“I love going to work, and it’s a feeling I’ve never had in my life.”
After decades of working different jobs – including climbing the corporate ladder – Amy Mendez finally enjoys going to work as an ER nurse. Mendez graduated from the University of Colorado College of Nursing’s Accelerated BS in Nursing program (UCAN) in December 2022.
“I’ve always liked going to work (at my other jobs) but now it’s like ‘Okay, let’s go see what happens today’,” she says. “It’s exciting and it’s what I love.”
Her love for nursing inspired her to write an informal blog about her experiences at the hospital and her journey as a first-year nurse.
CU Nursing alumna Amy Mendez at commencement in December 2022
“I want to share my perspective,” Mendez says. “I can share what’s going on and help someone understand what’s going on in this environment and some of the hard things (we as nurses) have to deal with.
Her blog – titled Practice Makes More Practice – covers a variety of topics, including what she sees during her 12-hour shifts, her first encounter with a patient experiencing homelessness, and her favorite apps for nursing. There are more personal entries, from talking about her dad’s health to what scares her about being a nurse.
“One of my first posts was about how my dad got sick. I wanted to share with my readers and patients that I’ve been in their shoes before,” Mendez says. “I’ve been sitting in a hospital room where he was a patient and I’ve been asked questions about DNRs (do not resuscitate). That’s a big part of my blog – it’s as much for me, as i it is for anyone else to share their experiences.”
Mendez can be very honest and blunt in her posts, adding to the realism of what it’s like working in the ER.
“Sometimes, I just need an outlet for what I feel on my shift,” she says. “The way that I write is very purposeful. I want to be succinct and get across a very meaningful story. I think there are many nurses who could benefit from writing down what they experience.”
A Winding Road to a Career in Nursing
Mendez’s journey to earning her nursing degree began in an unconventional way. She was a candy striper and patient care assistant in her teens living in Arkansas. She studied biology and pre-med at the University of Arkansas with the goal of becoming a doctor. After graduation, she moved to the West Coast and worked several jobs, started a business, earned her MBA, and worked for corporations before deciding to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
“I had worked for a couple of big corporations, and I never really felt like I was using what I had to offer. In the back of my mind, there was always this interest in healthcare,” she says.
At the time, Mendez’s father had a stroke, and she thought it would make sense to become an EMT to help care for him. She worked as an EMT in an ambulance for a year, then decided to move into the hospital side.
“I was working alongside these nurses in the ER, and I just loved what they did,” she says. “I think their job is amazing, they’re so smart, can work efficiently and under pressure and I admire that. So, I thought that was the direction I needed to go into.”
When Mendez was looking around at nursing programs in Colorado, she decided to attend CU Nursing, partly because her friend graduated from the UCAN program and recommended it.
“I was thinking ‘let’s be efficient’ about getting a degree,” Mendez says. “CU has this amazing reputation, and the program matched up with the experience that I had. CU Nursing was a great match for me.”
Returning to School
Mendez says one challenge of coming back to school was understanding the new technology. When she was an undergrad student in the mid-90s, there were no smartphones. Mendez had a laptop when she got her MBA in 2005, but there weren’t additional educational platforms, like Canvas which is used at CU Nursing.
“Coming back to school in 2022 it was like ‘Wow, Canvas is the way you interact with your professors and other students', so learning new technology was a huge learning curve,” she says. “It was a great way to learn – but it was something so different from what I had learned in the past, so it took time to get used to.”
She says her previous careers and life experience helped shape how she learned at CU Nursing, including her experience working as an EMT.
“It was invaluable for me to learn in that type of environment leading up to going back to school,” she says. “It helped teach me to become an ER nurse. I knew I wanted to work in the ER after graduation, so in school I spent more time learning critical care topics, while still learning other aspects of nursing.”
Mendez also has this advice for people who want to go into nursing – or make a big career change like she did.
“You have to be mentally prepared to make that kind of change,” she says. “I had to carefully re-examine my own value system, and think ‘If I’m going to make this leap, is this leap well aligned with my life? Do I have the support of my family?’”
Working in the ER
Mendez works in the ER at Poudre Valley Hospital, the same hospital where she worked for four years as an EMT.
“I felt like I needed to be surrounded by people I already knew and trusted,” she says. “I wanted to get my legs underneath me and get some experience before I move to a different hospital.”
She works what’s called a “mid shift”, so she works 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., allowing her to overlap with the day and night shifts. Mendez says that’s helped her see how nurses on both shifts operate the ER, including learning from nurses with different experience levels.
“What’s remarkable to me is that there are people in their early- to mid-20s who come into a hospital and nursing environment who do a fantastic job,” she says. “I didn’t have that level of maturity or awareness level when I was that age, and it’s incredible.”
A Future in Blogging?
Learning from nurses with different experience levels is another aspect of how Mendez’s blog helps her write about her time in a hospital.
“There are going to be things you encounter – like helping an 87-year-old woman with dementia or taking care of a co-worker,” she says. “Anything I can do to share those experiences that could be an ‘Oh wow’ or an ‘Ah-hah’ moment for another nurse. They may not remember every blog post, but one might stand out or tuck the information in the back of their mind, and when they encounter those moments themselves, they could go ‘I remember this, and I have some direction on what to do’.”
Mendez admits she doesn’t see herself as a writer in the future and is unsure if she’ll continue her blog after she finishes her first year as a nurse.
“I’ll keep writing as long as I get the feeling that it’s helping others,” she says. “One thing about this blog is that I hope it inspires people who are nurses to write as well.”