If you’re a fireman, or a doctor, or a nurse, people get a pretty clear picture in their heads of what you do as soon as you tell them your job title. As it happens, though, that first impression is usually wrong. The real workplace is far more diverse and specialized than the one on TV.
I have the happy privilege of coordinating healthcare for persons with intellectual disabilities. Some of them live in group homes, others with a caregiver, and still others independently. I’m a nurse, and my training and disposition is to care for my patients. In this role I get to do that and much more.
I’m with my patients for the long term; many months and years in most cases. I get to visit my patients in their homes, meet with their families, and talk with their doctors and therapists. I help make sure their medications make sense and are being taken appropriately. There is often a difference between what people want and what they think their doctor wants. I help a person choose a plan of action. I help make sure their caregivers understand how to meet their needs and why their efforts are beneficial. I get to support staff teams who have been supporting the same individuals for years and are sometimes as close as families. I help ensure that complex needs continue to be met and important needs aren’t overlooked. When trouble strikes, I support and advocate with hospital personnel to help them meet the unique needs of my patients. At the end of a person’s lifespan, I support their families to understand the choices with which they are confronted. I assess, I consult, I confer, I teach, and I care. This is a really neat job.
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There have been moments of frustration and grief, fatigue and regret. From this pain have come some of the most important lessons I’ve learned.
When I started in this field in 2003, I had some experience as a nurse, and I had years of experience as a direct-support caregiver in a group home for adults with disabilities. I did not have a clue as to the role of a nurse in a group home, or why healthcare coordination is needed. For bringing me up the steep learning curve, I am forever grateful to my teacher, mentor, and friend Cheryl Deignan. I also enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, in the hopes of improving quality care and quality lives for everyone who relies on healthcare coordinators like me.