Pam Root is the Assistant Director of the SOAR TA Center at PRA. In addition to the incredible work she does helping individuals with medical impairments, mental health issues, or substance use issues experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, she recently completed the coursework necessary to become a Registered Nurse! We sat down with her to find out more about her passion for nursing.

What made you interested in nursing and what was the catalyst to make you pursue this passion?

My interest in nursing, and more specifically, neurological nursing, started about 20 years ago. I was working with people with developmental disabilities and became interested in the brain and its functionality. Neurological nursing is a branch of nursing that focuses on patients with acute brain and spinal cord injuries such as back injuries, strokes, or brain traumas. We work with these patients for a short duration of time until they are discharged to short-term rehabilitation or long-term care.

I have a Bachelor’s in English and Education, a Certificate of Advanced Study in Disability Studies, and my work revolves around serving individuals with mental health issues. I was thinking one day, what I could do to combine my interests in science, physiology, and biology with my educational and my professional experiences, and the idea of nursing popped into my head. I felt that was a perfect blending of my interests and skills – the social aspect of working with people, the focus on science – so I just decided to go for it!

Is the work emotionally taxing?

It can be, especially if someone is in critical condition. I would have to say that working with families is often one of the most challenging aspects of the work. A large part of nursing is family care; you have to navigate family dynamics and cultural values to build relationships in compressed, often high-stress periods.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome to complete your coursework?

Some of the most difficult hurdles were obtaining the initial program prerequisites. I had to retake a few classes and get waivers on others, as the period of using my previous credits towards the program requirements had lapsed.

Another challenge was scheduling – this program did not lend itself to impulsivity. Classes were held two to three times a week from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m., with clinicals being held 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every other weekend! I had all of my coursework mapped out across the entire year and knew what I was doing practically every minute of the day.

I could not have done this without my husband and my mother. My husband shouldered a large part of the burden of keeping our house running, and I am so grateful for his support. My mother was my cheerleader, and encouraged me every step of the way.

What was it like being a student again?

It was a really interesting experience. My program was held in the evenings and on the weekends, and the students were an interesting mix of working professionals who came from diverse backgrounds — lawyers, paramedics, service members, researchers — who all came together to obtain their nursing degree. I wish our curriculum had built in time for us to build off each other’s experiences – we had such a wealth of practical and experiential knowledge, I wish we had more of an opportunity to learn from one another.

What are some your takeaways from this experience?

I value preventative care even more than I did before, and appreciate the fragility of life. In this role, I have had the opportunity to meet and care for people on some their worst days, and it has been an honor to serve them in this small capacity.

How does your work as a neurological nurse translate to your work at PRA?

In my capacity with the SOAR TA Center, which works with individuals with medical impairments, mental health issues, or substance use disorders who are experiencing or at-risk of homeless, I have gotten an opportunity to see the science behind some of the conditions our clients have.

In my capacity working at Policy Research Associates and the research we complete here, it has been interesting to examine nursing research – an incredibly nascent field. Many nursing practices have been passed down over the years from word of mouth, and the research is just starting to get off the ground, which was initially quite surprising.

What’s next for you?

I’m interested in applying my education to issues like surrogate decision-making and palliative and hospice care. I’ve been looking into serving on a Surrogate Decision-Making Committee, which is a program for individuals with disabilities who do not have anyone to make non-emergency major medical decisions on their behalf.  Committees are composed of family members, attorneys, licensed healthcare professionals, and advocates who are interested in helping others who are not able to make decisions on things like invasive procedures.  As for palliative and hospice care, I feel it would be a humbling opportunity to develop relationships with patients and care for their spirit, as well as their physical ailments.

What are you doing with your new-found free time?

I’m watching TV, going out to eat with my husband, taking vacations (my first vacation was right after my graduation to the Food and Wine festival in Florida), visiting family and friends, and reading whatever I want!!