By: Sarah Hillebrand

I went to nursing school because my mom told me that I should pick a degree that would allow me to get a job right after college. My plan was to work as a nurse for a few years as I paid my way through law school. So, I started in the intensive care unit and delved into the health care system. For a new grad, it required even more study, reading and hard work. Even for experienced nurses, the constant updates and advancements make the intensive care unit a challenging place to work. I often wondered how on earth patients and their families managed to do it without the benefit of a medical education.  I had a four-year nursing degree and still found navigating the ever-changing health care system a challenge.

            I loved working in the intensive care unit because I was able to collaborate with the entire health care team: social workers, case managers, physicians, therapists, and other nurses. Working as a team, we were able to provide the best care medicine could offer. I also really enjoyed helping patients decode their illnesses and the complexities of the critical care environment. I found that having a human body is a lot like a smartphone; we all have one, but most people aren’t really sure how it works.

              Through my experiences, I noticed that some of the patients that we had to use drastic, life-saving measures on had entirely preventable diseases. We gave quantity of life, but not always quality. That made me wonder: with all the amazing technologies we have to save lives, is it right to let our patients get sick, without giving them the tools to stay healthy?     

           So, for grad school, I went back to school to solve that exact question. I loved being a nurse and had scrapped my law school ambitions. I didn’t realize how much paperwork they did. (Sometimes I wonder if nurses have to do any less.) This time I changed the focus of my practice from hospital care to primary care.  I was able to dive deeper into treatment plans, pharmacology, disease processes, and how our healthcare system functions.  I studied how those factors translated into patient’s lives, their real lives – not a stay in the intensive care unit.

            It also showed me that primary care providers do more than manage patients’ medical needs, they also get to educate and empower patients. Providers show patients that maintaining good health and preventing illness is something that is attainable and uncomplicated. Sometimes this means explaining a medication, how to get a piece of medical equipment they need, or talking to them about what is going on in their life and offering practical suggestions to help. My role as a primary care provider is to help patients pick out the tools that will serve them best, so they can be an active participant in their health. I strive to simplify jumbled, confusing information into a comprehensible neat package that can actually be applied to someone’s life in a meaningful way.