Why I Am a Pediatric Nurse

Sep 14, 2022

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Oliver Lee Pelayo, MSN, RN, CCRN, TCRN, has been a nurse for 29 years, practicing in pediatric critical care. He has taught in schools of nursing and is passionate about building healthy work environments.

She is a force behind why I do what I do. I have been thriving in pediatric critical care nursing because of her.

She was only 9 years old when it all began. I was in high school when I noticed that Suzette, my brilliant niece and always an honor student, could not solve a simple math problem. Once the peculiarities piled up, we started looking for a usual remedy in the Philippines, healing from spiritual doctors. She was prayed over, smoked with incense, and treated for supernatural energies that were out to get her. When she stopped talking and was unable to sit up, we started seeking medical help. After a battery of tests that included a lumbar puncture, she was diagnosed with subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. My once energetic, fun-loving, brilliant niece became bed-bound, needing total care, which included feeding her through a tube and frequently suctioning her airways to keep her from drowning in her own secretions.

I went to a local college in the Philippines to earn a nursing degree after I was denied admission to dentistry school at a prestigious university. In retrospect, I am glad I chose nursing. I was able to learn everything I could to care for my niece. I brought home the knowledge and skills I learned in school and taught my sister-in-law skin protection, nutrition, airway clearance and mobility. We took turns caring for Suzette. I took care of her during the night, and she took care of her during the day.

After graduating from nursing school, I was accepted to work in the United States. Although I was elated to finally reach my dream, I was heartbroken about leaving Suzette and my family. During my first few months working in a skilled nursing facility, I was lost, angry and frustrated. I was so disconnected from my values and constantly questioned my decision to become a nurse. After four months, I was recruited to work in a home healthcare setting, caring for pediatric patients with chronic health issues. It was then that I realized why I became a nurse. I am and always will be a pediatric nurse.

Caring for pediatric patients is caring for my niece. Since then, I have worked in different clinical settings but each was in pediatrics. For almost three decades now, I continue to wake up with enthusiasm, knowing that I will see and care for my "niece." I speak with and touch my patients the way I would speak with and touch her. I educate my patients' families the way I educated my sister-in-law. Living a life aligned with my values, I stopped "working" and started living. The saying "Thank God it's Friday" does not apply to me. Every day I work is the day I get to be with my niece. Every day I am not working is a day to fill up my cup, rejuvenate and long for another day to go back to care for her.

Pediatric Nursing Creates a Close Connection to Patients and Families

Pediatric nurses not only take care of pediatric patients but also care for the parents and caregivers. Pediatric nursing is understanding the unique physiological and psychological needs of pediatric patients across multiple age groups. It is understanding the clinical changes the patient may present without subjective words. It is holistically caring for the family as a unit. I have given breaths to infants and children with respiratory distress who had progressed to respiratory failure. I have helped revive the hearts of children who experienced cardiac arrest after major heart surgeries. I am currently part of a great team that cares for children who sustained major traumatic injuries.

Pediatric nursing is a rewarding career, which includes helping resilient children move from critical illness to a life full of promise. I am grateful to be a pediatric critical care nurse. I get to be part of children's lives as they heal. Also, I get to touch the lives of their parents when they grieve and have to navigate a new chapter in their lives. I am a quiet presence when parents lose their precious child. In the end, I am grateful knowing that whatever the outcome may be, I was once a part of their lives; albeit small, I was able to make a dent in their being.

Recently, as I completed post-mortem care on a pediatric patient, I quietly whispered in his ear, "Be at peace now and send my deepest love and gratitude to my niece, Suzette. Let her know that she is still alive in my heart and my being."

Everyone's journey is different: full of surprises, disappointments and successes. As you reflect on your own nursing practice, what have you identified as your "why," the reason that keeps you going through difficult times? What stories have kept you going, keeping you passionate about pediatric nursing? How would you share your stories to encourage other nurses and nursing students to pursue a career in pediatric nursing? Our future depends on the health and well-being of our children. Pediatric nurses are in a unique position to effect change and build our future.