Posts tagged medicine

Let’s Talk Nurses!

Timing is everything! 

Miss America was on TV a couple weeks ago, and I actually happened to catch a little of it while catching up on my most frequent chore – folding laundry! 

If I remember correctly, I hoped Miss Tennessee would win because she was a vocal STEM advocate, in addition to being stunning (all of the women were).

It wouldn’t be Miss America though, if there weren’t controversy. This year did not disappoint! Within a couple days, there was scandal over the comments on The View about Miss Colorado and her speech about being a nurse. 

Timing is everything.

The comments ended up being especially poignant to me because I coincidentally had a series of fantastic experiences with incredible nurses and other health care professionals last week.

You see, my best little girlfriend broke her arm. In two places, I came to find out.

Trying to get a little sleep after a very long night in the ER

She’s a tough cookie, which made it hard for us to tell if we should take her to the emergency room right away or not. I finally decided we needed to get it checked out when she cried in her sleep. 

Not much is open at 11:30 at night, and I have no patience for waiting when my baby is hurting, so we made a “quick” trip to the emergency room. 

Spending the night (or just part of the night) in the ER is miserable – seriously! But, we were cared for by a great team. Everyone we met from the security guard to the to the doctors, to the radiology techs, nurses, and PCAs were fantastic. There were thoughtful, kind, and patient with my over-tired, hurting toddler. And – they knew their stuff! 

We went back to the doctor for another appointment a couple days later to get a hard cast put on. We talked to the doctor for just a couple minutes (he was wonderful!), then another woman (a nurse or a PA?) was the person to actually put on the cast.   

Action shot! a broken n arm won’t hold this girl up! She was playing hard at a bounce house party 2 days after the cast went on.

Never having broken a bone, I was surprised the doctor didn’t do the cast himself – but it makes sense! If the doctor takes the time to put on all the casts, it limits the number of patients that can be seen.

Since I was experiencing healthcare first hand, and listening to the news about the role of nurses in healthcare, it made me think about my most pivotal healthcare moment – again, one that was shared with my sweet little STEMinista.

When I was pregnant with her, I had a serious condition called placenta previa. I’ll spare you the details, but it was serious enough that I spent three weeks on bed rest (2 of those in the hospital) before she was born.

And she was STILL six weeks early!

She was so early, and so small and sleepy, that she spent 19 days in the neonatal intensive care unit.

If you want to learn about the role of nurses and the impact they have in peoples’ lives, try spending some major time in a hospital.

As Miss Colorado discussed in her monologue, the nurses were the first people I talked to every day, and the last people I spoke to at night. For me, they did everything from giving IVs, to administering medicine, to monitoring my vitals,keeping me calm when I went into premature labor, and even making a ribbon bow to pin on my Halloween baby skeleton shirt. They knew their science and their medicine, and they showed compassion and love as well.

Our experience in the NICU was even more remarkable. The doctor popped in twice a day to check on the kids, but the nurses were literally with the babies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Teenage girls get a reputation for being high maintenance, but NICU babies are SERIOUSLY high maintenance. They need diaper changes, baths, and weigh-ins, they need to eat every 2-3 hours (often through feeding tubes), they’re hooked up to all sorts of tubes and monitoring wires, and sometimes they forget to breathe on their own.

Yes, you read that last part correctly. They sometimes

One of the most unnerving parts of the NICU to me was that there were babies whose breathing monitors went off almost every time we visited. An alarm would sound, and if it didn’t go off after a few seconds, a nurse would literally go over to the baby, and wake him/her up as a reminder to breathe. It was terrifying the first time I saw it, the last time I saw it, and every time in between. These little ones literally rely on the care of nurses to do something as simple as breathe.

On top of all that, the nurses deal with over-hormonal, over-tired, stressed out parents, while implementing doctors’ orders and caring for their little patients. Bless their hearts. It’s an incredibly hard job. One that I don’t know if I would have the stomach or the heart for.

So, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of the nurses (and other health care professionals) out there for the hard work you do – but especially the nurses. You’ve made a dramatic impact in my life, and I am so grateful for each and every one of you, whether you’re using a ‘doctor stethoscope’, a ‘nurse stethoscope’, a ‘PA stethoscope’, or any other stethoscope. 


5 Approaches to Studying Science

science majorsLet’s talk about science today, everyone! Science is where I got my first couple degrees, so I love it as much as engineering, which we talked about last week. Much like engineering, the sciences are incredibly diverse, and you can choose to study topics as big as the universe, solar system, and planets, or topics as little as proteins, molecules, atoms, or individual electrons. In fact, that’s how we’ll talk about science majors today – based on the size of what’s being studied.

