Julie Armstrong, PsyD, MN, BSN, RN, knows the value of shaping your work to fit your interests rather than the other way around. Her career is Exhibit A for why thats a worthwhile and achievable goal for nurses.
While obtaining her nursing diploma some 30 years ago, Armstrong found she was drawn to psychology to exploring as she puts it, different ways of understanding the patient. Armed with her diploma, she went to work for what is now known as the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at the University of California, Los Angeles. Armstrong was eager to broaden her professional horizons within psychology, though she knew she wanted the autonomy to work outside a hospital setting. So she went back to school to get first a BSN from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and then an MN in psych nursing from UCLA.
Becoming an expert witnessJulie Armstrong, RN
Armstrong became one of the first nurses in California to hold a clinical nurse specialist certification and went to work building an independent psychotherapy practice, with an office in Marina del Rey, Calif. I wanted something more gratifying than a 9-to-5 job, Armstrong said.
It was while managing her independent practice that Armstrong was turned on to the field that would become her true professional calling: expert-witness work.
I had a colleague who said, Look, if you want to make some extra money (try expert witnessing), she said. Armstrong did analyzing patient records in everything from workers compensation cases to a case in which a man killed his mother after she attempted to perform an exorcism on him. The work just lit a fire for me, Armstrong said.
It paid the bills, too. It was more money than I was making at therapy, said Armstrong, who phased out her psychoanalysis practice to focus on expert-witnessing and doing workers compensation evaluations. The move was an unconventional one, but Armstrong hasnt wanted for steady work. In the past 10 years, she has served as an expert witness in hundreds of cases. Armstrong estimates she works 50 hours a week, by choice, and is involved in three or four active cases at any given time.
Nursing isnt known for promoting a rich culture of entrepreneurialism nurses are trained to be selfless and often work in a very small egg, Armstrong said. But that doesnt mean there arent opportunities to forge an outside-the-box career. The first step for nurses, Armstrong said, is to seize the chance to study what interests them. Dont take what you should take, she said. If you have an interest at all in something other than what youre doing, take your continuing education in your areas of interest.
Armstrong also advises seeking out mentors and asking those who work in a given specialty what they like and dislike about their work. People who are doing the work love talking about it, she said.
I didnt realize how much potential I had, and I think thats common for nurses, she said. But 30 years and three businesses later, Armstrong attests to the value of taking significant professional risks and of never viewing the most well-tread path as the only one.
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