The Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center (STC) in Baltimore has always been known as a fast-paced place that saves lives of people who are in the most dire condition and often near death. After a brutal accident or other occurrence, Marylanders will often see the STC helicopters flying overhead. They know where they’re going, even if they don’t know what has happened.

Have you ever wondered what it was like to work in such an environment? Brad Antlitz, BSN, RN, a clinical nurse on Multi Trauma IMC6 (MTIMC6) at the University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, took time from his schedule to answer our questions.

What follows is an edited version of our Q&A:

Brad AntlitzAs a Shock Trauma Nurse, what does your job entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

The Shock Trauma Center is a unique place to practice as a nurse due to the innate fluidity of the environment. The expected response to this question is typically wound dressing changes, trach care, or assessing chest tubes. While yes, we do follow our orders and perform exciting nursing skills, a richer peek into MTIMC6 is rooted in the powerful connections we form with our patients.

In my experience, those first few moments with the patient during nurse-to-nurse hand-off are crucial. Simultaneously, I assess the room and the patient, and I develop the connection. On any given day, we care for a variety of patients ranging from those joyfully being discharged whom require extensive education to those on the brink of death. In between are a myriad of events which take a true team mentality. This forces our team of nurses, patient technicians, and unit secretaries to constantly work together and remain five steps ahead.

MTIMC6 is known for high standards of care, thus earning the Beacon award from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses for unit excellence and outcomes in 2015.  However stressful and fast-paced, among the predominant signs of a patient enduring their injuries are the nuanced vulnerabilities we sense from a patient during the hustle of our day. It’s in these moments where the real care takes place—the holding of a hand for reassurance, a late-night back scratch during a bed bath with their favorite music playing, or even more simple, truly listening to the patient.

Why did you choose to work at Shock Trauma? How long have you worked there? What prepared you to be able to work in such a stressful environment?

I chose to work at Shock Trauma because I appreciate the mindset of team and the long legacy steeped in leadership. I have always been drawn towards great leaders. Throughout the entire organization, leadership is fostered. We are a Magnet organization, designated by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, where the true sense of the magnet perspective is found.

Nurses are happier because we’re empowered. We strive to improve upon nursing practice through our nurse residency program and the organization’s professional advancement model including evidence-based practice and nursing research. This type of environment fosters a culture of learning and inquiry, which in turn positively impacts patient outcomes and enhances the unit standards and cohesion.

Collectively, the strengths of the organization elicit pride in what we do so that we can remain committed to each other and the patients. This sense of pride can be felt throughout the halls of the Trauma Center. My military experience prepared me for the stressful environment. I was a Sergeant in the Marines, where a much younger version of myself was first exposed to the importance of strong leadership despite the chaos experienced when deployed. While compassion was instilled by my parents and extended family, I like to think I have a healthy balance of protector and caregiver—my Dad calls me the Warrior Poet.

What are the biggest challenges of your job?

The biggest challenge to the job is when I leave knowing I was unable to reach one of my patients, due to another patient requiring more of me. I rationally know that I am only one person, but my heart on these days departs heavy.

What are the greatest rewards?

The greatest reward is being a part of something much bigger than me. What occurs inside these walls is remarkable.

What would you say to someone considering this type of nursing work? What kind of training or background should he or she get?

You cannot be an individual in the Shock Trauma Center—first and foremost. It truly is built and sustained with team in mind. Most of the nurses are driven to expand their knowledge and are constantly achieving professional and personal goals. The moment someone feels they’re no longer growing, they typically move onto a unit of greater acuity or accomplish scholarly ambitions.

In preparation, I would suggest seeking a student nurse or certified nurse assistant position. At that position, seek out a mentor, and soak up all the knowledge and behaviors you can. Pay special attention to: how the nurses interact with each other and the physicians, the resources they utilize during their shifts, and how they interact with a patient’s family. These three behaviors can get you a long way and are often overlooked when orienting as a new nurse!

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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