In honor of Cinco-de-Mayo, we’ll break things up into 5 types of systems, or approaches to studying science:

  1. LARGE-scale: The study of universe, solar systems, and the Earth is known as astronomy. Meteorology, geology, and oceanography are also studied at this large-scale level, where patterns can be studied across large areas.
  2. Organism-scale: Functional biology studies the systems in place in humans, animals, and plants and how they interact with each other through botany, zoology, medicine, physiology, and ecology . We can also study how groups of humans interact (sociology), and how they behave as individuals (psychology/psychiatry).
  3. Cellular-scale: Microbiology looks at living things at a cellular or sub-cellular scale, including humans, plants and animals – but also including bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. It looks at the components inside the cell, and also how cells interact with each other.
  4. Chemical-scale: Chemistry is the study of matter. What is it? What makes it? Chemists study the composition of different substances, the properties of the substance, and how it interacts with other materials. They also develop new ways to isolate, change or create chemicals for specific purposes.
  5. Energy-scale: There are so many types of way energy can be transferred – through electricity, mechanical, or heat energy, or light or sound waves. Physics is the study of all these different types of energies, and how they interact with matter. Looping back around to where we started, physics can also be applied to understand the energies and forces at place in large-scale Earth and space systems.

Cool how it all connects, huh? I wish someone sat me down and explained all this to me about 20 years ago (maybe they did and I missed class that day, or it didn’t sink in?) so I could have better understood the way the different high school classes link together to provide a unified look at the world.

Does this make sense to you too? This system resonates with me, but it’s just one way to categorize science. If you google “science majors”, there are a million different choices, but in general, they can fall into one of the 5 approaches listed above. You’ll find, as in all areas of STEM (and pretty much everything, everywhere), there is a lot of overlap between the different fields. Therefore, it’s important to understand how making a change at one level, could change things at all the other levels.

You may be thinking, “Wow STEMinista, you’ve outdone yourself there –changes cause other changes, huh?” Don’t worry – I have an example. A specific, living, breathing example. He’s yellow, with a brown nose and 4 legs. His name is Leroy, and you just can’t help but love him.

Look at this adorable guy!

Look at this adorable guy!

Well, a couple of months ago, the SciGuy and I kept coming home to a kitchen floor covered in dog pee. That’s really out of the ordinary for our dog – he’s the best ever. We took him to the vet thinking he had a urinary tract infection, but it turns out he had dog diabetes. Can I just say – for the record – I didn’t even know dogs could GET diabetes! So my first instinct was to laugh. The vet wasn’t amused. Once I regained my composure, we talked about treatment options, and it turns out dogs can get insulin treatment for diabetes just like people.

Where does the science come in? Good question – I was getting to that point – I just had to get the socially awkward part of the story out of the way first (even STEMinistas have terribly awkward moments!)

So if we look at treating dog (or human) diabetes on a scientific spectrum, there is a lot going on. First at the animal scale, a veterinarian or biologist had to monitor symptoms across a wide cross-section of the dog population to identify key symptoms, and then develop diagnostic tests to confirm diabetes – that part required help from the people studying at the cellular/system scale. They had to figure out exactly what in the body changes to trigger diabetes, and what biomarkers change from normal (and what is ‘normal’ anyway?). In dogs, blood and urine sugar are important, just like in people, and I believe fructosamine is tracked similarly to A1c in humans to monitor long-term average blood sugar. The systems/and cellular team also had to collaborate with the chemists to identify ways to package insulin that is purified, stable, and effective in the dog. Drug development requires methods developed by physicists characterize different versions of drugs and what happens to them over time. Once the treatment and delivery methods (injections) are selected, things get passed back up the science chain as the dog goes through its diabetes treatment.

Want to learn more about diabetes in people? I subscribe to the Sawbones podcast – it’s a combination of medical history and humor, and it’s fantastic. They recently did a show on the history of diabetes – it’s actually one of the first diseases ever recorded. (warning: sometimes both the medical discussions and the humor contain content for adult audiences)

Well – that was a pretty long-winded example which was meant to show how many branches of science are used to address single problems at many levels. Math and logic systems could be a sixth way of studying science, but that would ruin our count – it is Cinco de Mayo after all. Instead, math will get its own dedicated post next week. Keep an eye out for it!

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Also, if you’re eligible to vote in the U.S., and there’s an election in your area, make sure to get out and vote!  That’s the easiest way to share your opinion with your elected representatives!


7 Career Options in STEM

(or, what can I do in STEM?)

7career options in stem

Since this blog is, let’s start getting into the nitty-gritty. If you found this website, you probably have at least a little bit of interest in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math. And if you’ve read this far, you may be wondering about specific career options in the field.

