Career

Catholic Feminists in Health Care (Part I): Forensic Nurse and Policy Administrator

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April 15, 2021

What is it like to work in the world of health care as a Catholic feminist? I asked two professionals to find out.

Stacy Claypool, Forensic Nurse Examiner and Registered Nurse

How did you become a forensic nurse examiner and registered maternity nurse? How do these two aspects of your job work together?

I became a forensic nurse examiner through working as a RN in the emergency department (ED). At a mandatory annual training program, I met the manager of the forensics team for the hospital system. Since I was in college, I had wanted to be a sexual assault nurse examiner, so this fulfilled a dream of mine. I love to explore different areas of medicine and health and, as a RN, it is easy to change jobs or areas of focus. I’ve worked in ICUs (intensive care units), EDs (emergency departments), NICUs (neonatal intensive care units), and now maternity. The forensics job took more effort on my part, though, because I had to know someone to get in.

The maternity and forensics jobs do intersect some, because I see a lot of domestic or interpersonal violence. Doing both of these jobs helps me gain understanding of the mental, emotional, and sometimes spiritual health of my patients. However, I would say I feel more of a vocational fulfillment by working in forensics. I like maternity, but I see it more as my main source of income rather than my calling. If a patient comes to the ED requesting to see a forensic nurse examiner, [they are] at the end of their rope and in utter despair. Half of the time, they are homeless or will be if they leave their abuser.

Doing both of these jobs helps me gain understanding of the mental, emotional, and sometimes spiritual health of my patients.

What does a typical day look like in your job?

For my forensics job, each member of our team does 24 hours of on-call per month. I sign up for the days I want to be on call, and then I wait for one of the emergency departments to call me, saying that a case came in. It might be a rape case, domestic or interpersonal violence, strangulation, or physical assault (based on the nature of the injuries due to the laws in my state). If I get called in, I work one-on-one with my patient.

Forensic nursing is an extremely detail-oriented job. I have various kits (such as a rape kit) that I use to collect evidence for police, if the patient wants me to. I have to be very careful in collecting evidence so I don’t contaminate the specimens with DNA from myself or other people. I also have to be very detailed with my charting, because forensic nurses can be called to be expert witnesses if cases go to trial.

Finally, I set my patients up with food, clothing, shelter, social workers, or counseling, if need be. For sexual assaults, we give STI prophylaxis medication, including HIV prophylaxis.

As a maternity nurse, I take care of six to eight patients at a time. With COVID changes and hospitals letting nurses go to save money, though, sometimes I have 10. My day is basically spent juggling all of my patients. We work 12 hour shifts (7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.), but often, we don’t actually leave work until much later.

My general responsibilities include physical assessments and taking vital signs on all moms and babies; helping with breastfeeding, pumping, and bottle feeding; delivering and picking up meal trays; aiding the physician in circumcisions or frenotomies; jaundice assessments and phototherapy; newborn screens; weighing the baby every day, etc. We also help moms who have postpartum hemorrhages, pre-eclampsia or eclampsia with or without seizures or strokes, and babies that go to the NICU or code and pass away.

In addition to working with the patients themselves, we take care of families who experience fetal demise or babies who pass away after birth. We tend to their emotional and mental needs, try our best to be there for them if they desire to hold their baby, create memorial books for them, and coordinate with pastoral care to arrange for funerals.

What is it like to work in forensics as a Catholic feminist? Do any aspects of your Catholicism or feminism present challenges or benefits in your job?

I work for a Catholic hospital institution for both of my jobs. I would say my faith as a Catholic does help me, because I pray for my patients and ask God to speak through me when I take care of them.

I would say my faith as a Catholic does help me, because I pray for my patients and ask God to speak through me when I take care of them.

What advice do you have for young Catholic feminists who are considering your career path?

My advice for anyone who wants to be a RN is this: Think long and hard about it. If I could do it over again, I don’t know that I would be a nurse. Every year that I’m a nurse, it gets worse: more patients, more responsibility, less staff and — most importantly — less safety. You are the last to be appreciated and the first to be blamed. If someone dies on your watch, the hospital will not take the blame. They will hang you out to dry in the courts and the Board of Nursing.

My advice for anyone who wants to be a RN is this: Think long and hard about it.

The hospitals all say that they are nonprofit, that their culture is different, and that they really do want to help people and make a difference.” However, they don’t. The top people in the hospitals make millions of dollars while patients suffer and die due to lack of staff and resources. Unfortunately, working for a Catholic or other Christian hospital is no different.

I would only consider being a nurse if I lived out west or in a state with widespread nurses’ unions; that is the only way that hospitals will listen and do the right thing for the patient. It is not enough to have one hospital in your city with a nurses’ union; it needs to be almost every hospital in the area so that they compete with each other.

Is there a devotion (a saint, particular prayer, etc.) that has been especially precious to you in your job?

There is not a saint at this time that I pray to for my job, but I ask for the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene (my patron saint) and our Blessed Virgin Mother quite often for all sorts of things.

Molly Franzonello: Systems and Policy Administrator

How did you get into the business side of health care?

