Matthew Clark, RN, graduated with his BSN from Oklahoma City University in 2014 and worked several years as a float nurse before returning to school for a Master’s of Science in Nursing and Healthcare Leadership from Untied States University, which he completed in March 2022. As part of his master’s program, Clark worked with WCN on healthcare leadership initiatives, including advancing diversity in nursing and the Future of Nursing 2020-2030 goal of addressing the social determinants of health in patient populations.
WCN recently sat down with Clark to discuss his nursing journey.
WCN: Where are you currently working and how long have you worked there?
Matthew Clark: I’m currently working as a charge nurse with King County Public Health in their COVID-19 vaccination program. Before coming to this program, which I have been with for a year in March, I worked as a float nurse for many years. I have been an RN for about seven years now, and I have primarily worked in various hospital settings. It has been a new experience coming into a community health clinic setting versus working in a hospital. That has been a great learning and growth experience for me.
WCN: How did you come to choose nursing as a career path?
Matthew Clark: Before becoming a nurse, I attended the University of Washington, where I earned dual Bachelor of Science in Biology and Bachelor of Arts in English degrees. After graduating from UW, I worked as a case manager at a men’s homeless shelter for some time. I also grew up in a family where a lot of my relatives are nurses or nurse practitioners. One day working as a case manager, it came to me how much I enjoy health sciences. So, I pivoted and pursued that avenue. I like the flexibility of nursing. I like the hands-on care and interacting with patients, affecting their change, and seeing the changes that can occur in their healing process. That is what is rewarding and keeps me going within the healthcare profession of nursing.
WCN: What are some of the challenges you have faced to becoming a nurse and how did you overcome them?
Matthew Clark: One of the main challenges I had, which we have been talking about at WCN around increasing the diversity of nursing in Washington State, is I found that the nursing programs in Washington State had a limited number of slots. And even with good grades and a stellar background, you could still be put on a waitlist for a nursing program. I found that a challenge when initially looking into programs in Washington and it is one of the reasons why I chose to go to Oklahoma to complete my BSN degree. But, once I was in a program, I found the faculty supportive. I also found a group of students to form study groups with and bounce ideas off of.
One of the biggest stressors was preparing for the NCLEX exam. But I was also in a supportive environment for that. I was provided a Kaplan study course by a hospital that I had already established a contract with as a new graduate. I felt like I had a lot of support along the way to becoming a nurse, that is, once I found a program that fit my needs.
WCN: So far in your career, what do you enjoy most about being a nurse?
Matthew Clark: I enjoy the variety of clinical settings there are to work in because, with that variety, you come in contact with a multitude of patient populations. And each patient population has its own unique needs and ways you will want to interact with them to help them along in their healing process. I like to be able to see new clinical environments. I feel like, within nursing, there are many opportunities for exploration and advancement throughout your career.
WCN: Why do you think diversity and representation are important in the nursing workforce?
Matthew Clark: I believe diversity and representation in the nursing workforce are important because diversity inherently advances the idea that people come from different walks of life. And with coming from different walks of life, you have a variety of perspectives and ways of seeing the world. With that, each clinical or healthcare professional will bring different ways of looking at a clinical problem or addressing a clinical issue. They also bring their own cultural experience. Patients who might share a similar identity or cultural background may feel more comfortable interacting with someone they feel understands them and their lived experience. With that diversity, whether gender, cultural, or social, those backgrounds bring the opportunity for that healthcare environment to advance health equity and improve quality of care outcomes. I think it is crucial to have that representation.
I can speak of my own experience with the COVID-19 vaccination program with Public Health. Public Health has a goal of impacting diverse communities in the King County area. It has been nice to see some patients come in and feel welcome and less apprehensive. Because, maybe within their own experience, they have gone to clinical providers who they felt might not have understood them as clearly. Or whom they might not have felt comfortable with. To put a patient at ease helps to make that clinical moment and experience a more positive one for them. A positive experience can help them start a new path and form new ways of interacting with the healthcare system, one that will improve their health in the long term. Diversity and representation in the healthcare workforce can help to decrease instances of morbidity and mortality in at-risk, marginalized, or underserved communities.
