Growing up, Sarah Abbott always knew she was a caregiver, but it wasn’t until after she was in a car accident after high school that she discovered how she wanted to focus her skills. Ironically, it was seeing the medical field from the perspective of a patient that prompted Abbott to become a nurse.
"I was saved by many dedicated health care professionals," Abbott said. "I think that had the largest influence on my decision to become a nurse."
Abbott, a clinical nurse educator at Denver Health Medical Center, also was influenced by her work as a certified nursing assistant at a retirement home for priest’s in Weston, Mass. "One of my special patients died," she said. "I knew I had made the end of his life better through my care. I knew he had had a better quality of life in his last days."
Abbott earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Rochester in New York. In 1992, she moved to Boulder and started her career as a psychiatric nurse at the Fort Logan Mental Health Center in Denver, where she became charge RN after only five months. Abbott worked there for four years, but decided she didn’t want to lose her medical and surgical skills.
In 1996, Abbott moved to a medical-surgical floor at Denver Health Medical Center, working with telemetry and oncology.
Within four months of starting this position, Abbott became charge nurse. In 1998, Abbott transferred to the Medical Intensive Care Unit.
"I fell in love with critical care," she said.
"It brought back a lot of what I had learned in nursing school. I really felt like I was making a difference in the lives of my patients and their families."
In 2001, Abbott became an official MICU charge RN. Although this was a very rewarding position, it became very tiresome after three years, she said. Abbott was asked by a nurse manager to apply for a clinical nurse educator position and has been in that position since February 2002.
"I really love it," Abbott said. "It gives me the opportunity to give something back to the next generation of nurses."
Throughout her career, Abbott has seen both the positive and the negative sides of nursing. "I was caring for a woman with cancer that would come in for chemotherapy, and I would administer it almost every time," Abbott said. "I would sit with her when she was scared, and I would sit with her when she cried. I cried when she asked what she would do with her son if she didn’t make it.
"I became so close to her that she was a permanent name on my prayer list," she said.
"We almost lost her twice, but she came to visit last month, and she’s been cancer free for two years. It gave me renewed hope. My job is to care for others, and I’m good at it."
Abbott also has seen some of the ethically difficult aspects of nursing.
"I was taking care of a patient in the MICU with end-stage AIDS. The patient had requested a do not resuscitate order, but his estranged family, who had not seen him in 20 years, came in and overrode his durable power of attorney," she said. "He ended up in the ICU for three months. It was such an ethical tragedy."
During her 10 years in nursing, Abbott has experienced many different aspects of the field. She is concerned, however, with the future of nursing.
"We are in the midst of a major nursing shortage and there aren’t many solutions for remedying this," she said. "We, as nurses, need to be kind and helpful to the new graduate nurses that come to our facilities. Our government needs to get serious very quickly about this problem."
Abbott said she fears the nursing shortage will only get worse before it gets better.
"Nurses are leaving the field due to overwhelming patient loads and understaffing," she said. "I’m afraid patients might die out of lack of available nursing care."
At 33 years old, Abbott hopes to help create solutions to the problems facing the nursing field.
"I’d like to be a part of the solution, possibly by heading up an organization that helps develop solutions to the nursing shortage," she said.
"I don’t know about going into management, but I would like to own my own holistic healing center."
When she’s not working to teach a new generation of nurses or helping to figure out a way to generate more interest in nursing, Abbott enjoys hiking, swimming, reading, sewing and, most of all, playing with her 3-year-old son.
"I love to daydream about lots of future possibilities," she said.