Interview with Mary Catherine Gill, BSN student and mother of three 

What should we know about you?

My name is Mary Catherine Gill, and I've been a resident of the Charleston area for about 17 years. I'm the mother of three, and this is a second career that I'm under taking. My previous career was in banking, so this is quite a change. I retired from banking in time to be a stay at home mom for a bit. Between some health issues that arose for my children and myself and the experiences we encountered, I decided to pursue nursing. I am proud to say that I’ve wrapped up my fourth semester, and I'll be graduating in just a few short days!

What made you choose MUSC?

Because of the health issues that two of my children experienced, I had so much trust for the MUSC hospital itself- we received excellent care at MUSC. I thought about how confident and caring our nurses were and many of the nurses shared that they received their nursing education from the MUSC College of Nursing. I decided that I wanted to provide the level of quality care they did, so what better place to go than where they were educated.

Are you involved in any organizations through MUSC?

I'm a part of the Student Nursing Association (SNA). We do a lot, but my favorite part of SNA is volunteering. We do volunteer work throughout the course of the semester and participate in many activities around town. It’s a great way to plug into and serve the Charleston community while being a student.

Do you currently work outside of being a student?

I'm a full-time student, and a full-time Mommy. That's as much as I can handle!

What are your thoughts on the nursing shortage, and does it affect your
plans post-graduation?

From what I've seen and experienced through my preceptorships, the nursing shortage if not addressed is going to have a negative effect on the quality of care patients receive. As today’s workforce ages, we’re forecasting an increase in the need for well-educated and knowledgeable nurses. We’re also seeing an uptick in the number of individuals managing chronic health issues that require consistent oversight and regular care. Combine those two contributing factors to the fact that a lot of current nurses and nurses educators are retiring and your remaining licensed nurses will be stretched too thin to provide quality care and our nursing schools will not be able to educate the new work force fast enough because we will lack enough nurse educators to do so.

I’m just one person, but I’ve decided that I can do something to participate in addressing the shortage. In the fall I will begin to pursue my Doctorate of Nursing Practice; I’ll be able to practice and teach. Since I’m aware of the nursing shortage, I feel that have a responsibility to act by further educating myself so that I can treat patients and potentially educate the next generation of nurses.

What’s been an unforgettable experience thus far?

I was taking care of a patient in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). He was only about 8 months old, and he needed to go in to have a shunt readjustment, which meant he needed to have surgery in his brain. His surgeon was fantastic and let me come into the surgery to observe; the surgeon kept encouraging me to come close and kept asking, “Can you see?” It was an incredible experience and gave me a real understanding of what operating room nurses do. You study and see photos in your text book, but there is nothing like your clinical experience! This was complete affirmation that I’m pursing the right vocation.

There was also a tender moment with another patient that I don’t think I will ever forget. One day I was caring for a patient who had trouble swallowing, thus it was difficult for him to eat. While I was helping feed him he held my hand. That warmed my heart because we often think of medical care as surgery or all these complicated procedures, but on that day, the medical care I offered were two simple gestures - feeding him and holding his hand. Sometimes we take so much for granted.

What is the best class you've taken at MUSC?

That's a toss-up. I've enjoyed the MedSurg classes because it's what affects all of us every day. It's the basics- the heart, brain, etc.; I use what I have learned in this class daily because it’s the class that teaches the basics. I also really enjoyed our mental health classes because they gave me greater insight into how to care for the whole person. William Osler put it best, “It is much more important to know the patient that has the disease than to know the disease that has the patient.” That quote is displayed in one of the stairwells at the college. When I read it it made complete sense. Take a mental health class and you will realize the implication of that statement. You’ll begin to try and understand a patient’s ailment, disease, etc. in the context of who they are- body, spirit, and mind.

What do your children think about you going back to school?

It’s funny you should ask this. My three children range in age from 4 to 13 years-old, and shortly after I started back to school my oldest said to me, "You know mom, this hasn't been as bad as I thought. I thought that by changing careers you would be around less, but you’re actually around a lot more. I’m appreciative of how your school has changed our family life. You’re here more.” I thought that was pretty insightful for a 13 year-old to say. My youngest has had the opposite adjustment to make because I’m no longer staying home like I did when I retired from banking, but she always greets me with a big hug when I return home from class.

What does the balance look like between being a full-time mother and a full-time student?

Time management, a support system, and communication are crucial in any endeavor but especially when you go back to school. In addition to my husband and children being supportive, we have a fantastic babysitter. When I’m not momming- that really ought to be a verb by now- I usually have a medical book in my lap.