From the moment Jennifer Cochran stepped into a Las Vegas emergency room for clinical training as a UNLV nursing student, she knew that’s exactly where she needed to be.
Just a few years prior, Cochran abruptly left a long and successful career in business to enter the nursing program at UNLV – hoping to find in nursing an opportunity to focus less on the bottom line and more on helping people. Cochran soon realized that opportunity, graduating at the top of her class in 2006 and immediately signing on as an ER nurse at University Medical Center (UMC) in Las Vegas. Cochran currently works as a critical care nurse at UMC and is emergency department chair for the hospital’s shared governance program - an effort to improve patient care and worker safety through interaction with hospital management and stakeholders.
We spoke with Cochran about her career change, what it’s like to work in the ER and how her experience at UNLV contributed to her success.
Why leave a successful career in business for nursing?
My first degree was in broadcasting from the University of Florida. For years, I worked in radio advertising and sales. But one day I decided I really didn’t like it any more. I didn’t want to go to work each day focusing solely on the money. I wanted to help people. I wanted to make a difference. So I quit my job and decided to go to nursing school at UNLV.
Why did you want become an ER nurse?
It’s where the action is. It can be a lot of pressure, though, and it’s not for everyone. Almost every moment in an ER has the potential to be a high-stress situation where someone is on the brink of life and death and you’re responsible.
I love the adrenaline and I enjoy feeling like I can help somebody and make a difference.
Did you have critical care in mind when you started nursing school?
When I started nursing school, I wasn’t really sure what specialty area was for me. Every semester I seemed to change my mind because I loved the classes so much.
During my last semester I went through clinical training in a trauma intensive care unit. At that point – after experiencing many different aspects of nursing – I knew that critical care was what I wanted to do. I felt like my nursing skills would be put to good use in a challenging environment. And I love it!
How did the UNLV School of Nursing prepare you for your nursing career?
In nursing school, you learn a little bit about everything. In critical care, there’s so much going on and you’re forced to draw on all your previous experiences. You never know what you’re going to see.
I’ll often have moments where one of my clinical training courses kicks-in. Or, better yet, I’ll look back to my early days in the classroom when I would wonder if I’d ever need to know such specialized techniques or theories. And, sure enough, I do.
Is there a particular aspect of UNLV’s nursing program that stood out?
The last semester, critical care training, was most important to me. In reality, though, all the classes are pieces of the puzzle that you put together to make a nurse. But the critical care training was phenomenal.
Continuing education is also key for me. I’m currently in the Family Nurse Practitioner track at UNLV. One of the beauties of nursing is that there are so many options out there. You can do so many things. As a nurse, I can work with a doctor in an office or in a clinic, a hospital or even a school. I just know that, like many nurses, I want to keep learning to be the best I can be.
What do you find most rewarding about being a nurse?
Helping family members of really sick patients understand what’s happening with their loved one is particularly rewarding. The critical care environmental can be scary for families of patients because, in many cases, people don’t know what’s happening. We can help them understand what’s happening and, to some extent, allay their fears. When you can see the relief in their faces and they say thank you – it doesn’t get much better.
Do you have any advice for prospective nursing students – or those who just want to change careers?
To succeed in nursing you first have to want to help people. You have to be driven. From a practical standpoint, it’s important to not focus solely on grades. Grades are important, but learning is even more important. Balance it. Be sure that throughout the process you’re focused on both learning and preparing for the future.
For changing careers, my advice is to just go for it. Look at it as an adventure, a great opportunity to learn and grow – no matter how old you are. If you end up disliking your new career or don’t find a job you like, you can always go back to your first career.