Michelle Weihman faced an uphill battle from the start. Her mother had become pregnant at a young age, causing her to leave high school and get married. Neither one of her parents finished high school, and no one in her extended family had ever gone to college. At 16, Michelle was pregnant, so she dropped out of high school and got married – appearing destined to repeat the path of her parents. To her credit, Michelle was determined to set a higher standard for her children and refused to let any obstacle stand in the way of her dream to become a nurse.
Awards & Achievements
Certified Legal Nurse Consultant, Lynn Belcher LNC Associates
Clinical Supervisor, Summerlin Hospital Medical Center
Interventional Radiology, St. Anthony’s Medical Center
Associate of Arts and Sciences (AAS) from Jefferson College
Interview - Question & Answer
Michelle, what was your life like before nursing?
I came from parents who told me I could achieve anything I set my mind to, however, neither of them finished high school. My mom was in “The Future Nurses of America Club” when she got pregnant with me, so she quit high school and got married. No one in my extended family had ever gone to college. And at 16 it appeared I would follow in their footsteps. I got pregnant, quit high school and got married. Sadly, I had a miscarriage, but I did not return to high school, I stayed married. Then when I was 17 I was pregnant again. This time I did have my baby. I had a son.
How did being a teen mom affect you?
I decided that I did not want my son to have a mom who did not even have a high school diploma, so I went back to school to get a GED and believe it or not I got a high enough score to earn a college scholarship. College! I never thought I’d be able to go to college. I really did not even know what I wanted to study.
Then I became pregnant again. This time I had another boy, a beautiful perfect boy. Except for one thing; he had a heart defect. This beautiful baby boy was in and out of the hospital for the first 2 years of his life, including open heart surgery at 20 months old. When he had his surgery one of his nurses told me she had once had a child that was sick. She said she knew what I was going through. That day I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a NURSE.
So, nursing became your goal at this point?
Yes. I wanted to help other parents like she helped me. So, I started my prerequisites for nursing school. After my second son was born, we had a lot of hospital bills to pay so I got a job at a convenience store: “7-Eleven.” I worked with a young man whose mother was a nurse. He and I talked a lot and I told him my dream of being a nurse. He told me his mom taught CNA classes at a local nursing home. This was my chance to see if I wanted to get into nursing. So, I went for it!
Tell us about that experience…
Julia, my mentor and teacher encouraged me to continue through her next class, CMT (Certified Medication Tech) and she never allowed me to be mediocre. She made me research the medications I was giving. Not only that, she had me look up disease processes, how the medication worked, etc. I was preparing to be the best nurse I could be when I became pregnant with my little girl.
Julia also would not allow me to quit. She continued to be my supporter, my mentor even when we no longer worked together. She was there through everything with me. CNA, CMT, LPN and finally RN. She is the only person at all of my graduations. Not my husband or even my parents were with me every step of the way.
What was the biggest academic challenge you faced?
My challenge was not as much academic – I was always very good in school. But in nursing school I had three small children, an unsupportive husband, and a full-time job.
How did you find time to study?
Study time? It was all but nonexistent. I had three kids (1 of whom had open heart surgery), a husband who believed that housework was a woman’s job, (so he would not help with anything) and a full-time job to help pay medical bills. Studying had to happen after everyone had gone to bed. And although my parents would do anything to help me, I always hid my distress from them. That said, I was not going to be denied the pursuit of my passion. They thought everything was fantastic. The challenge in my educational pursuit was lack of support.
That must have been emotionally a very difficult time in your life…
Emotionally I felt as though I was alone in my journey. That was my biggest challenge. To have little to no support through nursing school is brutal. When I was little, my grandmother said “she’s a healer.” I had always been a caretaker but who takes care of the caretaker?
It is hard to fathom going to nursing school with three children, working full-time, and receiving no support from your spouse. Life must have been very difficult. Describe how you coped with the lack of support…
Yes, it was, and my husband was not only unsupportive, he was antagonistic. I had to study while my kids were napping or sleeping. And yet I still finished near the top of my class and passed my boards. BOOM! I was a nurse! By the way, I did work with children for a period of time, but I felt that my calling was not there. Tt was, and still is, with adults.
How long have you been a nurse?
I have been a nurse for over 20 years. I have held various positions – everything from NICU to home care to Interventional Radiology to Clinical Supervisor at a major hospital in Las Vegas. One of the things I love about nursing is the flexibility it offers. If you don’t like what you are doing, try something different.
Can you give us an example from your personal experience?
I started out working in a nursing home, but I knew this was not my calling, so I applied for a job in a major university hospital not far from my home. Two important things about this job. First, I became charge nurse when I had been a nurse for 6 months. I was the only staff nurse – the rest were all agency.
