Personal Stories of America at Work

How One Working Mom Finds Satisfaction in her Nursing Career

Nurse Janice Alamillo responds to all kinds of emergencies all day

"Being a nurse is a great career choice for women who want to have families, with flexible scheduling and abundant opportunities.”

Janice Alamillo, Nurse

Alamo, California

Delivering babies in the parking lot

I’ve been an emergency room nurse for twenty-one years. The ER environment can be nutty. We can get four traumas at once. We can deliver babies in the parking lot. We’ve had to put our fingers in holes to stop the bleeding as we push the patient down the hallway until they can get into the operating room. We might do critical, life-saving things in one room and be treating someone for an infected mosquito bite in the next.

I have had a pregnant woman in a car crash, a person having an allergic reaction to a bee sting, and somebody else with a tick in their hair. The variety is unbelievable. It’s very busy, and you have to differentiate between who can wait and who can’t. It’s a really difficult job. Someone comes in for rectal pain, someone else comes in for a toothache, and then somebody else is having a massive heart attack at forty-one. You prioritize all day long.

There are times when I will work six or seven hours and realize that I did not drink water or take a break the entire time. I think every job comes with wear and tear, but at least mine has fed my brain. I feel physically exhausted at the end of a shift and don’t feel like doing much after I get off work. I used to get off work and meet friends for drinks and wake up in the morning and go running, sailing, biking, or skiing. Now I am just wiped out—literally and figuratively. After all, I’m a forty-three-year-old mother of three.

Patients are forever changed

There is a lot of independence in emergency nursing. The majority of the patients who come to the emergency room aren’t life-threatening emergencies. But when there is a true emergency, you go into automatic rescue mode; you don’t wait for things to happen—you actually make them happen.

There is a huge sense of gratification when you make a difference in someone’s life. I had a guy who was thirty-eight years old and was skiing and drinking beers with his buddies for the weekend. He went to work on Monday morning, felt a little dehydrated, and fainted. They called 911, and he came in. Just as I was talking to him, I looked up at the monitor and his heart rate went from sixty to thirty to eleven to zero. I called the code, everybody showed up, his heart rate picked back up, and he started to beat again. He asked, “What happened? What happened?” We ended up giving him a pacemaker. He is probably at home right now with his kids having a happy day.

Patients go home and are forever changed. They will remember that event in great detail for the rest of their lives, and you were a part of that. It gets you up in the morning. This is a specialized field and when you are good at something, you really do enjoy it. And I do, I absolutely love it.

You see heroics everyday

When I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to be a nurse. As a kid, I had a horse and a really tight budget, so I learned how to give my horse all his own medicines. We used a vet only when my horse was really sick. I learned to give him all of his own shots, vaccinations, and did all of his worming. Even when my horse got injured and had an infection, I was able to give the antibiotic injections. I did the same thing for our dogs and other animals.

But as I got older, when my grandmother got sick, I found myself doing the same thing for her—I helped with her caretaking. I realized I liked helping people. My grandmother had emphysema and was on her deathbed. One day, my dad put the whole family in car to “go see Grandma in the hospital,” but it was really to say goodbye. She could barely breathe. When I went in, sat down, and chatted with her, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You would make a great nurse. You really make people feel better.” I remember thinking, “What a coincidence, because I want to be a nurse.”

I feel like being a nurse is such a great career choice for women who want to have families, who want a skill set that is applicable anywhere in the world, with flexible scheduling and abundant opportunities. The pay is average, but you can support yourself nicely. I went to college to get my degree and later to grad school for an advanced degree. I am happy that I chose something that would give me the credentials to continue to grow.

When you save a life or impact a patient’s life to such an intense degree with another coworker, or when you even lose a life with another coworker, you share an enduring and inexplicable bond. You see heroics every day. There is nowhere else I can go in my world to replace that. As much as I love everyone in my life, there is no lunch date that I am going to make with someone that is going to substitute for what I experience when I go to work.

I don’t think of my job as stressful. I think of it as busy. I would rather be busy than bored.

Katie Gay | January 25, 2011 | Healthcare, Women, Working Mother | 10

10 Responses to How One Working Mom Finds Satisfaction in her Nursing Career

  1. Claire Wagner says:

    I can’t imagine going to work every day and facing death-and the chance to beat it. I’m just grateful for the skill and dedication of people like Janice. I’ve known a lot of nurses but none working in ER, so I appreciated the closer look. Great story.

    • molly says:

      I remember the buzz about the nursing shortage a few years ago, and yet current graduates of nursing school are finding the job market as tough as anyone now. Looks like that might change in the near future, but I’m curious about what experiences other nurses or nursing school students are finding – comments?

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention How One Working Mom Finds Satisfaction in her Nursing Career | The Working Chronicles --

  3. joanne says:

    Interesting that she knew what she wanted to do at an early age, and obviously, she’s good at it. Loved the details of ER nursing — really put me in her shoes — it seems to be a rewarding, gratifying career and no day is ever the same!

  4. Pablo Schurig says:

    Wow, what a great article! I was deeply touch, moved and inspired.

  5. hk says:

    I find her philosophy on nursing can be applied to life. “Making things happen”, “Helping others” and finding deep gratification in this way rings true. Thank you for this inspiring vignette of this career. Looking forward to reading more of the Working Chronicles.

    • Molly says:

      Thank you – I also love reading about someone who finds real joy and fulfillment in her work. The visual of holding her finger in the holes while wheeling the gurney down the hall is certainly staying with me, though!

  6. Susie says:

    I loved Jan’s story. Keep it up.
    I am so proud of you.

  7. Amy Smith says:

    Great article! I just sent out via Twitter. As another working mom who loves the juggle, I especially loved this article, because…With 3 boys, we’ve seen more than our share of the ER – stitches and all! And it’s so nice to see a nurse’s perspective on the emergency scene. Great work, Molly! Love what you’ve done on this site!

  8. Matt says:

    Hopefully you subscribe to the dictum “better late than never.” I finally read the story you wrote about Jan. I loved it!

    I’m very lucky to be friends with both of you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Working Chronicles

  • The Working Chronicles captures an intimate look at work in 21st century America through candid interviews with people from all walks of life and all corners of the country.

    Read More...»

Latest News

  • Have a story about changing careers? We want to hear from you!
    For a short time we are accepting submissions from readers and will publish the top stories on our blog and possibly include in a book.
    We'll accept an autobiographical story or interview with someone else--check out the Submission Guidelines.

Related Links


Chronicle Archives