Michelle Gomez, RN, knew she wanted to be a nurse since she was a small girl. She attended a vocational high school and first started doing clinicals when she was 14 years old. We spoke with her about her calling for patient care, and her role as a rheumatology nurse at the award-winning Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, NY.
NN: Why did you decide to choose nursing as your career?
Michelle: Growing up I would help my mom take care of my grandfather who was very ill. It opened my eyes to caring for others. Additionally, I was always really curious about healthcare. I would research things all the time – I wanted to find out the “why” for certain things, like why someone was sick or someone was in a wheelchair. It fascinated me!
Nursing allowed me to combine my interest in health and caring for others. At an early age I knew I wanted to be a nurse and I went to a vocational high school so that I could graduate with a high school diploma and a nursing assistant certificate. In fact, I started doing clinicals when I was 14 years old. So it’s safe to say I’ve been doing patient care for a long time. It’s just always been a calling for me.
NN: Why do you like rheumatology? How is it different than other areas of nursing?
Michelle: Patient education and patient relationships are a huge focus in rheumatology nursing. In other areas of nursing, you’ll see a patient check in and check out after a few hours or a few days. In rheumatology nursing, you work with the same patients over a long period of time and truly see the progressions of their care.
One thing my hospital does that I love is that our patients can book appointments with nurses. These are one-on-one conversations, where the nurse can answer any questions the patient may have for an hour at a time. And patients usually have questions, because there’s a lot to learn about rheumatology. A lot of times our patients need to be taught how to administer injections and as nurses, we explain every step to the patients and make sure they feel comfortable with their treatment plan.
NN: When people hear the word rheumatology, I think most people initially think of arthritis. However, what disease states do you work with?
Michelle: So many. I also had the misconception, before I started in rheumatology, that it would be all arthritis but that’s not the case. I work with patients who have a large range of diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, Lyme Disease, spondylitis, fibromyalgia… the list goes on.
NN: How do you keep learning in your nursing career?
Michelle: There is always something new to learn in nursing. For me, the Rheumatology Nursing Society has been really helpful. I am trying to attend their local chapter meetings and conferences. Additionally, I’m grateful for my nursing mentors who share their nursing knowledge and experiences. They always make me feel like I can ask questions or get support.
NN: What are the biggest challenges and benefits of rheumatology nursing?
Michelle: One thing that is also important to know if you’re considering going in to rheumatology is that there are a lot of psychosocial aspects to rheumatic diseases. Many of my patients deal with depression and other social issues due to their lack of mobility or frustrations and fatigue. It’s a little heartbreaking to hear about waking up with stiff joints and you can tell on their faces that they are in pain. I hear patients describe how before their diagnosis they were never like this, that they were always working or moving around.
But one exciting aspect of rheumatology is the constant innovations in treatment and medication. And since you get to know your patients so well, you can watch as over time as they are able to find the right treatment that can help them feel less pain or regain mobility. On other floors, after a patient is discharged that’s it. For us, we really get to witness the progression of care.
NN: What would you say to students who are considering rheumatology nursing?
Michelle: Definitely go for it! If you are interested in patient education, it’s the best place to be.