinks it’s her love of people that makes her job such a source of joy.
“I’m a people person — I enjoy interacting with people,” she said. “Whether it’s making them laugh or teaching them about their illness.”
But there are the drawbacks that come with a nursing career. Tara notes the differences between how caretakers and managements want things done”
“[They]create these policies on how we’re supposed to do things and what we’re supposed to be doing but they’re not actually working on the floor,” she said. “They’re not there eight, 12, sometimes 16 hours a day.”
She also notes that staffing is often a concern in the field.
“They’re like, ‘Well you should only have this many RNs and this many LPNs for this many patients,’” Tara said. ‘OK, but you want us to improve our response time for our HCAPS. We’re short staffed. I can’t answer three call bells at the same time.’”
It’s times like that when Tara appreciates being part of a union.
“They’re there to back me up for when things aren’t right,” she explained. “There are times I’ve gotten mandated and I’m like, ‘You can’t mandate me. It’s illegal. Unless these certain things apply, you can’t.’ Because the union has educated me on what’s right and what’s wrong. I have the union protecting me, saying, ‘No. She shouldn’t have to work more than her scheduled shift. She shouldn’t have to work 16 hours — especially at a busy medical center.”
When she’s not listening for call bells, Tara spends her time listening to something far more enjoyable —her music.
“I like listening to music, going to concerts, going to music festivals,” Tara beamed about her love of jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. “I’ve been to I don’t know how many music festivals and concerts.”
But she’s got no plans to hit the road and follow the band like so many other super fans. She loves her career as a caregiver too much.
“Of course everyone knows that nursing is a thankless job in a way,” Tara said. “We’re underpaid and overworked; hardly ever get breaks. But for me, despite all those things, the thing that makes it worth it is the thank you from the patient or the family.”
“When you hear that thank you; when someone stops you on the street and says, ‘You took care of my father. Thank you for such great care.’”
That’s what makes her truly happiest.