Empowering Beauty for a Cause

Jun 26, 2023

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Preparing for a pageant taught me how to find the courage to use my voice and present the best version of myself to the world. That translates off-stage by giving me the confidence to advocate for my patients, myself and my co-workers so that we can all have the best quality of life.

Soumya Karne, BSN, RN, CCRN

With a blend of talent, compassion and beauty, Soumya Karne, BSN, RN, CCRN, breaks stereotypes as she navigates both her job as a critical care nurse at Saint Peter's Healthcare System and her role as Miss New Jersey International. Receiving her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University was a dream come true. As a proud member of AACN and an American Heart Association Health for Life facilitator, Soumya strives to make a positive impact on healthcare. Certified in mental health first aid, she provides crucial support to those in need. Soumya's multilingual knowledge, with some proficiency in Telugu, English, Spanish, French, Hindi and Mandarin, acts as an asset in transcending cultural barriers and embodying the true spirit of a global citizen.

Soumya Karne at work

Why did you become a nurse?

Quite a few experiences shaped my decision to become a nurse. My family members and I were all hospitalized at different points throughout my life. Following my experience of being hospitalized, I developed an interest in studying diseases, learning their impact on the human body, and exploring medical technologies

When I was a freshman in college, I received the shocking news that my dad was in the hospital. He was doing a routine stress test with his cardiologists when they discovered blockages in his heart. This required a balloon angioplasty to help blood flow through my dad's heart and prevent his heart attack from leading to death. After learning how chronic stress affects heart health, my dad started practicing mindfulness meditation and yoga to improve his mental health.

Seeing how modern medicine and lifestyle changes can improve one's quality of life inspired me to become a nurse and passionate advocate for my wellness platform.

What inspired you to compete for Miss New Jersey International, and how do you balance it with your nursing career?

I was on a journey of self-love and self-development after experiencing some traumatic events in my life that caused low self-esteem. I wanted to build my confidence and learn how to put myself out there in the world, and in pageantry I found just that. I stopped making myself feel small and learned how to stand tall while walking confidently among other accomplished women who are committed to making a difference in the world.

I balance my duties as Miss New Jersey International with my nursing career by incorporating my training into my day-to-day life. Preparing for a pageant taught me how to find the courage to use my voice and present the best version of myself to the world. That translates off-stage by giving me the confidence to advocate for my patients, myself and my co-workers so that we can all have the best quality of life.

What are your greatest achievements?

If you had told me a couple of years ago that I’d be Miss New Jersey International and an ICU nurse, I would have been so shocked. This is one of my greatest achievements. By broadening my reach, I have been able to help more people. The year 2020 was a time when social media activism really popped off and I became so overwhelmed seeing social justice issues come to light, especially from people my age. I would share things and repost online, but I didn’t feel satisfied with the lack of tangible impact it had because I did not have a large following at the time.

I am also so proud of my platform, “Wellness Wins!” The idea came from my own personal experiences with family members, such as my dad having heart disease, and from when I started working as a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic. I saw firsthand how the effects of untreated physical and mental illness could become catastrophic and even lead to death because people had difficulty accessing preventive care services, due to shutdowns or general fear of getting medical treatments during COVID. I banded together with other nurses to save lives, educate the public and advocate for safe practice via social media and word of mouth to help combat the spread of harmful misinformation.

What was one of your most meaningful nursing moments?

Earlier this year, I took care of a postpartum patient in the ICU. She underwent a hysterectomy and was admitted to the ICU for postoperative recovery. During that time, I was acting as a preceptor for a nursing student, teaching the lesson of staying on your toes in critical care settings because anything can happen.

My patient was having internal bleeding and, by the hour, her abdomen kept getting larger and firmer. Three other nurses and I started working on her to prevent her from coding. We started vasopressors and gave her every blood product known to man. I was going back and forth between my patient, her physicians and her family to keep them all updated on what was happening.

I had tears in my eyes as I kept thinking about having to save her to get her home with her children and family. The patient eventually went back to the operating room and I went home. My body felt tired from working more than 14 hours nonstop, and my heart felt heavy because I kept thinking about the status of my patient and praying that she would make it through the night. When I returned to work a couple of days later, I was overjoyed to see that she was still alive and ready to be taken off the ventilator.

Seeing how we all came together to save that patient and then finding out that she made it through was one of those moments when I realized why nursing is my passion. It is an honor to work with patients and their families to help pull them out of tough situations. I love seeing patients win! Using my brain and my heart to treat patients and make them thrive is why I love my job.

Explain some of your volunteer efforts.

A passion of mine is volunteering at preventive screening booths. It is important to spread the message on how annual checkups and age-appropriate screenings can help detect illness earlier and lead to better outcomes.

I educate various individuals about heart health and healthy living as an American Heart Association Healthy for Life facilitator. Our purpose is to help Americans live heart healthy and prevent America’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers, heart disease and stroke. I love being an advocate for good health and a promoter of positive behaviors, nutritious eating habits and healthy lifestyles.

How has your heritage influenced you?

Being a first-generation Indian American taught me that to survive in this world, you have to work hard to build a better life for yourself and your family. Both my grandmothers got married around the age of 13, and my mom got married in her early 20s and moved to the United States with my dad and my younger sister.

I think about my mom whenever I have a patient that doesn’t speak English, because I know how confusing and stressful healthcare is and language barriers don’t make it easy. I learned to speak multiple languages, because I enjoy connecting with people and being able to communicate with them. When I speak in their language, my patients feel more comfortable with me and it makes me happy to put a smile on their faces.

Soumya and family in Indian dress

Tell us about your experience attending NTI.

One of my fondest memories from nursing school was attending the New Jersey Nursing Students conferences with my classmates and learning from experts in the nursing field. One of the breakout sessions that really inspired me was a presentation from a nurse on her day-to-day life and the roles and responsibilities of an ICU nurse. As a student, it was my first exposure to critical care, and I couldn’t wait to become an ICU nurse.

When I got the flyer for the NTI conference in the mail, I was beyond excited to attend a conference for the first time as a professional nurse. I had such a great time at the 2023 NTI conference in Philadelphia. As a lifelong learner, I had the opportunity to attend seminars, network with nurses from across the country, and learn about some of the latest developments in healthcare technology.

How has AACN played a role in your career?

I was so proud to become certified as a CCRN in 2022. Studying for that exam helped me expand my knowledge and engage critical thinking skills that I practice to this day. I wanted to learn more about how and why we do the things we do as ICU nurses so that I can become a better nurse. My commitment to learning and excellence as a bedside nurse made me want to sit for the CCRN exam, and I passed on the first attempt!

Becoming an AACN member allowed me to have more opportunities for continuing education and to meet fellow nurses from across the nation at this year’s NTI conference. Having that community and support helped me feel empowered to go on and make an impact at my workplace and beyond.

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