WCN: Nursing is a challenging job and often traumatic. What techniques or strategies do you use to build resiliency, remain effective, and not burn out?
Matthew Clark: I believe that each clinical environment nurses work in brings its own stresses and challenges. So, it is important to keep an open mind. Say, for instance, you are transitioning into a new clinical environment, or the clinical environment is changing because the strategic mission and vision of the organization you are with are being aligned in a different direction; that open mind helps decrease the need to control. Having an open mind lets you stay flexible when interacting with the change process.
In addition, earlier in your career, you may find yourself at home stressing over if you charted something correctly or communicated everything you needed to during a bedside report. I think it is just a process of reflection and growth. And learning on the days that you’re off to let go and trust that the hospital, the clinic, your colleagues, they are competent as well as you, and the patients are going to be fine; you did a great job. Self-encouragement is necessary to that process, being your own cheerleader. Because sometimes in people’s lives, everything might not be positive with their home life or life outside of work. You or one of your nursing colleagues may have recently lost a loved one or are experiencing a transition in an interpersonal relationship. Having that self-encouragement mindset and being your own cheerleader helps you keep that emotional balance. If you cannot do that for yourself, then outreach and find support, maybe through a therapist or a support group. Whatever is needed to keep that positive frame of reference for yourself, so you can step outside of yourself and not feel professionally or interpersonally isolated.
WCN: What has your experience been this year as a nurse and with the pandemic?
Matthew Clark: It has been a good growing experience. It has allowed me to shift my career outside of the hospital setting. This current opportunity to work as a charge nurse with King County Public Health in an actual free-standing non-acute care setting has allowed me to see what it is like being a nurse outside of the hospital setting. To respond to the changing CDC and FDA guidelines that have impacted all our lives the past two years, I have learned to be even more flexible both inside and outside of work. My colleagues and I have needed to adjust to the quickly evolving COVID-19 vaccination policies coming from the healthcare leadership team and work together to manage these changes properly in order to keep our patients safe while meeting the needs of the community. We are all in this together. People have various views, even within the nursing profession, about everything that has unfolded. But I have learned to keep an open mind, meet people where they are at, and to keep moving forward positively.
WCN: What are your future career goals in nursing?
Matthew Clark: I can see myself exploring two different directions. I’m still reflecting on which direction I want to go. WCN and its mission, and the meetings I’ve been able to be a part of, have greatly impacted me. They have shown me that there are multiple ways we can move within our nursing careers. We don’t necessarily have to stay in a clinical setting to effect change for the nursing workforce. For example, we can work and be involved in policy. As a master’s prepared nurse, I would also be interested in giving back and working as a clinical instructor. I think that would be rewarding. I look forward to continuing to be involved and volunteering with WCN. I believe in your mission of advancing diversity and your work with the FON 2020-2030 regarding the social determinants of health. I think these are important to advancing patient health equity and, ultimately, improving patient outcomes. Right now, I’m staying open to the process. I’m still working with King County Public Health as a charge nurse and enjoying that experience. Since I just finished with my master’s degree, I look forward to taking some time for reflection and being open to opportunities that might come my way.
WCN: Given your experience so far in your nursing program and in nursing, what advice do you have for those considering a career in nursing?
Matthew Clark: For those considering a career in nursing, there are a few things that I would recommend. First, do some reflecting and write down your reasons for wanting to become a nurse. Because, as you go through the program, you can refer to those core values you have for wanting to be a nurse. And hopefully, they can keep you going in times of challenge or when you might feel discouraged. Once accepted into a nursing program, keep an open mind to the various avenues you can take in nursing and form your own opinions about where you want to take your career. Try to see yourself as an individual and stay true to your values. Chart your course and stay single-minded on your goal of becoming a nurse. Also, take advantage of the different clinical opportunities you have in nursing school and jump in. And finally, remember to stay a team player and collaborate with your colleagues. I like to describe nursing as an individual team sport. I mean, you get your patient caseload each day or night when you are working in a hospital or clinic setting, but always try to be vigilant on how you can assist the other nurses on the unit with you. We work together to keep the patient safe. Safety is number one. Patient safety, keeping yourself safe, and keeping your colleagues safe. That safety component ultimately advances those quality outcomes we want our patients to have.