How do nursing students juggle school with familial responsibilities? UNLV Nursing master's student and PICU nurse Shauna Aranton makes it work, and she's raising four children! She shares her strategies to balance academics and a job with her personal life.
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Joe Gaccione 0:02
You're listening to Vital Views, podcast for UNLV School of Nursing. I'm Joe Gaccione, communications director for the School of Nursing. Nursing school’s rigorous for all students, but try going to nursing school while raising a family at the same time. It's the beauty of higher education. There's no set time to further your knowledge, but some choose to take that opportunity as a parent. Naturally, that balancing act requires more effort and concentration, but it can be done. Our guest today Shauna Aranton knows all about that work life balance. She graduated from UNLV School of Nursing with her undergrad degree back in 2019. She's currently a graduate student on the Family Nurse Practitioner track. She works at UMC of Southern Nevada in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Shauna has done all this while raising four children. Her story is proof that this balance may be difficult, but it's not impossible. Shauna, thanks for coming in.
Shauna Aranton 0:51
Thanks for having me.
Joe Gaccione 0:52
Alright, so let's start with the big one. You're a nursing student, you're a nurse, you're a mom, how do you do this?
Shauna Aranton 1:00
Lots of wine. Really, it's about, it comes down to planning. So, you know, most nursing students are Type A anyways, and they like to kind of have control of everything. That's kind of been me for most of my life. So, I like to look ahead, I like to look not just a couple days ahead, not just a week ahead, I like to, to look at like a whole month and see, “What do I have going on, not just in my curriculum, but what do I have for work schedule? When is my husband working? What do my kids have going on? What days? Are we gonna be able to cook dinner? What days are we not going to be able to, like, it's not going to be feasible, with Taekwondo and everything else going on?” So, my kids, my older kids had marching band and drumline, and it was a lot, a lot. So, if I look at everybody's schedule, and use, you know, apps and handheld calendars, I was able to kind of coordinate and see, “Okay, where do I need childcare? Where can I cut out time to study? Where can I meal plan, so nobody's freaking out about what's for dinner, and what's for, you know, breakfast?” And it really just came down to those little things of planning every single day and what happens in that day, from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed. I have to take every Sunday, I do that, even now, to this day, I take every Sunday and take a look at my week, make sure nothing has changed, take a look at my month and see what I have coming up and try to plan as much fun in between all of the stress as possible.
Joe Gaccione 2:31
Because it sounds silly at first to think, “I have to plan fun,” but really you have to because your priorities come up: work, school, family, and the next thing you know, week’s gone by, another week’s gone by, and you have nothing, you didn't do anything but be a parent, be a student, work however many shifts you're working in a given week, and then it just, time just keeps going by.
Shauna Aranton 2:53
Yeah, and you know, the people who suffer, you know, it's not just the kids, it's, it's also yourself. It could be your marriage, it could be your friendships, your career, you know, if you're thinking about other things that, you know, bother you, or things that you need to attend to, or things that are, you know, stressing you out at work when you're working in the ICU, like that's not safe, you know? So, it happens to all of us, and when I find myself feeling that way, I will get somebody to cover my patients, and I'll take 15 minutes and, which is very rare and very hard to do sometimes, but I will go and address those things that are stressing me out, so I can redirect my focus to my work and my job, and vice versa. If I'm at home and I'm trying to handle things with the kids, but my, something with my studying is really bothering me or, you know, I need to figure out, “When am I going to be able to get this test done or this quiz done?” I'll have to get somebody to watch the kids like, or the older siblings to like, hang out with the little ones, so I can go and say, “Okay, let me just look at my calendar and let me reassure myself that I have time to do this,” or, “You know what? I'm going to be up late tonight,” you know? So, it's really just kind of addressing those things that bother you, getting people to help you, and making sure that those things are taken care of. And planning fun, it's, it has to be done with everything else. I plan, Friday night’s always movie nights with the kids, no matter what I make time to have a Friday night movie night with them, it's only an hour and a half of my time, and it's snuggling time, and it's great, and, you know, we get to have popcorn and candy and I get to not think about anything else but being with them, so alleviate some of that mom guilt. And every night after work, no matter what, I read them a bedtime story, and that's all they want. They just want 15 minutes with Mom because they haven't seen her all day, and so I make that happen. And then with my older kid who's in college, he's always composing and making music. He actually goes here too, he's in the music program. Yeah, he, you know, he's like, “Mom, come check out this song,” and I'm like, “Alright, well, how long is this one? Because if it's another hour long song, I don't have time, but if it's, you know, 15 minutes, I could definitely make time,” and he's like, “Yeah, no, it's cool. Just come check it out.” And so doing that for him kind of meets his needs as well. And then I make time to, you know, call my other kid, my 20 year old and see what he's up to and making sure he's staying out of trouble. So, just making time for that is just, you have to.
