What does being a nurse mean to you?

Rose Mannina worked one year as a certified nursing assistant at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Hinsdale Hospital before her first day as registered nurse - in March of 2020.

"I had a patient bleeding out in one room, and I had a patient in hospice," Mannina recalled, as the COVID-19 outbreak was threatening to overrun health systems. "I just remember feeling extremely overwhelmed. I was sitting there wondering, 'Why did I do this to myself?' "

Looking back, she finds that dark time helped her shine more brightly in her profession.

"I think it made me a better nurse, more compassionate, more resilient and thinking I can handle anything now," she said.

May is National Nurses Month, and while Mannina has always embraced the caregiving role, she struggled with which career path to take. She pursued psychology in college until a fortuitous pairing with a nursing student roommate gave her new direction.

"I found her homework more interesting than my own. I thought about what I wanted to do for a whole year and finally just felt pulled to do nursing," she related.

Initially eying the ER after graduation, Mannina was instead accepted into the hospital's medical oncology department. Now she can't imagine doing anything else.

"I really like the educational aspect that we get to have with our patients. They're very open to receiving education about how to live with their diagnosis," she said. "I think we can make the biggest difference in terms of quality of life."

Mannina, who was living at home when the pandemic hit, had to adjust her life to ensure her family's safety.

"My mom is older, and I was really scared that I would get her sick," she recounted. "So I wouldn't see her at home, just go straight into the shower and then to my room. It was definitely a burden that my friends and family had to take on as well."

Working with cancer patients has painful moments. Mannina finds solace in being a nurturing presence as they spend their final days. And loved ones appreciate it, too.

"I had a hospice patient and we got him out of pain, and he passed peacefully with his family by his side," Mannina shared. "Later they brought us a gift basket, thanking us for making his last moments as peaceful as possible.

"They look to us for that strength and to help lift them up during that grieving process," she added.

The camaraderie with her coworkers is a "rock" she leans on during difficult days. Recently married, Mannina also has a spouse to journey with.

"I work weekends and holidays, and it's nice to have family that's very supportive," she said.

What does it take to thrive as a nurse? Heart, Mannina remarked.

"Compassion is a challenge," she said. "It's often the little things that matter."

Choosing this livelihood was a risk, Mannina said, but one worth taking.

"I've done more in the last four years than I ever thought was possible," she said. "I think this is what I was supposed to do with my life."

- by Ken Knutson