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Mary Jane Henderson, MS, RN, GNP-BC, Assistant Professor, Coordinator of the Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Specialty at the MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing in Boston

September 2012

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

A. As a child, I read a children’s book series called Cherry Ames, which told the story of a wonderful nurse named Cherry. She started as a student nurse in the first book and worked her way through several nurse positions throughout the series. I thought she was great – I wanted to be just like her!

Additionally, my father was a physician, so I used to go with him to the hospital when he made rounds on Sundays. Being with him in that environment helped me decide that I wanted to pursue a career in nursing.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your profession?

A. The patients. In the various practices that I’ve worked, I’ve enjoyed taking care of older patients and helping them get to a better place than when they came into my office. It’s gratifying to help patients and their families, especially if the patient is having problems with dementia or chronic illness.

Being with a patient when he/she dies is a privilege and a special time. You can help them to wherever they are going next and hold their hand along the way. Just to be present while a patient dies is quite significant and very humbling. You don’t want people to die alone if there’s no family around. I’ve always taken that very seriously.

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

A. Being accepted to graduate school and graduating with my master’s degree were both proud moments for me. I know my parents were really proud, and my mentor came to celebrate my graduation as well, which was important to me. Attending graduate school really started my career in advanced practice nursing education, and getting my master’s degree was the turning point and gateway to this second half of my career.

Q. What advice would you offer to those interested in becoming a nurse?

A. Go for it – do whatever you can to get into the school of your choice. I would recommend a four year program, as baccalaureate is really the entry to practice nowadays. Don’t be afraid to look at out-of-state programs, as well. In this day and age, you can’t be sedentary. You really want to look at what’s available across the country and around the world.

You can’t be narrow about what you’re willing to do and where you’re willing to go, especially with so many nursing jobs available in nursing homes. Geriatric nursing is one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs in nursing, and working in that environment will test everything you learned in nursing school.

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