Josh Halon inadvertently went into nursing as a career.
The northwest Indiana native and current registered nurse and director of cardiovascular services for Indiana University Health West Hospital was working a retail job to pay his way through college at Indiana State University. Then 9/11 happened and the subsequent economic downtown resulted in Halon losing his job. The only employment he could find after that was working with disabled children.
"I developed a passion there that led me to nursing," he said. "I learned I have a heart for caring for people in need."
It was a far cry from his undergraduate studies -- music business administration. Halon got a scholarship based on his high school trumpet playing. Nursing eventually won out. So much so that Halon is now working toward his master's in nursing administration.
"My passion has evolved to leading and working with the future nursing workforce and being an advocate for the profession," he said.
Nicholas Odle, a medical surgical nurse at IU Health West, came into the health care field almost the same way as Halon. He was almost finished earning his bachelor's degree in piano performance when he decided to study nursing.
"I guess I wanted to do something more meaningful," Odle said.
He always liked teaching, and felt like a counselor as much as that when giving piano lessons to his students. Nursing was simply an extension of that, albeit a long one.
"You have the ability to provide for your family with a goal-oriented career, and at the same time you get to give so much back," Odle said of his work. "It's not just a job -- you get to help people. There's rewards on both sides. It's not really work. It's a privilege."
Halon agrees, noting how important it is to help others during one of the scariest times in their lives.
"People come in sick and hurt, they don't know what's going on," he said.
Halon knows that firsthand. A couple years ago his wife became so sick that she had to be hospitalized for three months.
"It gave me a good perspective," Halon said. "I know I have the opportunity to really change someone's life."
Both nurses admit their jobs can be stressful.
"In today's environment you're expected to do a lot more and provide a higher level of quality and service with, a lot of times, fewer resources," Halon said. "We have people's lives in our hands every day."
Added Odle, "As long as you can find that bond with your patients, that you're not just there doing a job and truly care about what they need, once you establish that a lot of the stress goes away."
Odle doesn't think about his patients in terms of how much they're suffering, but whether he did all he could to make them as comfortable as he would his own family.
"It's doing the little things that make it personal," Odle said. "And that's when it becomes meaningful."
His work as a medical surgical nurse includes a lot of hospice care.
"Sometimes you can't fix the situation or the hurt that's going to come," Odle said. "What you can do is make it meaningful and comforting, and show the family this person is significant in your eyes too."
Sometimes it's difficult to separate the job from the private life.
"My work always follows me just because my Blackberry doesn't shut off," Halon said.
But you still have to try to compartmentalize.
"If you live it all the time you're not going to have a good quality of life," Halon said. "There are times you have to turn it off."
Like Odle, Halon finds nursing to be a rewarding career.
"To see patients we've treated and see them dramatically change their lifestyle, there's nothing better," he said. "They'll come up and thank you and say, 'You've not only changed my life, you've changed my family.' That's really cool."
Both considered going to med school, but ultimately didn't think it would be the right fit.
"Right now I'm pretty happy because I get to do the hands-on care, not just the decision-making," Odle said.
"The nursing side is a different aspect than the medicine side," he said. "You spend a lot more one-on-one time with patients and families. Physicians are highly skilled and extremely busy. They're doing assessments and executing the medical piece. What we're doing is more holistic caring, looking at the entire picture. Not that doctors don't do that, but we just have more opportunity to work with families and children."
There's expected to be plenty of need for nurses in the future. The highly-populated baby boomer generation is now reaching retirement. If President Barack Obama's health care reform is upheld by the Supreme Court, it's expected to add millions of citizens to health insurance rolls.
"Nursing is definitely a field that's not going away, and it's going to continue to grow for quite some time," Halon said.
For students interested in a nursing career, Halon says many hospitals allow job shadowing. Volunteering for nonprofit groups that help victims of various diseases also is a good way to learn more about the profession.
Just don't go into nursing because you think it will be easier to find a job and it pays well.
"You have to have a caring aspect," Halon said. "If you can't care for people, you can't be an effective nurse."
Odle encourages those interested in nursing to ask themselves this: "Is it for you or (the patients)? If it's for you because of them, then it's the right choice."
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