Being a woman, parent, spouse, friend, registered nurse and a new graduate Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner is humbling, especially during a global pandemic.
At thirty-two, after evolving through puberty, depression, eating disorders, diagnosis of an autoimmune thyroid disease, the birth of two children and a decade of registered nursing experience, I felt a sense of inspired duty to know and apply more about the ways in which cyclical fluctuations in hormones affected me, the women I cared for, and our general health. I naively entered a rigorous master in nursing program with the innocent idea that I could finally make the difference I had always desired as a nurse. After 27 grueling months and a countless amount of energy immersing myself in the advanced practice registered nursing care of women, I graduated in the top tier of my class while juggling a job, motherhood, maintenance of a household, upkeep of a marriage, and a pinch of self-care. Excited to get to work, I immediately passed board exams and received a license to practice as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. Within days of receipt of my license the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic and the world as I knew and imagined it shut down.
Plans and the pandemic
My desire to empower women across the lifespan about their personal health and wellness with a focus on disease prevention suddenly felt like it was being threatened. My education reinforced my intuition that women’s health is cyclical, seasonal, and worthy of critical appraisal but it seemed like there was no room for such a novel ideal during such a novel pandemic.
Still, I kept focus on the fact that approximately half of our planet cycles through a major hormonal shift roughly every thirty days affecting all bodily systems including, but not limited to cardiovascular, skeletal, dermatologic, sexual, reproductive and mental health. I stayed determined to thwart the traditional view that suggests and signals to clients and their providers a one-dimensional view of what woman-focused care is and should be. I found through life experience and clinical rotations that being a woman in need of education and care to help manage blood pressure, prevent recurrent migraines or urinary tract infections, stave off osteoporosis, control acne, troubleshoot sexual concerns, work through obesity and/or body-image issues and all of the sequelae, was not being addressed in a comprehensive sex-specific manner by one type of provider. Contraception, fertility treatment, prenatal care, birth, cervical-cancer screenings, breast health, and menopause were somehow separate from hypertension, depression, anemia, obesity, upper respiratory disease, gastrointestinal concerns, insomnia and more.
In the spirit of staying motivated, I studied some more and passed the national certifying exam to become a recognized menopause provider. The pandemic pressed on, responsibilities as a mother to school-age children grew, new-graduate job opportunities became bleaker and my excitement to make the difference I had always hoped faded beneath physical and social isolation.
The job search
The exhaustive job search took me on an emotional rollercoaster, from the promise of a rare, newly posted position to “not selected” based on experience. I began to wonder if choosing women’s and gender-related health was the right choice and grappled with the dichotomy of being a professional and a mother.
I had achieved an advanced degree and was done bearing children and it seemed as though my desire to provide and receive sex-specific healthcare was too. I continued to work as a per diem registered nurse and began to experience an existential crisis of sorts which magnified the divisive nature of being an accomplished professional and an attentive mother. Through conversation and observation of the women on the medical surgical units I cared for during the past decade, I realized they too felt a drop off in care after having children. It became clear that I was witnessing the detrimental effects of sex-specific healthcare maintenance after prevention of or to completion of pregnancies.
I circled back to the reasons I chose women’s health instead of the family nurse practitioner route and found myself swimming in the impossible predicament that divided fulfillment and opportunity. Throughout my education and clinical rotations, I placed heavy emphasis on gathering the knowledge and experience that would allow symbiosis of the divide I observed while training under both the family nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife. I hoped that at the end of a long and rigorous Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner program that I would be able to speak to the importance of the intricacies of the health of women as a freshly minted provider. I was excited to take on the challenge of weaving my passion, experience as a registered nurse, and masters level education into the community of women in which I live, but instead a global pandemic forced me to dive deep into personal and professional reflection.
Like the cyclical and seasonal nature of women’s health, so too is the exhaustive search for the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner opportunity that allows the responsibilities of a mother and professional to co-exist.
Being a new graduate Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and mother to school age children that need homeschooling during a global pandemic is not for the faint of heart. Daily, my motivation, energy, passion, and excitement for future opportunities passes through the excitement of menarche and the fear of menopause. Like many women before me, I will continue to fight for the chance to provide comprehensive sex-specific healthcare of the women in my family, friendship circle, community, and on the planet Earth.
Shaina Sweet is a graduate of Georgetown University and a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Shaina is a Board Certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and Nationally Certified Menopause Provider with a special interest in preventative care. She is dedicated to empowering women about their individual health needs and is inspired daily by her two young daughters.