From pencils and papers to scalpels and scrubs
As a caretaker for her parents late in their lives, Deirdre Boyce had been profoundly moved by her family’s positive interactions with nurses.
“I admired not just what they did but how they did it,” Boyce said. “I thought it would be an amazing thing to be able to do that for people.”
So, after more than 30 years of teaching world history to New York City public high school students, Boyce started a second career as a medical surgical nurse.
In 2016, five years before retiring from Aviation Career and Technical Education HS in Long Island City, the Orange County resident quietly began planning her next move. She enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College with a goal of entering its nursing program. Her previous degrees had required limited math and science, so she first had to take prerequisites such as chemistry and microbiology.
“I didn’t even tell anybody at the beginning because I thought it would be hard,” she said.
Boyce pushed forward, taking inspiration from the hospice nurses who cared for her father — a cancer patient — in such a way that he was able to die with dignity, and from the hospice nurses who, years later, were mindful of her mother’s pain and anxiety from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She finished the nursing program in December 2020.
She worked weekends as a nurse administering COVID vaccinations before retiring from teaching in 2021. Later that year, she became a full-time medical surgical nurse in a residency program at Putnam Hospital in Putnam County and recently transferred to Montefiore Nyack Hospital.
Boyce finds the work physically and mentally challenging, but she enjoys it.
She chose her specialty after she completed a hospital internship caring for adults with conditions ranging from pneumonia and gastrointestinal issues to surgical recovery. “It was just different every day, and I loved it,” she said.
Her introduction to her new profession was baptism by fire, the way it had been as a new teacher, but the stakes remain higher. “If I misspelled something as a teacher, I could turn it into a teachable moment, but if I mess up as a nurse, I could harm someone,” she said.
It’s not surprising that one of her favorite aspects of nursing is patient and caregiver education. She explains the disease process, how medications work and the steps patients can take to improve their lives. “I say as a joke to people, ‘I don’t want to see you again,’ or ‘I’ll see you in the supermarket,’ ” she said.
Boyce also continues learning and growing. In June, she received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the City University of New York. She is training to become a telemetry nurse, which means she will use devices that measure vital signs to monitor patients with major medical conditions.
Her 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. work hours as a night nurse are very unlike those of a teacher, but she doesn’t mind. “It’s totally different and I love it,” she said.