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How an American Tragedy Changed the Face of Nursing Opportunities

Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Weber
Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Weber (Handout)

On September 11, 2001, a total of 2,977 people were killed after 19 men hijacked four commercial airlines headed to the west coast. While it may have left a memorable impact on American citizens for a variety of reasons, it also changed the way many companies were run, and not just airports.

See also: How to Write a Resume for a Registered Nurse Job

In the nursing industry, the Disaster Preparedness & Response program changed the roles of some of today’s nurses. When the tragedy occurred, significant federal funding was made to the nursing program in this particular program. Nurses weren’t just working by bedside. Some transitioned to working on managing programmatic activities and disaster planning.

Meet one of them: Elisabeth K. Weber, RN, MA, CEN, a Projects Administrator for the Chicago Department of Health’s Hospital and Health Care Preparedness program.

Shamontiel Vaughn: Why do you enjoy working in your career field?

Elisabeth Weber: Who would’ve known when I was starting my career that I would be doing preparedness or disaster planning? I never envisioned that, but after the disasters that we’ve had in this country over the last 15 years or so, there’s an opportunity to do new things all the time.

SV: How did you initially get started in the nursing industry?

EW: It seemed like a career that would give me a lot of flexibility. My [nursing] career started in 1979. I was at Case Western Reserve University as an undergraduate, and that’s a relatively prestigious nursing school. I attended New York University for my Master’s in Nursing Administration.

I came here in 1995 to be the Director of Emergency Services at Children’s Memorial. Prior to that, I was in 1987 to 1995 managing the county hospital in Cleveland called Metro Health Medical Center. Prior to that, I was in New York City; I was the assistant head nurse for the night shift at Bellevue Hospital while I was getting my master’s. Prior to that, I worked at the Cleveland Clinic and then at the University Hospitals of Cleveland.

Five and a half years ago, I came to public health. I no longer work in a hospital or am affiliated with a hospital. I manage the hospital preparedness program so I work with hospitals on a daily basis for preparedness, but I am not working full-time at a hospital. I don’t miss hospitals because I am in and out of them every other week. Of course, after 30 years you would say, "Yes, it is gratifying to work directly with families." But when I was managing nurses, I believed that I nursed nurses, and now that I’m managing programmatic activities and disaster planning, I feel like I nurse the process of disaster planning.

SV: With programs like Peace Corps or the Red Cross, do you think that would help nursing students interested in the preparedness program?

EW: There’s a lot of volunteer opportunities at the local public level, local public health, and internationally. When I was hiring nurses individually, [I was] very impressed with people who have taken it upon themselves to do volunteer work. We have Illinois Health, which is a local volunteer opportunity for health care providers, not just nurses. We have a statewide team. We have federal teams — they’re called [Disaster Medical Assistance Team] DMATs. Then there’s international work through teams at the CDC or at the World Health Organization. The beauty of this and the beauty of nursing as a basis for this is you could do as much as your energy, opportunities, skills and brains will take you.

SV: Although some people have been able to succeed without a degree or continuing their education, what makes you believe that traditional education helps in your industry?

EW: Education is what gives you the baseline to be able to execute the science of nursing. There is evidence that nursing is based on — that people have believed historically — that nursing was something that attracted a certain type of person who was caring and giving. Those skills are what you learn in your initial program. And then if you choose to go on to an advanced degree, you learn additional skills and additional information that helps you if you decide to do programmatic things or direct care. There are many, many options so people can expand and advance through their education.

SV: What advice would you give to a student from your career field the day after they’ve graduated?

EW: Always seek out opportunities. Always seek out experience. If something interests you, go for it. Even if it turns out that you end up not having an interest in something like that, try it. There’s lots of professional development that goes on particularly in hospitals. In this day and age, lots of online opportunities, through FEMA, through [the] Red Cross, all of these organizations [include] someone who has an interest both in nursing or a new graduate or in preparedness. They can really work to prepare themselves to be ready to step in this kind of role or to actively seek out a role like the one I have.

See also: Top 10 US Universities for Nursing 2015

New nursing students or continuing education students may be unsure of whether they want to go into a program such as emergency preparedness. However, volunteer work and internships may help guide them along in those decisions. From working on nursing policy to bedside nursing to overseas opportunities, internships and volunteer work may be the best way to find out where a new professional fits into the ever-changing world of nursing.

Have you ever volunteered for an emergency preparedness organization?
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