Gina Thomas, MBA, RN, an advisory board member of The Nursing Beat, is the Chief Development Officer at Nobis Rehabilitation Partners, a company that builds and manages rehab hospitals for those who have experienced a stroke, brain injury, and similar conditions. She shared with The Nursing Beat how she got into nursing, the nursing path over the past 40 years, and her advice for younger nurses still early in their careers.
Tell us about what you do in your current position.
One part of my job is finding new markets — where we're going to build — and working with our team, investors, and developers to decide on that market. It involves research, investigation, and connecting with healthcare leaders in any given city to determine where we might build a rehab hospital next. The other aspect of my diverse role is managing our partnerships in our targeted markets, and then my side job is social media and digital marketing management for our hospitals.
Tell us about your path to becoming a nurse and what attracted you to nursing.
Initially, I didn't want to become an RN because my mom was an RN, and I heard too many stories! I wanted to be in healthcare, but I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist. But, I went in and shadowed patients as an 18-year-old and decided that wasn't for me. Then I got a job in respiratory therapy in a small hospital where my mom worked. At that time, it was all on-the-job training, and I was exposed to much more than my fellow nursing students regarding the critical aspects of healthcare. I determined, "Maybe I do want to be a nurse." I just didn't know if I wanted to specialize or not. The emergency nurse had to be ready for whatever type of patient came in, so that scared me initially. Surgical nurses had more of a schedule, and that seemed appealing. However, I ended up in emergency nursing, right where I said I wouldn't be, and loved it, though I would never do anything else but that.
But life offers you different opportunities. My husband was a college men's basketball coach then, so we moved a lot. I had some great opportunities to become certified in emergency nursing and trauma and even started towards a path of nursing administration. In some of those moves, there wasn't what I desired in nursing or nursing management nursing jobs, so I went into consulting for a large company that was hiring nurses, and it was where I learned about so much more outside of the hospital. I did consulting for a while and then ended up back in the hospital in a financial role because I had kids by then, and it wasn't good to travel Monday through Thursday with a young family.
I was a clinician working in finance, and I learned a ton. I stayed in the health system for longer than I expected, but I went back to school for an MBA and decided to get back out into the corporate world. I ended up in sales for several years in a couple of different companies, including startups. Then fast forward to about three years ago when I thought I was ready to hang it up and do some advisory or board work for healthcare companies. I congratulated a former colleague who had just started at Nobis Rehabilitation Partners as the COO. That simple outreach led to an opportunity as a Chief Development Officer. So I decided to join the executive team since this would be something new, playing a role on the post-acute side and developing new hospitals.
At the same time, I had just started doing some advisory board work for two startup companies. I also serve as a patient advocate for friends and family because of my background. It's in my DNA to help people, and it is so hard to navigate health care. Even when you think you understand health care, it's hard. I also did a fair amount of volunteering at indigent clinics. I currently volunteer and manage social media at a small clinic in Roatan, Honduras, where my husband and I live part-time.
What do you consider some of the most pressing issues that need to be addressed in nursing today?
If we stay the course we're on right now, there will not be enough nurses to care for you and me when we need them, and that's scary. However, even if there are enough people in high schools interested in nursing, colleges have caps today. They can't take enough students because we also have a shortage of professors.
I think we need to start at the root cause. First, we've got to make it an attractive career. We've got to enlighten people in high school earlier about the opportunities in nursing. We shouldn't limit them by saying you have to go into patient care, but that you will get well-versed in care because it will help you be a better nurse, whatever career path you choose, clinical or non-clinical. We have to expose them to different opportunities, including teaching, and we've got to start growing that field. Then we've got to ensure the pay is commensurate with the work.
What can nurses do right now outside their regular job to be advocates within their own profession?
Start with whatever your nursing career currently is and get involved in that organization. Almost every profession has a professional organization, whether emergency nursing, med-surg, or something else. It doesn't matter what kind of nursing you do; there's an organization or even informal networking for every clinical specialty today. Then find at least one thing that you can get educated on and be an advocate for your profession.
What key takeaways do you want people in the early stages of their nursing career to consider right now?
I do a fair amount of mentoring, and direct patient care is hard. Nursing burnout was already headed way up before the pandemic, and now it's a crucial problem. I tell people that nursing is an awesome career, no matter what, because you have so many different opportunities. Not everybody is cut out for patient care, but many people are. They love that connection to seeing their patients improve or love caring for people. But each person has to figure this out for themselves and remember nothing is forever, and changing course is okay, even if it's a "boomerang" situation. I would encourage people to reflect on why they got into nursing or what makes them think they want to get into nursing and then start working toward that. It might be that a person loves the elderly or they love the intensity of critical care, but whatever it is, exposure to several areas is helpful. We all have an idea of what we think we may like or won't like until we actually do it, just like I thought I never wanted to be an ER nurse. Be open to different opportunities, and don't set limits. The sky's the limit as a nurse; I truly believe that. Even though I'm not in direct patient care now, that nursing foundation has made me who I am today. I still have that calling to help people. So, find your mojo, find your passion, and apply that because nursing can be a great career. If someone finds themselves "stuck in nursing" or "stuck on this unit, in this hospital," maybe it's time to remember that anything is possible!
If someone does feel stuck, what do you recommend for them?
Find somebody to talk to who can listen and give feedback or provide those opportunities. We certainly have it at The Nursing Beat. We have many people who could listen to them and ask them key questions like "Why do you feel stuck? What do you like?" If they can't answer that, ask them, "What are you good at? What gets you going in the morning?" Or, taking nursing out of the equation, ask, "What are you curious about? What do you enjoy?" Then, you can start peeling the layers back and maybe realize, "I like the excitement of the moment," "I love new adventures," "I hate risk," or whatever it is. Then, "Did you know you could go down this path? You can be a salesperson in nursing, a teacher, or a trainer for a major device company and get paid lots of money! You can travel, or you can choose not to travel!" You can do so many things, so talk to a trusted advisor who can open you up to the possibilities and connect you to others.