Katie Reeves, Columbia Nursing student

Switching Specialties?

The Right decision..

Good advice is often generalized from personal experience. I was told numerous times that choosing a specialty is next to impossible before actually spending time on various units. I have to admit that I essentially blew this off thinking that I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I loved kids. Pediatrics was “my thing” and my allegiance to the specialty was unwavering. Columbia Nursing’s flexible policy on switching specialties was unique and wonderful for students that were still unsure of their passions, but irrelevant to my situation.

That being said, I plan on starting the DNP program in psychiatry this summer. So…instead of providing more generalized advice, this is an account of my experience from which, please take what you wish.

Psych was my first rotation of five. This would be my first time on an inpatient psych unit. I have a degree in psychology, a developed interest in psychopathology and I had envisioned many times what I thought it might be like, but still had no idea what to expect. I decided to keep a log of my experiences.

Week 3 - My patient’s drawings were incredible, but she was so modest. She tried to teach me how to draw an elephant, her favorite animal, but my doodle was nothing more than a stick figure compared to the masterpiece that she was able to come up with in less than ten minutes. I had been sitting, drawing, and talking with her now for a few hours getting to know what she thought about living in a locked unit with 15 other girls that all suffered from severe anorexia nervosa, a conversation similar to ones we had had in past weeks. She paused from drawing and looked up at me. “I’ve been crying a lot…thinking about everything that happened.” This was different… “What happened?” She proceeded to give me a timely and detailed account of abuse, feelings of inadequacy, suicide attempts, and other tragic stories of her childhood that all lead to her horrible illness. I did my best to keep my composure and channel everything we were learning in class about therapeutic communication, but this was no longer a theoretical, in-class exercise. This was real. I so desperately wanted to know what to say, how to help her, and guide her through her haunting history. But for now, all I could do was listen. We were able to talk a few more times during the 5-week rotation. The more we talked, the more she trusted me and the more she shared.

I was hooked. My experiences during my psych rotation (including diagnostic exercises, group therapy, and conversations with patients suffering from schizophrenia and other affective disorders), weighed heavy in my mind. I began spending what little time I had outside of class looking for more information about mental illness in children and adolescents specifically. I even starting taking a class at the New York Foundling Center for Child Protection on child abuse and trauma informed care. It took about five weeks to convince me that a change from pediatrics to psychiatry was pertinent to my career development. Three rotations later, my genuine passion and excitement for psych and my pending career continues to develop.

As we round the final turn for the ETP year and the deadline to declare specialty areas approaches, I am able to compare my experiences with my classmates, many of whom share similar passion shifts from one track to another and several who remain happily where they started. Weather or not the ability to change specialties was relevant to our personal situations, we can all agree that having options allowed us to think freely and explore new interests that potentially would have been ignored.

-Katie Reeves ETP ’14