Office of Public Affairs

Becoming a nurse: learning trust, teamwork and empathy

Jon White '13

At 38, Jon White was tired of working in offices and sitting behind desks. He loved computers, but building databases and analyzing systems for companies’ information technology offices left him empty.

“I didn’t really feel like I was ultimately helping anybody with the type of stuff that I was doing,” said White, now 44. He thought of his mom and sister, both nurses. He looked at the job market for nurses. “I asked myself, ‘What do I want to do for another 35 years?'”

So, after 16 years in IT, he enrolled in the USM School of Nursing. He completed the school’s accelerated program — which takes only 15 months to educate, immerse and shape people with prior bachelor’s degrees into nurses — and went to work.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” White said. “It requires a lot of discipline.”

Since graduation in 2013, he has worked at the Marshwood Center, a rehab facility in Lewiston, at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, and at Portland’s Maine Medical Center, where he currently cares for patients in the Intensive Care Unit.

“I like bedside nursing,” White said. “I like the schedule it affords me. I like the flexibility it affords me.”

And he likes the chance to help people.

“At the end of the day, I feel like I am contributing,” he said.

It’s something he had sought in computers.

“I worked in a lot of different places and I’d really seen a lot,” he said. “I worked in the public sector. I worked in the private sector. I worked for huge companies. I did a little bit of everything.”

White, who has a runner’s lean physique, first began contemplating nursing when he prepared to run half marathons. He learned bits of anatomy and his curiosity grew.

“I was training and running and grew interested in science and the human body,” he said.

“My whole background was very different,” he said. “For me, it was kind of daunting. The health care setting was an environment that was foreign. It’s a different world if you haven’t been there before.”

Yet, USM’s accelerated program — which included work in the simulation lab and clinical work in area hospitals — taught him the foundational skills he needed.

“You can get right to the heart of the matter,” he said.

Following graduation, he found his career home in the Intensive Care Unit, where he used his technical background to quickly understand life-preserving machines. He appreciated the order of unit, where many of the hospital’s sickest patients receive care. And he admired his co-workers.

“The teamwork is really great because it has to be,” White said. “Most of the time, you can’t do your job by yourself. You need other people.”

From them, he learned the most important trait necessary to be a skilled nurse: empathy.

It’s part of the exchange that happens between every patient and every nurse.

“They are trusting you immediately to care for them,” he said. Every nurse learns to honor that trust.

The journey begins with the trust every nursing student gives when they enter the program.

“As we learned our basic, fundamental skills, we were set up for success,” White said.

Story by Daniel Hartill. Photo by Alan Bennett. USM Office of Public Affairs