After I graduated college with a Bachelor of Science in health sciences and a minor in humanitarian affairs, I was unsure which aspect of health care I wanted to pursue. So, I decided to apply for AmeriCorps VISTA. Through AmeriCorps, I was placed in a hospital program at the Medical University of South Carolina called Coastal Connections, which has a mission to connect uninsured and underinsured patients with their other needs, known as "wrap around services." Through this program, I worked with a group of volunteers to reach out to patients and direct them to where their needs could be met; for example, where they could get a free or low-cost mattress, food, and consistent help with medical expenses.

My interest in the socioeconomic determinants of health soared, and I worked to convince high-level hospital administrators to secure more funding for the Coastal Connections program. That’s where I found my niche: I enjoyed working with multidisciplinary teams of clinical staff and administrators to solve problems. Within a couple years of my AmeriCorps VISTA experience, I pursued a graduate degree in health systems management. After the completion of my MHA (Master of Health Administration), I sought work at mission- and service-driven hospital systems, which led me to my first job at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

There are parts of working on the business and operations side of health care that have fulfilled me, such as coalition- and relationship-building and impacting patients' lives through quality projects. I have been more attracted to the policy side of things since taking on a role that showed me how much policy can influence health systems and, in turn, patients.

I think it's a process for your profession to feel like a vocation — I definitely know that I'm still on the journey. I am always learning what I’m most interested in, and day by day, I feel like I'm getting drawn towards the calling that God has for me. I know He will use my skills and knowledge for the good of His kingdom, especially as I continue to discern and invite Him into decisions about my next steps. Right now, I have a lot of irons in the fire for the future.

What does a typical day look like for you at your job?

I work for the National Capital Region Market on a team that monitors primary care clinics at 13 military medical treatment facilities for compliance with the Defense Health Agency's policies. I meet with clinicians and administrators, pull data, create presentations, and build coalitions, forming relationships between primary care leadership from the different facilities. Since COVID-19, I have drafted interim emergency response policy and contributed to COVID-19 response planning at the systems level.

What is it like to work in health care business and operations as a Catholic feminist? Do any aspects of your Catholicism or feminism present challenges or benefits in your job?

As a Catholic feminist, I have found working in a male-dominated military climate difficult at times. Fortunately, I’ve worked with some strong women of faith who have encouraged me. Since military culture is very hierarchical, it can sometimes be daunting to disagree or present opposing views to leaders higher up in the organization. I have learned to lean on my skills and use data to support my ideas. Building good relationships and using mindfulness in my interactions is also helpful.Being a Catholic feminist has meant treating others with dignity and respect (even when I don’t receive the same in return) and valuing work ethic and humility as core parts of who I am in the work place. I’m not perfect, but I try to live by the expression, They will know we are Christians by our love.” In the workplace, as a woman, I believe that I can make connections and live out the feminine genius simply by being the best woman I can be.

Being a Catholic feminist has meant treating others with dignity and respect (even when I don’t receive the same in return) and valuing work ethic and humility as core parts of who I am in the work place.

What advice do you have for young Catholic feminists who are considering your career path?

For young Catholic feminists considering a career in health care, I would say that the world is your oyster! Now, more than ever, we are in need of Catholic women who are in touch with and knowledgeable about Catholic social teaching. As health care grows more and more complex, it is important to have the context of faith as clinicians, administrators, and policy makers encounter issues in bioethics and the care of the human person. At every level of health care, women can draw connections to God's love for humanity. Standing strong in your Faith and becoming knowledgeable in health care delivery will make you an anomaly.

It is important to have the context of faith as clinicians, administrators, and policy makers encounter issues in bioethics and the care of the human person.

Is there a devotion (a saint, particular prayer, etc.) that has been especially precious to you in your job?

Mother Teresa has always been a source of inspiration for me. Not only did she care for people in a genuine way, but she also created and mobilized systems to care for people through the Missionaries of Charity. I think of her when my patience is thin, or when I feel numb or unsure about the next steps.

Mother Teresa has always been a source of inspiration for me. I think of her when my patience is thin, or when I feel numb or unsure about the next steps.

In the book “Mother Teresa: Come be My Light,” I learned that Mother Teresa experienced an intense trial of faith — a true "dark night" of the soul — where she felt nothing from God; yet, she still pressed on with her charity work. I also have a devotion to Mary, and praying the rosary helps me a lot in making decisions and daily trials.

Abby Jorgensen

‍Abby Jorgensen is a firm believer in the dignity of the human person and strives to enact this in her roles as wife, mom, sociologist, and birth and bereavement doula. In her work as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Notre Dame, Abby works to apply her charisms of knowledge and teaching to align academic understandings of family, politics, and culture with people’s lived experiences. She aims to foster a loving politic based on dignity and the pursuit of truth. In both her academic and doula work, she is on a mission to accompany parents and future parents navigate parenthood. Abby lives on a little city lot in South Bend, Indiana, with her husband, daughter, two dogs, cat, and five chickens. She once designed and taught a course about cultural sociology using Star Trek.

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