Later this year, I will celebrate the 10th anniversary of my graduation from nursing school. As I reflect upon my nursing career, I cannot believe all of the experiences, opportunities, and growth I have been fortunate to have. At each stage of my career, the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) has played an important role in shaping and guiding my personal and professional growth.
Change of plans
For most nurses, graduation is a time of celebration and joy. For me, it is a life event associated with very mixed emotions. You see, my graduation from the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University was the last time I saw my father alive. Two weeks later, he passed away from a heart attack. He was 54. After surviving lung cancer a year before, my father mistook signs of a heart attack for heartburn caused by radiation therapy that permanently irritated his esophagus. Despite resuscitation attempts in the ambulance, he arrived at the hospital, about 20 minutes from his house, with no pulse and was pronounced dead. Following his death, I made the decision to move from Atlanta to Denver to be closer to my family. This decision meant delaying taking my NCLEX and giving up the job I had secured, while still in nursing school, in a downtown Atlanta emergency department.
In nursing school, the faculty had stressed that nurses should be professionally engaged and active and the importance of belonging to a professional organization. Taking that admonition to heart, I served as president of theGeorgia Association of Nursing Students
(GANS), the state chapter of theNational Student Nurses’ Association
(NSNA). Because of my professional integrity and academic efforts, I was invited, as a senior nursing student, to join Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International. Through these experiences, I had built a network of contacts and mentors in Georgia that I would “lose” when I moved to Colorado. I knew nothing about the nursing landscape in Colorado and had no idea where to start looking for my first job.
In making the decision to relocate, I was very anxious about finding a job as a newly graduated nurse. I recognized the importance of finding a supportive and healthy work environment, but how would I do that after moving to a new city? Because Emory had instilled in me a belief in the importance of professional organizations, I reached out to the only network I had—STTI.
Definitely the right number
I remember calling the member services line at headquarters in Indianapolis and requesting contact information for the Alpha Kappa-at-Large Chapter in the Denver metropolitan area. I was directed to the chapter president, Mary McHugh, PhD, RN. I called Dr. McHugh and remember feeling surprised and shocked when she answered the phone directly. I nervously told her about being a new graduate, unexpectedly moving to Denver, my reasons for delaying the NCLEX, and my anxiety in looking for a first job. After patiently listening to me, she immediately started to help. She gave me contact information at a few Denver hospitals, offered to send my résumé to some of her colleagues, and gave me advice on what to look for in a first job. I remember being shocked at the generosity she showed me and very appreciative. We communicated a few times after that first call, and her contacts led to a few interviews and eventually to my first job in the ICU step-down unit at Denver Health.
A few years later, life changed, and I moved to Chicago. At that point in my career, I was focused on building clinical expertise. I worked as a staff nurse in a Level 1 trauma emergency department and, later, as a staff nurse in the surgical ICU at an urban academic medical center. Those years did advance my clinical skills and experiences as a nurse, but I knew I was missing something. After re-engaging with Sigma Theta Tau International at the chapter level, I was chosen to serve as a leadership intern with Gamma Phi Chapter at Rush University College of Nursing.
That opportunity introduced me to board operations at the chapter level and to many wonderful faculty mentors, including Lola Coke, PhD, RN; Elizabeth Carlson, PhD, RN; and Cathy Catrambone, PhD, RN. As a leadership intern, I was given the opportunity to attend the honor society’s biennial convention in 2009, held in Indianapolis. This was my first exposure to an STTI conference, and I was hooked. I encountered thought leaders, researchers, and nursing experts; met authors of textbooks I used in nursing school; and reconnected with faculty members from my undergraduate program.
Since that first conference, I have had the opportunity to serve on two task forces at the international level and also as secretary on the board of Phi Gamma,
the virtual chapter. With every STTI meeting, event, and encounter, I have grown professionally and personally. My network of colleagues and friends has expanded beyond Georgia, Colorado, and Illinois to include nurses from around the world. I now have close connections with nurse leaders from Mexico, Colombia, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Egypt, Lebanon, China, Singapore, and the Philippines.
A way to say thanks
In her call to action
at the 42nd Biennial Convention, President Hester Klopper, PhD, MBA, RN, RM, FANSA, encouraged honor society members to “Serve locally, transform regionally, lead globally.” A primary theme in her call was the concept of gratitude and creating a “livacy.” Livacy refers to the impact and contribution we make during our lives. Not only financial, it can also refer to service, time, and knowledge. After hearing President Klopper’s call and reflecting on how the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International has impacted my personal and professional career, I made the decision to become a Virginia Henderson Fellow.
As a VHF, I found a way to express my gratitude to the honor society and members, such as Mary McHugh, who answered a phone call from a newly graduated nurse and ended up shaping a career. RNL
Benson C. Wright, MSN, RN, CTN-B, implementation consultant for API Healthcare, division of GE Healthcare, graduated with a Master of Science in Nursing from Rush University College of Nursing in 2012.