Being the Change: One Nurse’s Purposeful Path
As a brand-new graduate of the Doctorate of Nursing Practice program of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), APNA member Crystal Wood has her eyes on the future. A childhood colored by foster care and substance use pointed her to a career in psychiatric-mental health nursing with a mission. According to Wood, “All the life experiences in the universe would benefit no one if I did not know how to use the experience I had. After much healing and despite fearing the monumental challenge of going back to school, I jumped. I knew that my patients, myself, and everything after this point would be different. We all deserved better.”
A recent MUSC newsletter’s inspiring portrait of Wood describes the events that have shaped her path. We see her as both a child learning to navigate the foster care system firsthand and later as a nurse and mother who offers her own humanity to bring comfort to kids going through similar circumstances.
As someone drawn to mental health by life experiences and natural ability, her career path was solidified after receiving help herself. “The trajectory of my life changed when I entered the pathway of recovery,” recalls Wood. She is driven to step beyond being strictly a healthcare provider to the role of advocate for other psychiatric-mental health nurses and those living with mental illness. “As a result of all these events and the grace of God, I was given a huge opportunity to be the change I wanted to see in a field that is often difficult, misunderstood, and based on assumptions,” she states.
To Wood “being the change” includes volunteering as a court-appointed special agent (CASA), advocating for local foster kids. Her focus when working with these kids is to get below the surface and connect. “Many times, children and adolescents who are in foster care are very familiar with adversity and are already well versed in saying the ’right thing‘ from having lived a life of anticipating the next move of those around them. This serves as an asset while they are young, but as they get older it becomes a liability because it does not allow for them to truly trust others or allow others to really get to know them,” says Wood.
She advises other volunteers on the benefits of following through and listening. Wood observes, “These young people also need to know that there are consistent adults who will do what they say they will do.” She continues, “Frequently, children are told…that they are not able to sit at the table or have a voice or opinion when in fact, none of these things are true. Those of us who are privileged enough to work with, be around, learn from, or be with young people will walk away having learned something about ourselves, the world, and each other if we can just listen.”
As she prepares to embark on the next steps in her journey, Wood will rely on some of the “non-negotiables” she and her son have set. One non-negotiable on the list – “REST when needed,” she explains. “Self-care is NOT a luxury-it’s mandatory. Sometimes we as nurses tend to try to do everything and omit the needs that we have.” In addition to practicing healthy self-care, she counts her spirituality as a guiding force. Wood reflects, “There are so many experiences that I would never have survived if God had not covered me. There are too many things, experiences, and other events that cannot be explained by anything else.”