Why I Love My Job: Donna Wasson, RN

What I do: “24-hour weekend on call for patient issues, pronouncements and new patient admissions.

“Most families do not understand the dying process and why we administer certain drugs, or even why we aren’t doing more to keep the patient from dying, which is, of course, impossible. I have to give the families a dose of reality in a very gentle, compassionate way while educating them about how to care for their loved one and what to expect from the patient next...

“We cannot fix or cure their loved one. We are there to keep them very comfortable and cared for while nature takes its course. When all is said and done, our families are so grateful that we were there to help support them and care for their loved one as they died.”

How I got into this: “My first experience with hospice was with my own father in Jacksonville, back in 2000. Hospice set him up at home and they provided the supplies, structure, guidance and emotional support my mom so desperately needed. I was blown away by their genuine compassion for our family and decided then and there that was the type of nursing I wanted to do.”

Best part of the job: “The tremendous satisfaction of being able to take care of any issue the patient or their family might have over the weekend, when their regular nurse is not on duty.”

Most challenging part: “The distances I sometimes have to drive as well as having to get up in the middle of the night and make sure I’m alert enough to take good care of that patient who needs me.”

What people don’t know about my job: “It is not as difficult emotionally as you would think. By the time the patient passes, the family is prepared and has already done a lot of their grieving, so the death of the patient is almost a relief. They know their loved one was comfortable and passed peacefully, so the awful, wailing grief you would think a family member would exhibit is actually rather rare.”

What keeps me going: “The satisfaction of knowing what a profound sense of comfort and problem-solving I am able to bring the patient and family in a time when they are lost and vulnerable.”

Preparation needed: “A degree in nursing with a good, strong background in med/surg. You also have to be happy working alone, with very little supervision, knowing your support is a phone call away. You must be a confident problem-solver as well as being able to emotionally handle the complicated family dynamics that can occur.”

Salary: The average annual salary for a hospice staff nurse in Atlanta is $65,749, depending on experience, according to salary.com.

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Compiled by John Brieske, Pulse editor. Got a health care job that you love? Please send e-mail to jbrieske@ajc.com.

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