When I walked into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Far East District (FED) building on my first day as a summer hire, I felt some uncertainty and confusion as to how I, a nursing major, could contribute to the district. I had never taken an engineering class, nor had I even visited a construction site before. The confusion extended into the district employees as well, as they looked at me and asked, “nursing and engineering? I can’t see how those two have any relation.”
After several of these conversations, it became my mission to find out how engineering and nursing were related and how working at USACE would prepare me to be the best nurse possible.
The first lesson I learned had to do with occupational health and safety. This appeared to be the most obvious connection to nursing, as it relates to being safe, and therefore healthy, in the workplace. However, after comparing Accident Prevention Plans and Safety Plans, I realized that it means so much more than just wearing Personal Protective Equipment or following rules and guidelines (although those are extremely important). It’s about our mindset around safety and health, our values and where we spend our time and energy. I realized that embracing this mindset would help me to view patients as a holistic system, affected by each interaction they have with their world, including their workspace and career. Health does not start or stop at the door of the hospital/clinic, it encompasses every moment of our lives and follows us everywhere.
As I began talking to people and learning more about them, it reaffirmed my views on the importance of diversity and the value that it brings to society. I learned it’s important to take time to find out who people are so you can see where they are coming from in order to achieve their goals. Moreover, taking the time to learn about and do research on other people’s cultures is incredibly important not only for professional conversational skills, but also in order to understand those you are working with every day on a deeper level. It was so inspiring to witness enriching professional relationships in this workplace, as I can now see how important that is for mental and occupational health.
I learned the importance of asking questions and offering your help on whatever task might be needed. Before working here, I did not understand that asking questions both conveys a sense of respect and curiosity, but also helps one figure out what they need and want to do and how to get there. I struggled to connect the dots at times, whether it was between A-E contracting or design analysis, but asking questions enabled me to form working relationships at the same time. I now imagine the charge nurse at my hospital listening to me ask them one thousand questions a minute wondering, “who taught her to be so curious my goodness,” and I’d say, “engineers, of course!”
While I only worked here for a short time during the summer, I watched as my professional skills began to grow and my ability to expand my horizons increased significantly. I can now look at a building and know that it took the effort of so many hardworking individuals to plan, create, build, and budget that very building, from the HVAC to fire-protection. This is similar to the ways in which my patients will be a result of their interactions, experiences, environment, and genetics, and are not simply a single entity that just appeared with the ailment they have at the time.
I have learned the importance of paying attention to detail while also seeing the big-picture, as it could mean life or death in the sense of a building staying structurally sound or a human being treated properly.
Finally, I saw how both engineering and nursing value the needs of others and put those first, whether that be in constructing a gymnasium to harness the equipment necessary for a beneficial exercise environment or adopting a patient-first philosophy in practice.
I am grateful to those I interacted with and learned from and am excited to apply my new skills and lessons to the healthcare field in my future.