Joe Gaccione 5:09
Organization is key, even if you're a single nursing student without a family to take care of, or even a pet, let's just say it's just you, it's still a lot of work. Especially at the beginning, when you're just getting used to nursing school and you're not sure yet about, and I'm going to use a taboo phrase in nursing, free time. You're not sure where to allot your mentality, your focus. Was it harder at the beginning when you were an undergrad student? Or do you feel like it's harder now that you have a job and grad classes?
Shauna Aranton 5:38
I feel like it's, it's harder in a different way. I think one of the best things I ever did for myself was learn, “What is my time on task? How long does it take me to complete a task? So, how long does it take me to meal prep? How long does it take me to read five chapters, you know, depending on that course?” And the start of the semesters are always that learning curve because you don't know the material and how well you'll be into the material and, you know, if it's like a snooze-ville situation, where you're like, “Oh, my god, I just, I had to reread this paragraph 15 times,” you know? Or is it, “Okay, well, I really love this,” you know? Like, pathophys is my jam, and so I can get through those chapters really quick. Pharmacology, tend to lose me a little bit, but I tried to come back and, you know, reapply it, but then you go into nursing theory, and I'm just like, “Well, I'm interested in the history,” I'm like, I struggled to find like, “Okay, how do I make this concept relevant to myself?” And so, with different materials, I learned my time on task, and then I can plan accordingly. When nursing school was, you know, I was in nursing school, the kids had a lot more, I think demands, you know? I had four of them in the same household at the same time, two were, again, in marching band and drumline, which are two different things and different shows, different performances, and I had a baby on my hip and chasing a toddler around, and they need your time, like, they don't go color and do something quiet, you know? And I think I was still nursing one of them at the same time. So like, it was really difficult, because they needed me in a different way. Now, it's difficult in the sense that I have to be gone, no matter what, I'm gone minimum of 36 hours a week at work, and that's when I don't pick up overtime because my unit is short. And then I'm dedicated, no matter what, two hours in the morning, like from, you know, seven to nine, I'm getting the kids ready for school, no matter what, and I'm dropping them off. And then I have until three o'clock to get things done. I have that luxury that I didn't have in nursing school that I have now in grad school, and I also don't have to actually drive down to campus and be in class at a certain time, so it's nice that way, but it's also, “Okay, well, you need to be disciplined, and you need to go online, you need to do your modules, you need to be able to allocate time for your reading and your studying, and, you know, these group discussions,” and things like that. So, you have to have a different side of discipline, but if I would say what was harder, I would say nursing school, for sure.
Joe Gaccione 8:02
When you were first starting out?
Shauna Aranton 8:03
First starting out. I mean, it's all new content, it's all new concepts, it's rigorous, it's scary, and it's worth it, 100%, but it was very demanding, for sure.
Joe Gaccione 8:14
And that perspective you're talking about, it's all relative, right? Like you, you can look and say, “Well, I have technically more responsibilities now, but I also have more experience, so it's easier to manage.” It's just how you manage your time and your resources. I wanted to switch gears for a second, talk about your role at UMC as a PICU nurse. What does a PICU nurse do?
Shauna Aranton 8:35
So, UMC is one of the only level one trauma hospitals and so, and we're a county hospital, and so we see a lot of disease processes, a lot of traumas, a lot of things that you, rare genetic things as well we've seen, so we do a lot. As a PICU nurse, I do everything from post-op recovery to trauma admits to brain injuries, where we keep people alive, you know, on pressors and vasopressors, and I do things with my docs, I do central line insertions with my docs, you know, I help them and I prep them, I do, I remove the central lines myself, you know? I do a lot of very cool and interesting things and monitor EDDs and monitor ICPs, you know, intracranial pressure, and it's a lot of critical thinking, a lot of, a lot of pressure. You're doing so much, you're looking at everything and that nursing school really does help you rebuild, like that foundation where you're like, “Okay, the first thing you can do is an actual head to toe assessment,” right? A real head to toe assessment because your patient could take a turn at any time, good or bad, right? They can get better or they can get worse. And so, I basically monitor these kids lives and help save them and help them feel better and help them get through some of the hardest things, including their families.
