Story by LISA ANDERSON
Finding the Light: Local Nurse Leads by Example and Cares with Compassion
“Nursing is more than giving you medications or a pat on the back. It is truly giving your heart.”
Tamara Dillon began her nursing career at the beginning of the pandemic. It was May 11, 2020. Remembering what she had learned in school and keeping up with the COVID-19 protocols was a daunting task, but one she was able to handle. “School teaches a foundation [and] book knowledge. You learn the skills with hands on.”
Like everyone who goes through a nursing program, Tamara had clinicals, but in her opinion, a few hours on a shift aren’t the same as starting and ending shifts back-to-back. During the pandemic, the stress was raised by needing to wear protective gear for an entire 12-to-14-hour shift. Masks and protective face shields or glasses made for a very uncomfortable work environment. “You can’t see. [The shield] fogs up. It’s difficult to do your job in those circumstances. You could wear your mask and your face shield, then use a certain tape to tape around [the mask] so that [the shield] wouldn’t fog. That was great until you went to take the tape off, and it felt like your face was on fire,” she explains.
THE ROAD TO NURSING
Her mom was a nurse, and Tamara, as a child, was perplexed by her mom’s capacity for kindness. “I never really understood her compassion for these people that were old and cranky. As a kid, you don’t get it. She always told me it was the ones who were the grumpiest that needed the extra care. She said they were the ones missing something fundamental. I didn’t understand it at the time, but as I [grew up] and was a CNA in college, I gravitated towards care for people.”
Her mom pushed her to become a nurse, but as children so often do, Tamara ran in the opposite direction. She became a teacher, and then a stay-at-home mom while teaching in a homeschool program. When she separated from her husband, she felt the need for a change. That was when she made the decision to become a nurse. “I found my wings, and it was really amazing. I went from depending on somebody else for my happiness, for my financial status, for my self-worth. I was taking that step to do it myself. It was ‘becoming’ for me.” Her eyes light up with pure joy.
The transition wasn’t easy for her two boys. They had moved and now needed to be in public school. Tamara had a tribe helping her, though. Her parents lived across the street, and when her now fiancé came into the picture, he stepped up to the plate. “He has my back,” she says with a smile. “He takes care of the kids, cooks, he cleans, does the laundry. Anything and everything. The kids love and adore him.”
Tamara tells her boys what her mom used to tell her: “You’re going to have bumps in the road. You’re going to have difficulties, but those things make you stronger, if you have the help.”
She doesn’t believe in the mantra “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Tamara knows from experience that when you have a tribe, people who will step up and help you, then you are stronger because of them.
FINDING THE LIGHT WITH COMPASSION CARE
Tamara found a home at AdventHealth in Ocala. She is on the renal unit, but they regularly get patients with different care requirements, if they have an open bed. The patients on her unit often need total care and will frequently require extra maintenance for things, such as colostomy bags or tracheostomies. “It’s daunting, because I do want to do everything I can. [It’s] sad that I can’t do more, and I carry it home with me, which is terrible. But at the same time, I find that it’s what keeps me going. When I’m tired from working 50 to 70 hours a week, and I want to call in, but I don’t because I know there’s people waiting for me. It’s not just the patients. You have a team waiting on you. They’re counting on you to be there, and I’ve seen what it’s like, when you don’t have people to work.” Her voice cracks, as she fights back tears. Her passion is palpable.
Tamara knows there are higher paying positions because AdventHealth is a not-for-profit, but that’s what she likes about it. She likes working for a facility that gives back to the community. “The way I see it is if I can make an impact in just one patient, it reverberates throughout the entire community, and that’s what I wanted.”
She is hoping to fill a leadership role in the future, but Tamara wants to keep her boots on the ground. She’s not a fan of being removed from those she is leading. It’s important to her that your leadership team shows they are fighting for you, and she believes in the strength of leading with positivity. People will ask her how she stays so happy, when it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and let negativity take over. “I don’t know that it’s happy, but it’s a choice to make. You can be miserable where you are, or you can be happy and do your best to make the best impact possible. It’s about finding that tiny little bit of light and holding on tight, because, if not, it’s going to go away.”
Tamara understands it can be difficult to find a balance between providing quality care and compassion care. Many people burn out when they care too much for their patients, but it’s actually what fuels her. “Nursing is more than giving medications or a pat on the back. It is truly giving your heart. You can’t teach heart. You can’t teach kindness and caring. You can read it from a book, but if you can’t do it and feel it yourself, why are you doing it?”
At the height of the pandemic, going home was scary. “I have kids. I don’t want to take anything home to them. Like many nurses, I have a ritual.”
Before leaving the hospital, Tamara sanitizes her station, her shoes, cell phone—anything she has touched. At home, there are no hugs or kisses until she has put her clothes in the washing machine and taken a shower. To reduce the stress for everyone, especially her kids, she tries to make it into a game.
When she isn’t working, Tamara spends as much time with her children as she can. She always aims to have fun no matter what they do. Her boys are thriving.
The day after being honored for one year of service as a nurse, working a night shift, and coming in for this interview—bright-eyed and bushy-tailed—Tamara and her family were moving into their new house, which she bought all on her own. Her pride in this accomplishment is obvious. She has all the support she could ever dream of, but she has also found the strength to do things she never thought possible, before finding her wings. She is, indeed, an angel to herself, her patients, team members, family, and friends. She found her light, and it shines through her, head to toes.