Lisa Lampkin RN, BSN, CCRN, is a critical care nurse at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif. Helping to save lives at the hospital for 12 years wasn't enough for the apparent adrenaline junkie, though, and for the past five years, she's also been a volunteer Professional Service Responder (PSR) on the Search and Rescue Team as a Technical Ropes Rescue and Medical Team member with the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
Lampkin's career choice didn't appear to be a choice at all.
"I have always considered being a nurse my calling in life," she said. "I never thought about being anything else! I grew up with a father who was a fireman/EMT. I loved listening to my dad tell me stories of the people he helped and how he ran towards disaster and knew what to do to make the situation better. I wanted to be like him, so becoming a critical care nurse made perfect sense! I'm too chicken to run into a burning house and probably not strong enough to carry all that equipment."
So she joined the nursing program at the University of Louisville, where chance helped introduce her to the world of critical care nursing.
"When I was a senior at the University of Louisville in the nursing program, I was given a unique opportunity to complete a four-month preceptorship at the Jewish Hospital in the CVICU. I didn't know the area I wanted to practice at that time. I thought it would be pediatrics, but I was wrong! I loved watching my mentor, Cheryl Brockman, walk into the room of a patient who was on the verge of dying at 0800, do what she does best, then clock out with the patient stable and the family happy. I was hooked. I wanted to be that nurse; the one that made a positive change in just 12 hours! I wanted to be the nurse that walks into a room of chaos and makes things calm again."
To Lampkin, there is no secret to what it is that makes nursing her career of choice.
"Simply helping others," she said. "It's those hundreds of instant gratifying moments throughout the day that add up to a happy soul when I clock out at night. It's knowing that another human being is better tonight because of something I contributed. Even when my patient passes away, I pray their loved ones feel my compassion and feel their loved one was also somehow shown love by me. It's been a very rewarding career. After 17 years, I still feel excited to show up at work and see the challenge before me."
But it is a career that changed dramatically five years ago.
"I have had the opportunity to work in many different hospitals, in a multitude of settings and with a diverse patient population," Lampkin said. And I'm very grateful. But about five years ago, after 12 years of critical care nursing, I wanted an additional challenge. I didn't want to leave my family at Mission Hospital, so I decided to explore ways to serve my community with the knowledge gained over years in critical care nursing."
A simple snowshoe fitting at REI opened the door to the Orange County (California) Sheriff's Department and becoming a PSR (Professional Service Responder). The young man helping me started asking what got me interested in snowshoeing. When I told him I was an avid hiker/backpacker and had a lot of free time since I was also a nurse who only worked three days a week, he told me I fit the profile of a search and rescue volunteer. He gave me the phone number of the lead PSR, Brian Clark, and I made the call that evening. Brian answered all my questions and invited me to the next meeting.
"The day after that first meeting, I was assigned to a patient whose son just happened to be the Sergeant of the Technical Ropes Rescue Squad on the search and rescue team (we have 10 different squads). He recognized me from the meeting, and we have been friends ever since! That first meeting was in January of 2012."
Since that time, Lampkin's dedication to this additional side of providing care has broadened — as have the experiences involved with search and rescue.
"It takes time, dedication and a lot of training to become a full-fledged member," she said. "In the first six months, I had to pass a background check and show a strong interest by simply showing up to the meetings and training sessions. Once I passed the background screen, I spent a few years 'proving' myself by attending classes, making it to as many training sessions as possible and buying the necessary equipment.
"They look for people who are consistent, trustworthy and who aren't afraid to get dirty. Taking orders well and carrying out those orders efficiently are very important. We can have a search that includes hundreds of volunteers from surrounding counties and their Search and Rescue (SAR) teams. I can't just decide to do my own thing even though I feel I can be better used elsewhere. I have to trust my command staff just as much as they have to trust me to carry out my mission well."
Sounds a lot like being a nurse, and Lampkin has noted the similarities.
"It's something that I see carry over into my profession at Mission Hospital. Teamwork, depending on the team to do what they do best and succeeding at a common goal is something we do every day!
In the five years I've been on the team, the Sheriff's Department has, in turn, encouraged me to become Alpine Certified, Mountaineering Certified and Technical Rescue level I and II certified. With these certifications, I have had the honor of training with Air5 and the L.A. SAR team, climbing Mt. Rainier for cancer research with members of the LA SAR team and attending SAR conferences. I don't have to mention the brothers and sisters I've gained through this process.
"I tease my dates and say I have 100 brothers who are armed and dangerous, but very nice and fun to be around!"
A Work/Life Balance
Even though Lampkin's "other" job might take her outside, she understands the need for balance as well as all nurses.
"I feel very balanced outside of work. I have a strong connection to my church and to my friends who are not healthcare workers. My best friends are all nurses since they are the only ones who truly understand my sick sense of humor. But, I also have many friends from all walks of life who keep me grounded in reality and that not everyone lives in a Greys Anatomy world.
"I love getting outdoors and experiencing life. That goes from skydiving to road trips to Death Valley to camping out under the stars to meeting up with friends for dinner and a night of bowling. So if you want to go somewhere or experience something new, call me; I'm in!"
A Message to All Nurses
With the experience Lampkin has acquired from 17 years of high-stress jobs in two careers in healthcare, she has a message for other nurses.
"With all the changes in healthcare and the effects nurses are experiencing in the trenches, I just want my colleagues to know they do make a difference and their voice does matter. Get involved with your practice council, educate the nurse struggling next to you, smile, and be kind to one another.
"We are advocates first for our patients, and second for ourselves. If we don't take care of ourselves, who will be around to care for our families and for our patients? Be kind to yourself and take time to vent, unwind, and relax, but in a healthy way! You have permission."