For Colinda Cole-French, BSN, RN, a recent graduate of the Brigham’s Nora McDonough Nurse Residency program, the path to nursing has been “non-traditional.” She made the decision to go to nursing school after a career in teaching, coaching and counseling, including nine years of teaching English in Vietnam.
Here, she shares her perspective on switching careers, entering the nursing profession in the thick of the pandemic and the impact she hopes to make.
When she felt the call to nursing: “I was in Vietnam when I first had the idea of a nursing career. I was there teaching English and raising my three kids with my husband. I was visiting a friend in the hospital after she had a baby, and she was in a room with five other women. Everyone thought the best way to breastfeed babies was by lying on their side. I taught the mothers how to do it from my own experience. Up until that time, I had experience with coaching, teaching and leadership development, but this was my first time doing something hands-on. I loved helping with this need these mothers strongly felt to breastfeed their babies. That was one of my most meaningful experiences in Vietnam.”
Why she decided to switch careers: “It was a few years later that I began thinking seriously about nursing. My mom had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and I could see how different the experience of her care was with each nurse she had. In some ways, nursing is a total diversion from my career path. I was a literature major and wanted to be a teacher. Nursing incorporates some of the skills because it involves teaching and asking good questions of our patients. I loved going back to school. It’s always been a value of mine to be a lifelong learner.”
How her family reacted: “My family is really proud and supportive. At first, some family members and friends thought I should go pursue a degree in counseling as a continuation of my career path in teaching, but I felt compelled in the direction of nursing. My daughter dressed in my scrubs for a school day where you could dress like your hero. That was my most affirming moment.”
On joining the Brigham community: “My neighbor had a procedure here and was a huge fan, so I really wanted to come here. I was hired into the PCA Float Pool before moving to antepartum. As I was finishing school, I was hired for the Medical Intermediate Float Pool before joining the general medicine unit on Braunwald Tower 16AB. I love working with this team.”
On the Nurse Residency program: “It was great. My favorite part was hearing from so many nursing leaders throughout the hospital about all the things they are doing and seeing how passionate they are. We had small groups for clinical reflections where we could talk with peers about our experiences. That was really helpful as a new nurse and during COVID to have space to process what was happening.”
On starting her nursing career amid the pandemic: “I wanted to start at the Brigham as soon as possible. Helping people is why I went into nursing. I didn’t want to be on the sidelines when I just acquired these skills.”
What’s next: “I wrote up a development plan and am thinking about pursuing certification. But first, I just really want to be a great nurse. The hands-on care, patient safety and nursing skills are the things I really want to work on. What I’m interested in now is geriatrics and helping older people meet their priorities. I want to help patients and family members have conversations about a loved one’s wishes. We have people living a long time now, but are they really living if they have lost dignity and what’s most important in their lives?”
Read a related article about the Nora McDonough Nurse Residency Program.