Captain Carla Howell is a registered nurse with the United States Army. She is the head nurse of the pediatric outpatient clinic where she supervises eighteen registered nurses and licensed nurse practitioners. Some people think that the job of the nurse is to be the doctor’s assistant or to be the patient’s waiter or waitress, but that’s not true! Nurses interact with both the patient and the doctor making sure that the patient understands what the doctor has told them. They spend a lot of time educating patients and helping to maintain their wellness. Since nurses spend a lot of time talking to patients, they must use critical thinking skills when they are making sure the patient and their family understand what is happening.
The most important qualities of a good nurse are to know how to talk to people and connect to them; otherwise, it will be hard to get patients to do what they need to do to take care of themselves. Sometimes she encounters patients that might be rude or mean, but it is essential for a nurse to understand that patients might be having the worst day of their life. As the head nurse, she is not only responsible for taking care of patients but also for making sure the clinic runs on schedule and ensuring that everyone is following the Army medical command (MEDCOM) regulations.
One of the hardest parts of nursing is knowing how to keep a safe emotional distance between yourself and your patients. It is easy to care so much that it hurts you mentally and emotionally. Sometimes Carla sees kids who were injured by adults. When these patients come to the clinic, it makes her so angry and sad that it is hard for her to keep calm and stay professional. Regardless, she always tries to help them because helping people is the most fulfilling part of being a nurse.Even if she only helps one person in a whole day, it makes the not-so-great stuff worth it.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
In school, Carla was a straight-A student and, at one time, thought she might want to be in the medical field, perhaps even a pediatrician. When she was a teenager, she joined the drama club and debate team at school and became interested in acting. After graduating from high school, she started a college degree in theater and tried her hand at being an actress for a little while. When this didn’t work out, she joined the military where she found a career that she loves.
After enlisting in the Army, Carla trained as a pharmacy technician. She enjoyed this job, but it was during this time that she discovered a program that would allow her to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing and decided to give it a try. After she completed the program, she qualified as a registered nurse and Army officer, which has given her the opportunity to progress in her career as well as to better provide for her family.
Her advice for anyone considering a career in nursing is to make sure that you care a lot about helping people. You get to meet a lot of people as a nurse, and often they are suffering and struggling. As a nurse, you try to help minimize that pain. Lots of people think that all nurses work in a hospital, but there are many kinds of nursing jobs including psychiatric nurses or certified nurse anesthetists.
If you know you want to be a nurse, the Army could be a good choice for some (but not a good choice for everyone!) because it pushes people to try new things. The Army has given her a lot of leadership opportunities, and she has been able to progress faster in her career than she would have been able to as a civilian.
Carla’s biggest piece of advice to anyone considering what they want to do for a career is to follow their passion rather than pursuing careers just because they pay a lot of money. It is tough to go to your job every day if you don’t enjoy what you are doing or what you are trying to accomplish.
Interviewed & Written By: Danielle Prostrollo