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Patricia O'Brien, RN, MSN, CPNP-AC, Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Cardiology at Children's Hospital in Boston, Mass.

January 2012

Q. When did you decide to pursue a career in nursing and why?

A. I decided to pursue nursing when I was in high school. I am the child of immigrants and was the first person in my family to go to college. My parents were a significant influence on me, and they strongly encouraged me to choose a practical profession that would lead to a job – like nursing or teaching. I was interested in the healthcare field, wanted to work with people, and liked the variety of roles and work environments that nursing offered.

Q. What inspired you to become a cardiac nurse, specifically in pediatrics?

A. During nursing school, my clinical rotation in pediatrics was a revelation! It was fun to incorporate blowing bubbles for respiratory therapy; singing songs for diversion and pain control; and playing games to encourage ambulation into my nursing care. I also really enjoyed working with parents.

During my first years as a staff nurse in pediatrics, I gravitated toward the cardiac patients, especially those having heart surgery. They were challenging to care for in the early postoperative period so there was a lot to learn and it demanded good assessment skills. Once I completed my master's degree and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) certification, my goal was to work in a pediatric subspecialty – and cardiac surgery was my first choice. I have been working with children with congenital heart disease and their families ever since.

Q. What has been one of the greatest moments of your career?

A. I've had many wonderful moments in my long career. There is great satisfaction in knowing that your care had an important impact on an outcome – whether in a lifesaving way or the quiet satisfaction of knowing you offered support to help a patient or family deal with a difficult decision. I am always reminded of the impact of our care when parents tell me years later, "I remember when you told us..."

I was a heart transplant coordinator for more than a decade; for me it's very gratifying to attend the graduations and weddings of some of my former patients. I worked so closely with them and their families through many dark days, so to see them now moving on with their lives is very rewarding. That is the hope of transplantation – to allow them to have a childhood, grow into adulthood and enjoy their lives.

Q. What advice would you offer to nurses or nursing students interested in the cardiovascular specialty?

A. There is a lot of variety and opportunity in cardiovascular nursing. In addition to the patients of all ages, heart disease is treated in every healthcare setting. There have been tremendous advances in technology, medications, treatments and new research is constantly changing the field. The nurses role in patient education is front and center in the effort to reduce risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol and promotion of healthy diets, exercise and lifestyle choices.

Q. How has nursing impacted your life?

A. I made the right career choice when I chose nursing. While I found rewarding work, steady employment and salary growth to be above my expectations, I did not expect the variety of professional opportunities. When I completed graduate school, I joined a dynamic nursing department at a major medical center where my nursing colleagues were active members of national organizations, writing articles for publications, lecturing at conferences and conducting research. I had wonderful mentors who encouraged me to get involved and helped me develop my first manuscript. With those early successes behind me, I sought out further experiences to develop my knowledge base and skills. I was asked to edit the cardiovascular chapter in a pediatric nursing textbook – a wonderful project that lasted 20 years. I have been invited to international conferences as a lecturer which has broadened my horizons on nursing around the world (and created wonderful travel opportunities). On a personal level, I have made many lasting friendships with colleagues locally, nationally and around the world.

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