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Marie Spencer, Ph.D., RN, CRRN, chief nursing officer at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, N.Y.

September 2013

Q. What inspired you to become a nurse?

A. Being a nurse has been in my heart and soul for as long as I can remember. I was in an accident when I was 15-years-old that required extensive knee surgery, and ultimately required the pinning of my patella. I was inspired by the fantastic nurses that cared for me, both physically and emotionally, and I remember thinking that when I grew up I wanted to be just like them. I wanted my patients to love and admire me as much as I loved and admired my nurses. To this day, I try to emulate those wonderful nurses who took care of me.

Q. Why did you choose to enter the specialty of rehabilitation nursing?

A. After 28 years of working in acute care, a wonderful opportunity came my way and I became the chief nursing officer at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital. Moving into the rehabilitation specialty has opened up many new opportunities to grow and learn. I thought I knew so much about nursing, only to find out that rehabilitation is a new and wonderful world to explore.

In nursing school we were taught the basics of care for spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, amputees and orthopaedic patients, but when you are a rehabilitation nurse, you learn that you not only need to know every aspect of care, but you must always be cognizant of the long-term recovery goals for each patient.

Rehabilitation nursing is a specialty that offers a holistic approach. We care for patients with disabilities and chronic health problems, but have to keep in mind the ultimate goal of restoring, maintaining and promoting maximum health. It is a wonderful feeling to see the differences from the time a patient enters our facility, to when they have advanced and are ultimately discharged.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your profession?

A. I love the interaction with patients and families; the camaraderie with my team members; and seeing a patient’s progress. Most importantly, I want to make sure that I feel like I have made a difference in people’s lives.

Nursing is one of the few professions where you can change job titles and responsibilities without leaving the profession. There is so much flexibility no matter your age or physical abilities. I truly love this profession, the staff and the patients I work with on a daily basis.

Q. What advice would you give students, or potential nursing students, interested in rehabilitation nursing?

A. Rehabilitation nursing is a wonderful specialty. However, the best piece of advice that I can give is for nurses to obtain a solid base of medical-surgical nursing experience before entering into the rehabilitation specialty. That experience alone will carry you through your career.

Also, never stop learning. There is always something new on the horizon. Whether you work in rehabilitation or any other field of nursing, it is vital to continue your education.

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