Opportunities come by making yourself available, taking a step, and making a move.
Her mother’s dream of being a nurse was fulfilled in her daughter, and now that daughter is passing on the dream to others. Meet the secretary of Sigma’s board of directors.
My mother dreamed of being a nurse, but my birth—two months before her 18th birthday—thwarted her plans. Instead, she focused on being the best mother, the best teen mother, and the best single mother she could be. When she went to college, she chose accounting because it allowed her to attend part-time. Nursing school required full-time attendance. She would have been a phenomenal nurse. She is caring, gentle, kind, and extremely patient.
Growing up, I wanted to be a psychologist, so I could help people with their problems and coping skills. Then I decided to be a doctor of nutrition and physical fitness. It was a degree I mostly made up because I didn’t want to be a medical doctor. I didn’t want to treat diseases. I wanted to focus on the healing and disease prevention power of healthy foods and the benefits of regular physical exercise. I didn’t want to be just a nutritionist or just a physical therapist or just an exercise physiologist. I wanted to be all three. At the time, I wasn’t aware of osteopathic or naturopathic medicine.
In the 11th grade, when my best friend Kerisa, my neighbor Pryam, and I scored in the top 1 percent of our class on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT), we were offered early admission to the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). During my interview with the early admissions committee, my 15-year-old self articulated my dream of becoming a doctor of nutrition and physical fitness and my passion for treating the whole person and preventing disease. Subsequently, Kerisa and I were offered early admission scholarships to UVI.
The right decision!
During orientation, we pondered what major to declare. Kerisa decided to go with “Undecided.” Since there was no major for my made-up degree, I didn’t want to show indecision by “declaring” an undecided major. While sitting in that auditorium, wondering what to do, I overheard an older lady behind me talking about her dreams of becoming a travel nurse and traveling around the world on the boat she and her husband lived on. The ability to travel the world and still practice as a nurse greatly appealed to me, and hearing the woman describe her dream reminded me of my mother’s dream to become a nurse. So when it was time for me to complete the enrollment form and register for classes, I chose nursing!
My decision to pursue nursing captured, simultaneously, my desire to attend to the whole person by offering holistic care, my desire to honor my mother, and my desire for travel and options. I began nursing school at age 15, graduated at age 17, became a registered nurse at 18, and obtained master’s and doctoral degrees in my 20s. I also managed to work as a travel nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and at Grady Hospital and Northside Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. One summer, I worked as a nurse practitioner at Island Health Clinic on Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts. I have been a nurse for 21 years now and have never regretted my decision. I have been a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma) for more than 15 years, and Sigma remains my global nursing organization of choice.
Finding my way
As a fairly well-rounded nurse—clinician, scientist, and educator—I am passionate about holistic care and practice, HIV research, and empowerment of students and junior faculty through mentorship. I believe in using data and evidence to drive change and to sustain standards and momentum.
My path to holistic care and HIV research was not a straight one. Defining moments throughout my life drew me to each. For example, when I was a nursing student, my very first hospital patient was a woman with HIV. During that time, students were required to go to the hospital the night before a scheduled clinical day to find out who their assigned patients were, collect pertinent information about them from their charts, and meet them, letting them know they would be their student nurse the following day.
When I met my patient, she didn’t say much, and I noticed the scattered bloodstains on her white hospital sheet. She was apathetic, and I was terrified. As a first-year and inexperienced nursing student, I didn’t feel I had enough knowledge or skills to adequately protect myself from contracting the virus. I did not sleep much that night. I tossed, turned, and worried before finally dropping off to sleep. The next morning, I woke up late, causing me to arrive late at the hospital—at 7:10 a.m. instead of 7:00. My clinical professor, Dr. Gale Fauster-Strauss, met me at the nurses station. Nodding, and with her hands on her hips, she informed me that, because I was late, I would have to return home and miss clinical that day.
I was relieved! I wouldn’t have to face my fears and deal with my anxieties. Instead, my best friend, Desarie, took care of my HIV-positive patient. Later, Desarie told me about how wonderful the patient was and how she had taken great care of her, including washing and combing her hair. I was impressed by my friend’s nursing skills, and I was disappointed with myself—by how I had let my ignorance and fear limit my ability to care for that patient as a person with dignity. I also learned that the patient was an advocate for those with HIV and an HIV educator who had somehow become HIV-positive herself. I was sorry I had missed my opportunity to care for her, because she was human and deserving of optimal care from me, as well as others.