The other important thing I figured out was that I really liked critical care. I was not in a critical care setting, but I flourished when my patients were sick. I knew what to do. I had that sixth sense that critical care nurses need. Remember, I wanted to be like that nurse my son had? Well, I had the opportunity to work in the NICU. Yes! My destiny! I could guide parents, show empathy. I knew where the parents feeling, I had been there.
How did it feel to achieve your dream?
Guess what I learned? I learned that babies were not where I belonged. I am meant to work with adults. So, I went to work in a small ICU and I really liked it, but I was looking for something else; I just did not know what. I went to Interventional Radiology where I got to take care of critically ill patients, explain things to them and their families; as well as be charge nurse.
Then after 28 years of being in an abusive marriage I finally realized what a toxic situation I was in. I got a divorce. A year after my divorce I met the man who is now my husband. Soon after we met he discovered was going to move to Las Vegas for his career. Well, I’m a nurse, I can work anywhere, let’s move to Vegas.
What department did you work in after you moved?
In Vegas I went straight to ICU. This is where I tell you, be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. I would frequently tell myself and my husband “if I were in charge I would do things differently” Well guess what happened; the entire management team left and suddenly I was in charge.
That’s amazing! How did or do you like the job?
I feel this is not a job. This is my calling. I get to spend time with families and tell them I have been where they are. I get to mentor my team and I get to save lives. What a perfect life.
What made you choose critical care as a specialty?
I have always loved critical care. I have had coworkers say I’m an adrenaline junkie. I love taking care of really sick patients. Critical care nurses touch people’s lives when they are the most vulnerable. They are the link between the patient and their doctor, translating to the patient and family what the doctor means and relaying to the doctors what the patient and family needs. Sometimes an area of specialization is not chosen by the person but rather it chooses the person. In every area of the hospital I worked in, I always gravitated toward the sickest patients. Why did I pick critical care? I didn’t, it picked me.
What does it take to be a successful nurse? Critical care nurse? Clinical Supervisor?
Nursing? Common sense, empathy, ability to see the positive in any situation. For critical care it takes a sense of urgency, willingness to always be ready to learn, ability to be adaptable. In my position as a Clinical Supervisor it takes leadership, ability to see both sides of a situation, ability to get other people to see both sides.
Will you tell our readers what a typical day is like for a Clinical Supervisor?
Wow! A day in the life of Michelle. At 4:45 I get out of bed; I get ready for work and prepare my mindset. I have a specific routine. I put on my “armor.” By that I mean that is whatever makes you feel prepared for your day. I eat breakfast with my husband where he reads something inspirational to get our day started. At 5:40 it’s off to work I go; listening to inspirational music, again, getting the right mindset.
I would like to explain that this is how my day is scheduled, it seldom goes like this. As ICU Clinical Supervisor, I am part of the code team, the rapid response team, the “nobody can get an IV in this patient” team, the “my patient doesn’t look good, can you come look at them” person. I am the liaison between the doctors and the patients, the doctors and the nurses. The patients, doctors, nurses and management. I also make try to make an hourly walk through the unit to make sure no one is looking panicked or frantic.
At 6:00 a.m. I will get reports and prepare my paperwork the way I like it. At 6:55 it’s off to the staff breakroom for pre-shift/huddle. This is where I get to set the tone for the day with my team. If I come in tired and cranky, the energy in the unit will mirror that attitude. If I come in with the “I don’t want to be here” attitude, the unit will mirror that attitude. If I come in chatting with the staff, joking, smiling, telling inspirational stories, my team comes out of huddle with a smile, happy, not dreading the day. The tone for the day is set right there at 7:00 and if the right tone is not set, it is difficult to change it.
The next 15 minutes I listen in on some of the bedside reports (making sure assignments are appropriate) and finish preparing for my day. I make my to-do list, check for meeting times etc. From 8-9 are my multi-disciplinary rounds; me, case management, respiratory therapy, physical therapy, dietary and ethics round on every patient. It also involves working with the bedside nurse to find out what the plan of the day is.
From 9-9:30 it’s Bed Board (finding out if beds are available, the status of beds and the patients in beds) What’s holding in the ER? What is the cath lab and OR doing and what beds will they need? Discussing discharges, possible upgrades or downgrades. Staffing issues hospital wide. From 9:30-10:30 it’s about checking in with staff. Sometimes in the office it involves a one-on-one “how’s it going” conversation or possibly a corrective action issue. Sometimes it’s just walking around saying hi, asking how they are. I always try to touch base with everyone working with me during this time. I want them to know I think they important part of our unit. The next hour and a half I see every patient and their family in my unit every day, all of them. If there are no real issues that can go really quick. I introduce myself, ask them if my nurses are taking excellent care of them and their family member(s). I tell them what a great team I have. On the rare occasion that someone has concerns about their care I address it.