Joe Gaccione 9:51
Do you feel like having a big family prepared you for this role and vice versa? Do you think being as, a PICU nurse is helping you as a parent?
Shauna Aranton 10:00
It's probably the worst thing that you can do, is be PICU nurse and be a parent, because you're like, you envision all of these injuries, right? Almost like, I always say, I, I parent like, final destination where, where I can see anything that’s bad might happen, I envision it, and I try to protect them from it. And sometimes it's a little much on my kids, I get it, but you know, after you've seen the things I've seen, it's, it's a little hard. But it has definitely prepared me to be a better nurse, I'm able to not just take care of my patient, but their families, especially their parents, you know? That's the worst day of their lives, is to have a child in the ICU. Whether they're there for respiratory or asthma, you know, they, you know, weren’t breathing well, or because they were, you know, hit by a car riding their bike, you know? This is, these parents don't expect these things, and they don't know what to expect in the ICU, and they just want, “Tell me my kid's going to be okay, tell me my kid is going to be okay,” and, and we can’t always say that. Until that kid is discharged, we can't say that, you know? And so, I'm able to put myself in that position, I'm able to help them get through it and help them focus, focus on the positives, explain the medical equipment, explain all those different things and really just be there for them. I think part of the reason I was able to secure my job so quickly after, well, actually even before graduation was because I have over a decade of customer service experience, and people don't realize that taking care of people is also like customer service, right? You want to make sure that they're okay, make sure that if they need a glass of water, if they need a blanket, you know, they come to these hospitals, they haven't slept in two days, they haven't showered, you know? So, taking care of them using my past experience and using my empathy and just parenting skills, you know, and being in that situation, it's really allowed me to be a good nurse.
Joe Gaccione 11:47
For any of our undergrad students out there who are thinking about going into pediatrics, and we get a lot of them, they say that they're interested in, they want to, they want to help kids, they want to be around them, they want to take care of them, what would be your advice to them, or perhaps maybe some insight if they want to go that route, either positive or a cautionary tip?
Shauna Aranton 12:05
Positive is that you're going to see really sick kids, you're going to see really hurt kids, but the positive of that is that you also see them get better. It's not 100% of the time, but a lot of the times you can see them get better, and you make such a difference in their life. I have so many little pictures, and I don't want to start crying, but like my patients draw me, me and them together and like, I have a superhero cape on and we're holding hands and it's just, it's so rewarding, like it's so rewarding. The cautionary tale would be, you know, you don't just take care of them, and they're not always sweet, and they're not always nice, you know? So, you have to be, be prepared to deal with them and their family, and you have to understand that parents aren't always neurotic or being, trying to be mean or stressful, they are terrified of whether or not their child's gonna get better. And so, you have to go in with that understanding and understand that you're not just taking care of the child, you're taking care of the entire family.
Joe Gaccione 13:07
And it's not personal. It’s not personal towards you.
Shauna Aranton 13:08
And it’s not personal. Right, 100%.
Joe Gaccione 13:11
Everyone's going to have a different situation in their families as far as scheduling goes, like organization is probably, it sounds to me like the biggest tip you would have for, for nursing parents out there, but are there any other suggestions as far as taking time, like finding time for yourself or ways to organize the chaos, so to speak?
Shauna Aranton 13:30
Like I said, you do need to plan fun, but don't forget to plan a date night, once a month. Don't forget to watch your favorite show at least once a week or twice a week, you know, it's only 30 minutes, it's only an hour, you need time to unwind so that your brain can reset. And so, whatever that looks like to you, whether it's a bubble bath and a glass of wine, whether it's, me, I like to watch horror shows, so, you know, watching a 30 minute episode or a scary movie, that's my jam and I get to do it at least once a week or twice a week and reset. Get that coffee in the morning, don't go right into work, sit in your car, rock out to a song or two and then go in. And same thing, don't drive home without the music on because you get, you know, lost in your head, just wash it away, sing it away and leave it at work.
Joe Gaccione 14:19
That is all the time we have. Shauna, thank you so much for coming in.
Shauna Aranton 14:21
Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Joe Gaccione 14:23
Thanks for listening everybody, hope you have a great day.