I believe in sufficiency on a number of levels. First, I believe that, within reason, each of us has what is needed to do and become whatever we aim for or are destined for, if we commit to doing and learning whatever is necessary. Second, I believe that each of us has been given sufficient favor, wisdom, and enablement to succeed. This doesn’t mean we will never face obstacles, challenges, setbacks, or disappointments. Rather, it means that, despite the odds and with the help of others, you and I will be able to rise to the challenge, get back up, overcome, and move on.
I witnessed this firsthand while working on an oncology unit. One of my sickest patients—I call her Mrs. Ray of Sunshine—was diagnosed with leukemia. On admission, she was severely immunocompromised, yet she had a very optimistic attitude and a strong faith. Other patients had lab values and prognoses that were much better than hers, but they seemed sicker—both physically and emotionally—and were more symptomatic. Mrs. Ray of Sunshine, on the other hand, was not nauseous and was not requesting multiple medications for symptom relief. She was very positive, offering advice and comfort to others, including the nurses. This experience sparked my interest in the role of faith and spirituality in health.
Lastly, I believe there are sufficient opportunities to allow all of us to shine in our own way and grow into the people we are destined to become. Opportunities in life are varied and global! It is important to note, however, that they may look or present differently for different people. Also, opportunities usually don’t just land in your lap. Instead, you may have to make yourself available by announcing or demonstrating your availability and expertise, taking a step, making a move, and creating your own opportunities!
Engagement leads to opportunity
The greatest and most serendipitous career “breaks” arise out of or stem from connections made while performing volunteer or service activities. Engagement in professional service—with Sigma, for example—provides opportunities to network with nurses from around the world, understand and appreciate global perspectives, gain leadership skills, fine-tune communication skills, and demonstrate commitment to advancing the profession and collaborating effectively with others.
My involvement with Sigma has centered on global service and research. After serving initially as co-chair of Alpha Epsilon Chapter’s Research Committee and then chair of Sigma’s International Service Taskforce, I was elected to Sigma’s Leadership Succession Committee. I am now proud to serve through 2020 as secretary on Sigma’s board of directors. In my service to Sigma, my goal is to support the honor society’s mission and vision and to ensure that we maintain a global and data-based perspective.
As chair of the International Service Taskforce, I analyzed all service-related data captured in annual reports from more than 400 chapters. My team and I then wrote and published a paper that reported our findings and made recommendations regarding international service. In addition to developing a model and guidelines for international service engagement, we provided guidance on how to use service to help achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals. I have achieved a great deal in my nursing career before age 40, but I remain grounded and humbly grateful for all the opportunities I have been given and for every mentor who supported and encouraged me.
A dream come true
When I began working as a registered nurse in a healthcare facility in the U.S. Virgin Islands at age 18, I was the youngest member of the nursing staff, yet I respectfully supervised the other staff members. At 19 and with limited experience, I served as charge nurse, overseeing other registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and nursing assistants because I was the only nurse with a bachelor’s degree. But I served in that capacity humbly, respecting the experience and wisdom of the seasoned nursing staff. Committing myself to learning, reading, researching, asking questions, being open to suggestions and feedback, and helping my fellow nursing team members, I quickly gained the respect of the team and other nurse leaders. Humility and a helping hand go a long way!
Two decades after I chose to pursue the profession of nursing, I remain committed to lifelong learning and volunteer service. I am also committed to mentoring future nurse leaders, junior faculty members, and new nurse scientists. With my global and diverse perspectives and experiences, I am honored to serve Sigma’s members as board secretary. Since growing up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I’ve had a lifelong dream to be a global servant leader, and I’m thankful to see that dream come true. RNL
Safiya George Dalmida, PhD, APRN-BC, secretary of Sigma’s board of directors, is associate professor and assistant dean for research at the Capstone College of Nursing, where she also serves as Scholarly Affairs Committee chair and Executive Council member. The author is also a grantee and fellow of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Program.