Melia Fry is an RN working toward her BSN at Western Washington University. Currently, she is employed as a nurse care manager at Lifeline Connections, a non-profit community-based behavioral health organization with offices in Oak Harbor, Mt. Vernon, and Bellingham. She also works per diem as a dispensary nurse at Grays Harbor Treatment Solutions in Aberdeen, WA.
WCN: How did you choose nursing as a career?
Melia Fry: I had been a homemaker for 15-years, and my kids were getting to an age where they did not need me at home as much; I decided that I should get a job, and I needed an education for that. I had a conversation with my dad and stepmom about it, and my stepmom said that I had a lot of nursing qualities. My stepmom is a nurse, so she understands what it takes to be a good nurse, and she thought it would be a good fit for me. I like helping people, so after looking into it, I made the decision to become a nurse.
I enrolled at Grays Harbor College, where I received my Associate Degree in Nursing. Once I finished my first year and obtained my LPN license, I started working at Grays Harbor Treatment Solutions.
WCN: What are some challenges you have had in becoming a nurse?
Melia Fry: I would say juggling family with the demands of school was very hard. While taking my pre-recs, my husband and I got pregnant again and had my daughter. I ended up waiting until she was 3-years old before entering the nursing program. I had always been in the role of taking care of our family, and I had to juggle making sure the kids got to school, my daughter got to preschool, and making sure I got all my homework done. I was glad my other kids were older and able to pitch in.
We created a master schedule of what it was going to be like with my schooling and their schedules. My older son drove, so he was able to help pick up siblings, or they rode the bus if they had to. The kids ended up switching schools partway through my nursing program so they could be in a school with a schedule more accommodating to mine. While I was doing clinicals, there was a gap where I wasn’t able to pick them up from school, and switching schools allowed them to take the bus home. Having their support helped me get through nursing school.
WCN: You are an enrolled member of the Nooksack Tribe. Why do you think diversity/representation is important in the nursing workforce?
Melia Fry: I think diversity is important because, to care for the population that comes in, you should be culturally competent and have some understanding of your patient’s culture or beliefs. In school, you do learn about different cultures. But it’s not until you work with others that are of different ethnicity, or age, or sexual orientation, or any of the other things that define diversity that you are better able to help different types of patients.
I have noticed that with my patients who have a native background, even if we are not from the same tribe, they engage with me differently compared to my non-native co-workers. I have had a patient tell me that I brighten their spirit simply because I understood what they were talking about concerning their way of life. That five-minute conversation where we talked about fishing, hunting, and going clam digging was therapeutic. It helps when patients see someone like them in their care environment.
Being able to relate to a patient’s family dynamics also builds a deeper sense of trust and can contribute to more effective care. For example, a patient may want a parent or their mom with them even though they are an adult. I have run into that before with patients where my co-workers have asked, “Why is their mother here?” Well, it’s a cultural thing. Representation increases the odds that someone in the care environment will be able to understand these types of dynamics.
WCN: You attended Grays Harbor Community College, where you had a nursing professor who was also a member of the Nooksack Tribe. Do you find that representation in nursing faculty was valuable to success?
Melia Fry: There were actually five of us in my cohort who were Native American, and it was nice to have an instructor who shared Native American ethnicity as well. Our program instructor did not say anything about being Native American until I had brought something in with me, and we connected it. Then we found out that we were part of the same tribe. You form a connection because you share a background. She understood my culture because we had that in common. For me, it certainly helped.
I was fortunate to go to a nursing program with diverse nursing faculty. One of my instructors was Native American, another one was Hispanic, and there was a variety of age groups too. The younger professor was closer to my age, and she was able to relate to us about our struggles being nursing students. We even had a male nurse instructor. We had one male in our cohort, and for him to have the representation in that one male instructor was also a big deal.
WCN: What do you enjoy most about being a nurse?
Melia Fry: I enjoy seeing the patients I work with improve. When they come to us, they are in a low spot in their lives and wanting help. At both my jobs, I work with the MAT program, which is medication-assisted treatment. One is a methadone clinic where we mainly dispense methadone, and the other one works more with suboxone, which the patient can get at a pharmacy of their choice. They can also come in for monthly injections of Vivitrol or Sublocade. It is two different sides of treatment that have been interesting to learn about. I like watching my patients succeed. There can be a night and day difference in a person after they have gotten on the treatment program. It is nice to feel like I am making a difference in my patients’ lives.
Another part of my position I enjoy is working with other community organizations to destigmatize the treatment these patients get in pharmacies or emergency rooms.
I would encourage nursing students and nurses to consider going into the specialty of substance abuse nursing and working with mental health patients. In my nursing program, we just brushed over these specialties. The opioid epidemic is huge, and we need more nurses in this area.
WCN: What advice do you have for those considering pursuing a career in nursing?
Melia Fry: Make sure before you go into the nursing program that you have a support system already in place—especially if you have children. Nursing programs are demanding. Without the support of my family, I might not have been able to make it through the nursing program at all.
Also, take the time for self-care. It is stressful going into the nursing program and if you don’t take time for self-care, even having a support system might not be enough. For me, I like going to the movies. It gave me a break from the stress, so that was my outlet.
Having supportive instructors that you can talk to is also helpful. I had instructors that I could go to and talk to if I had any issues. They were also an important part of my support system.
WCN: What has your experience been with COVID-19?
Melia Fry: I have certainly seen patients that are reluctant and fearful to come in for their treatments. We have in place all the safety and distancing precautions, but that doesn’t always ease their fears.
With us as nurses, because it is needed treatment, we are there every day. A lot of our work has focused on taking up all the precautions and working to alleviate patient stress around COVID. There are so many precautions put in place to keep staff and patients safe that I feel safe.
WCN: What’s next for you?
Melia Fry: I want to get my DNP from UW and continue working with my current non-profit organization, Lifeline Connections. I have worked at both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, and they are different. I have found I prefer the non-profit environment. My current job supports me in my goal of advancing my education, and when I do become a nurse practitioner, they will have a position here for me still.
Substance use disorder has been something that has affected my family and is something I feel a connection to. It is my passion right now. And it is my goal to advance my nursing career in substance use treatment and care.