I try to take my lunch between 12-12:30. After lunch, for about 30 minutes I reassess how my day is going.Have I completed staff and patient rounds? Is my paper work completed? What afternoon meetings have popped up? From 12-2:30 I like to make a quick check in with the staff see how their day is going, make sure nurses are getting their lunches. If everything has gone as scheduled and there are no meetings, this is when I audit charts. From 2:30-3:45 I prepare for afternoon Bed Board and a staffing meeting. What changes have occurred on my unit? Any call-ins? Any unexpected upgrades or discharges? Then I go to back to Bed Board to see what is happening in the rest of the house.
From 4-5 I prepare assignments for the night shift, balancing the staff strengths with the patient acuity. From 5-6 I get a final report from staff. Are there test still pending? Is there a certain patient the night shift Clinical Supervisor needs to keep an eye on? I would like to add that by constantly walking the floor and talking to my nurses and patients if I can’t get report I generally know enough to give report anyway. From 6-6:30 I go over staffing, and give report to night shift supervisor. One last walk through the unit to thank everyone for their hard work. I average 12,000 steps a day. At 7:00 p.m. I go home to my husband and puppies, usually exhausted.
Please share with us a time when you faced adversity – a challenge that was difficult to overcome – what did you do?
I guess the closest I came to quitting wasn’t nursing but was just a specific job. When I started my position in Las Vegas, it was a very different unit than it is now. I was a staff nurse. It was a unit that allowed the nurses to eat their young; bullying was not just permitted, it was enjoyed by management. Probably 80% or more of my co-workers spoke a language that I did not understand. I had moved from Specials to ICU and moved 1600 miles from home. They put me on night shift (although they had promised me day shift) and no one would talk to me, even when I attempted to engage them.
It was funny to them and I had enough. I went to work with a different attitude one night. I stopped allowing them to bully me. I confronted their “leader” and told her that her behavior toward me would no longer be tolerated. I confronted the charge nurse and told her I would no longer accept the crappy assignments she was intentionally giving me. I confronted the manager and told him the bullying in this unit was unacceptable and that I was going to HR the next time it happened. Less than a week later I was moved to day shift (as was promised when I took the job) and the culture, although still toxic, was more tolerable. By the way, the charge nurse and the bully both left the unit 2 months after they were confronted.
Bullies can’t handle it when their power is taken from them. The manager left a year after all of this happened. And the day shift Clinical Supervisors (who also allowed the bullying behavior) also left not long after that. I did indeed go to HR for my 3-month interview and told them everything that happened. Bullying culture cannot be tolerated in any profession.
What is one thing would you like to see change in your specialty or nursing in general?
Bullying, nursing eating their young and the fact that it is tolerated. What needs to change is people thinking that’s just the way it is. Instead of thinking about how it felt to be bullied, nurses feel it is their right to bully the next generation because they themselves were bullied as a new nurse. We need to nurture our young, not break them. Also, bullying from the doctors. I will tell a doctor not to talk to my nurse with a certain tone or language; even if the nurse made a mistake. It’s an opportunity to learn, but there is a certain way to approach the situation and yelling at her in front of the unit is not it.
What should a student look for in a nursing program?
That’s a tough question. It has been so long since I went to nursing school. I would ask
That they just not look at price or ease of entry. I think the rate of graduates that pass their boards on the first try could be a big factor in the decision.
What's the best way to handle the stress of nursing school?
Breathe. If you feel stress building stop, take a deep breath. Don’t be afraid to reassess your plan. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
How should students go about choosing their specialty?
Go with your heart, but again don’t be afraid to reassess. I was going to be a pediatric ICU nurse. Try different areas until you find the one. I never dread going to work. If you dread it, you may not be in the right job.
What should they expect in the 1st year as a nurse?
That first year is tough but expect it to be nothing like nursing school. Nothing like anything you have ever done. You are often the only thing that keeps your patient alive. The doctor sees the patient for 5 minutes a day. You are there 12. Everyone counts on you. The doctor, the patient and the family.
What advice would you give to a new nurse?
Get all of the experience you can get. Go to every code blue on your floor; get in there, don’t be shy. Ask what you can do. Develop all of your skills. Don’t be mean. You want to go to ICU? Talk to me. Say hi to me. Get my attention. When I come to your patient’s room for an emergency know your patient. Make an impression.
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