Juggling act: How three women balance work, school and family

"I’m standing on the shoulders of nurses who went before me"

Name: Natasha Laibhen-Parkes

Her job: Staff nurse leader at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. She works Saturdays and Sundays at the bedside and two other weekdays doing staff leadership.
Passionate about evidence-based practice, Laibhen-Parkes designed a curriculum to empower staff nurses to ask questions about their practice. They have learned to form questions, research the database for evidence and present a summary of the evidence in order to promote innovative ways of giving care.
"Nurses need to be responsible for what they do and understand why they do it," said Laibhen-Parkes, RN, MSN, CPN.

Her family: Husband, Dwayne Parkes; sons, Willens (26), Rasheed (17) and Quincy (3).

Degree she is pursuing: Doctorate in nursing from the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing of Mercer University. She feels fortunate to have chosen Mercer and that nursing professor Laura Kimble nominated her for the prestigious Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholars Program. She was one of two nurses in Georgia to win the $20,000 scholarship in 2012. She plans to graduate in May 2014.

How does she manage her time? "I live my life on a week-by-week basis. I keep a large calendar on my desk at home showing everything I have to do, and I have an online calendar at work. I just cross things off and keep going, trying to use my time wisely. I study in spare moments and after my youngest goes to bed."

What keeps her going? "My husband works nights, so we don't see much of each other, but I couldn't do this without his support. I know my milestones. I passed my comprehensive exams last summer and that feels great, so now I'm working on my thesis proposal.
"I'm lucky to be pursuing my doctorate now and to have people believe in me at home, at work and at Mercer. I know that I'm standing on the shoulders of nurses who went before me. If they could do it, I can."

What's her goal? "I want to transition into the academic setting and teach, but I don't want to leave the bedside totally. One way to do that is through evidence-based practice and research, which is the focus of my dissertation."

Advice for others: "I encourage other nurses to go back to school, and not to limit themselves. Prepare and plan for it. Also, take care of yourself. Three times a week I work out while listening to upbeat music, like R&B or hip hop. It takes me away."

"It also helps to remember that this crazy time won’t last forever"

Name: Rebecca Cowart

Her job: Cowart, RN, BSN, has been a labor and delivery staff nurse at Northside Hospital in Atlanta for 11 years. She feels lucky to have found her niche right out of nursing school.

Her family: Husband, Matt; sons, Connor (5) and Cole (3).

Degree she is pursuing: Master's in nursing, with a family nurse practitioner option, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"I liked the reputation of the program and its flexibility. I can take all my course work online, on my own schedule," Cowart said. "Things will get more complicated in January as I move into the required 360 hours of clinical residency at different sites. We'll need more child care, but I can break it into two semesters so I won't have to work seven days a week."
She plans to graduate by May 2014.

How does she manage her time? Cowart works 12-hour shifts on Wednesdays and Sundays. Her boys go to kindergarten and pre-k, and attend a mother's morning out program.
"As soon as I drop the boys off, I go home and open the books. I didn't want to take time away from them, so I also study at night after they're in bed," she said. "Work is fast-paced and the routine of play time, meals and baths for the kids is ongoing. I always feel like I'm drowning in some part of my life."

What keeps her going? "My husband is my greatest cheerleader, and he keeps the kids on Sundays. My co-workers are excited for me and encourage me. I meet other nurse/moms in school from Northside. It's nice to know you aren't the only one jugglng. It also helps to remember that this crazy time won't last forever."

What's her goal? "I was comfortable in labor and delivery, but I wanted to learn more and see a variety of patients. I knew I'd have more options as a family nurse practitioner. Not having to work 12-hour hospital shifts, I can have more time for family and after-school activities."

Advice for others: "Keep your eyes on the prize, but give yourself some time off. I try not to open a book on Saturday. We watch movies or football, and relax as a family."

"I wanted to be a nurse in order to provide that same care to others"

Name: Briauna Howard

Her job: Patient care technician in the neonatal intensive care unit at Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville.

Her family: Daughters, Suri (4) and Kira (3). Her husband, Dennis,  passed away on July 27, 2012.

Degree she is pursuing: Associate degree in nursing  from Gwinnett Technical College. Howard, PCT, earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in 2006, partly because she wanted  to take a different path from her mother, sisters and aunts, who were all nurses.
She discovered her own passion for nursing when her husband was diagnosed with a glioblastoma Stage 4 brain tumor in 2008.
"The nurses treated him so well. I realized I wanted to be a nurse in order to provide that same care to others," she said.
She started nursing school in 2011 and was able to care for her husband during his final days at home.

How does she manage her time? Howard works Thursdays through Saturdays and attends classes on the other weekdays. Her mother takes care of her daughters on the weekends, and they go to preschools and child care during the week.
Howard studies during spare moments and after the kids are in bed, by breaking her time into manageable chunks.
"I cut the chapters out [that] I need to learn for the next test, have them bound at Kinko's, and take them everywhere. I also ask the nurses and [nurse practioners] on my unit questions, which adds value to the text. I set myself three reasonable goals every week and cross them off."

What keeps her going? "I didn't feel guilty [about] being in school when my husband was sick, because we had that conversation. He told me to do what I needed to do, because he knew I was the future for our girls. He handled death with such dignity and I learned so much from him. I want my children to know that anything worth having is worth working hard for."
She gives her all at work, serving on two hospital committees, and at school, where she's a member of several leadership clubs. Nominated by her faculty, she was the GOAL (Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership) winner for Gwinnett Technical College in 2012.

What's her goal? "I plan to graduate this May, work a year and then go into an RN/BSN bridge program. Someday, I'd like to be Dr. Howard and teach nursing students."

Advice for others: "People make excuses and say that it's not the right time to go back to school. I say just throw yourselves into the environment and start. It can be done. Just take one class if that's all you can afford, and build from there."