Here are four suggestions: 1) science, 2) technology, 3) engineering, and 4) math. Done.

Just kidding!! I wouldn’t do that to you!

The goal of this post is to introduce a number of broad career fields. This is the first in a multi-part series which will broadly introduce types of STEM careers, and then cover specific fields within math, science, and engineering. So, without further ado, here are 7 career options in STEM:

  1. Engineering: This one is pretty obvious – it’s in STEM, right? To me, engineering is problem solving. Engineering is designing, building, testing, and problem solving. It ranges from mechanical engineering, to electrical and computer engineering and computer science, to industrial and manufacturing engineering, and even aerospace engineering and materials science. I would also lump architecture into this group.
  2. Science: OK, so this one is obvious too – but I promise I’ll give you more than just the acronym for STEM in this list. There are a lot of careers which allow you to pursue science full time. This includes everything from traditional sciences like biology and chemistry, to meteorology zoology, ecology, geology, and astronomy.
  3. Medical: When I say medical, the first thing you probably think of is doctor, which is very common. However, there are a lot of other medical pathways you can consider as well, including nursing, physician assistant, physical therapy, pharmacy, optometry, nursing, and veterinary medicine. All of these are incredible careers. This would be a great option for you if you love STEM, and you also love interacting with people (or animals!)
  4. Business: You can go directly from a STEM education to business, or you can spend time doing a different job and then go in to business. STEMies are great at business because they are good at problem solving, they understand the processes involved in design, building, and testing, and STEMies are creative and hard-working. Harvard Business School loves accepting engineers into their Master of Business Administration (MBA) program because of all of those characteristics. Business careers include everything from accounting (lots of math!), to supply chain management and logistics, to program management, to entrepreneurship (can we call it STEMpreneurship?).
  5. Government: there are lots of STEM jobs through the government, ranging from the military, to the IRS (taxes, anyone?), to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the CIA.
  6. Teaching: This one is so important! One of the most important places to inspire others to pursue STEM is in the classroom. This can happen all the way from elementary school, to high school, to college. If you love math and / or science, and you love sharing your knowledge with others, you should definitely consider teaching!
  7. Unconventional: Everything so far on the list probably made sense, but what on Earth does ‘unconventional’ mean? There are lots of people in STEM who do unexpected things in their careers. Did you know The Big Bang Theory has a scientific consultant? How do I get a job like that? Others work for non-profit industries or do outreach work, or work as translators between the technical world and general audience. Examples are expert witnesses, who explain forensic evidence to juries, medical writers, and science writers.

Do you notice anything about this list? It covers almost everything you could ever possibly want to do. One of the cool things about STEM is that it is everywhere, and it is used for everything.

Let’s talk about a specific example. As theSTEMinista, you should all know something – I really like shoes. Not just dressy shoes, though. I have much love for a good pair of running shoes too! So, taking running shoes as our example, let’s think about the ways STEM might be used before those shoes ever get to our feet.

Now days, running companies are engineering shoes to do more and be more. They are designed and engineered to weigh less, provide more support, and last longer. That’s a feat of engineering in itself. One of the ways to provide all of those enhanced features is through engineered materials. Once there’s a design and materials, another team of STEMgeniuses has to figure out a way to manufacture the shoes, and test them out to make sure they’re everything they’re designed to be. Plus, there has to be a STEMteam coordinating the shipment of all the proper materials to get to the shoe factory at the correct time, and another TEAM coordinating where all the shoes get shipped after they’re made. And did you know there are even packaging engineers now, who can make sure the packaging is efficient and environmentally friendly. I’m pretty busy, and I have a specific favorite pair of shoes, so I sometimes buy my shoes online, which requires the expertise of all sorts of software and hardware STEM men and women. If I go to a store in person, a team of architects must have first designed the building. Once I finally get my paws on those new shoes, before I ever go on my first run, I check the weather to make sure I dress for the conditions. Can you believe all the brilliant people it takes just so we can lace up our running shoes? It’s absolutely incredible, and we’re only talking about shoes!

We can come up with a million other examples, for a million other products, which leads me to my great, big take-home message.

STEM is needed for any type of product in any type of industry – you can go anywhere with STEM!

That is why it is so critical for young people to pursue STEM educations, and to retain professionals in STEM careers. I am so excited to continue on this STEM journey with you, readers! STEM opens up so many doors and it is so exciting to share some of this information with you!

Keep an eye out on the Cool Jobs section of the website. In that section, I will be highlighting real people, in real STEM careers – together, we can find out more about the exciting world of STEM. When we look at specific individuals, what type of information about the individual and the career are you most interested in learning about? Leave me a note in the comments!


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