How a 'Terrible' Patient Became a Dedicated Nurse

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media , September 2, 2014

Most nurse leaders aren't born with the same medical conditions as their patients, but it is possible for them to provide care from a place of empathy and understanding.

Asked "Why do you want to work in the PICU?" during an interview for her first inpatient nursing job, Christy Sillman, RN, MSN, gave a strange answer: "I don't."


Christy Sillman, RN, MSN

"I don't want to be here, but I feel like I have to be here," she remembers saying. "I felt this drive to work in the pediatric ICU with post-op cardiac babies, even though it was the thing that held the deepest anxiety for me."

That anxiety was borne from decades of experience. Sillman, now 34, was born with tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia. She had five defects of the heart, including the absence of the pulmonary artery, and has spent her share of time in hospitals.

Today, Sillman is using that experience to relate to patients in a deep and profound way as the nurse coordinator for the Adult Congenital Heart Program at Stanford Health Care in Palo, Alto, CA.

Although most nurses and nurse leaders aren't born with the same kinds of medical conditions as their patients, Sillman says it is possible for them to care for patients from a similar place of empathy and understanding.

In 1980, the outlook wasn't good for babies like Christy Sillman. "They basically told my parents…take her home; keep her comfortable. She'll die within three days," Sillman recounts.

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