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  • Writer's pictureSpotlight News Hampton Roads

United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Erin Russell

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Erin Russell.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

I am a part-time Oncology nurse with Virginia Oncology Associates, full-time mother/ring master to 3 boys, and military wife (Coast Guard) of 17 years.

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

My path to Oncology was anything but direct. I graduated from college with a degree in Environmental Biology and spent several years working in a nature center before I decided that I was ready for bigger adventure. From there I joined the Peace Corps and volunteered for 2 and 1/2 years as an environmental educator in Panama. It was truly the adventure of a lifetime! Having learned to speak Spanish rather fluently while in Panama, upon my return I landed a job doing HIV prevention at a Community Health Center that served a primarily Hispanic community in Milwaukee, WI. Ultimately, this exposure to the field of medicine and helping people in a very direct way led me back to school to become a nurse. The shift wasn't overnight, but once nursing took hold, I never looked back. I instantly loved the science behind what makes the body tick, the task oriented nature of a hard day's work, and the opportunity to connect with people on a very personal level. Oncology nursing, in particular, has always held a special place in my heart. There truly is no other job I'd rather do. I consider myself very fortunate to have found my niche relatively soon out of nursing school.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

We moved to Hampton Roads in 2014 after a tour up in the Washington DC area.

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

Nursing is a magnificent profession! There are endless possibilities, fields, schedule options, and environments to choose from. I do believe that everyone should spend at least a year or two in the "trenches" of medical/surgical nursing in a hospital setting. There is no quicker way to learn.

Does your gender influence your relationship to your work? In what way?

Nursing is most certainly a female dominant profession, for better or worse. I do miss having a male perspective on the day to day operations and think that efforts to increase diversity in the workforce can only be of benefit. But I do think that a profession of mostly woman offers opportunity for sisterhood and support. I go to work knowing that I will be surrounded by coworkers who understand and will be there for me should I need help. I truly can't imagine what it must feel like to be a woman working in a man's world. I don't feel like I have to live up to a "man's standard". Woman ARE the standard in the world of nursing. It's very empowering.

Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as an artist? In what ways?

Parenthood has had an immense impact on my career. In addition to my part-time work, I am a mother to 3 boys, each with unique needs, currently in 3 different schools, learning virtually through the COIVD-19 pandemic. A good friend told me I was like Super Woman. I laughed and told her that I was barely holding it together as well as Marge Simpson these days. There was a time that I worked 40+ hours a week as a nurse. But even before the craziness of 2020, the addition of kids to our family unit made me feel torn in too many directions. Ultimately I decided to scale my hours back so that I could feel more in control. With my husband being in the Coast Guard, I knew that his employment would always have to come before mine. It is just part of the deal. And I feel quite the same way about my kids. I am not going to get my master's degree in nursing right now. I am not going to strive for the job that pays more but requires holidays and nights. I go for the smaller goals. I did earn my qualification as an Oncology Certified Nurse in 2018 and find continuing education opportunities here and there. I am happy with the best of both worlds for now. And if nothing else, it makes me love the profession of nursing even more, as it offers me the opportunity to serve both my family and my patients without having to run myself ragged to get there.

Any closing thoughts?

Find a career that grounds you and helps give you perspective. I never leave my job feeling sorry for myself. Instead I go home and hug my family. Life truly is too short for anything else.

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