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How being an athlete prepared me to be a nurse

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By Elyse Shelger, registered nurse at CHOC Children’s

In my life before nursing, I was a soccer player. I started playing the game when I was 4 years old. It shaped my childhood and taught me more than I realized at the time. In high school, I learned from incredible coaches and teammates, and then had the honor of playing for one of the top college programs in the country, Santa Clara University. When you practice something day after day, those movements, patterns, principles and lessons eventually become ingrained in your mind, body and soul. You don’t always notice they are there since they become part of you gradually, until you are forever changed.

As an adult, I often am reminded of certain guidance my coaches imparted and recognize why I do certain things the way I do. A large part of my mentality, behavior and beliefs have been shaped by the game of soccer, my life-long teammates and my undeniably great coaches. These are a few lessons that have shaped me as a person and as a nurse, and how I apply them in my world today.

In my new life, I am a nurse. I am not just a nurse when I am working a shift at the hospital. I am a nurse every day, always, at all times. I grew up learning that success comes when you commit yourself fully, on and off the field. I was also taught a great deal about accountability and personal responsibility. Why blame teammates or others when things get tough? We all must do what we can to make a difference. We each have to do our part. When I began working at CHOC Children’s Hospital, I took an oath to defend childhood. As an athlete, the word defense runs deep. Every team needs goal scorers— we need people to take action and move things forward, innovate, be creative, solve problems and think outside the box. This is what medical professionals do every shift, and some say a good offense is the best defense.

“Off the field,” I am still a nurse.

In team sports, you learn about selflessness. It becomes second nature to do what’s best for the team as a whole, to give 100% for each other, to have each other’s backs, and to fight selflessly until the last whistle. As a nurse, when I clock out after a long shift and I’m driving home, I relive each play in my mind, whether I won or lost that game, knowing I gave it my all. Sometimes no matter how well the team prepares, and how well you perform together, you can be defeated by a really strong opponent.

Currently we are in the middle of a big game. Our opponent is COVID-19. In our communities, some people are so terrified of losing that they are paralyzed with fear. Others have heard the opponent isn’t as formidable as people claim, so they grossly underestimate it as a threat. This is where risk lies. We must prepare properly. We must come to the game ready to play hard. We must give 100%. We must not lose focus.

What we do off the field matters. I will wear my mask to do my part to contribute to our team’s defense. I will speak responsibly and not spread misconceptions. I will encourage those around me to be safe as well because we are all in this together. If some team members decide they don’t really need to train for this game because it will be an easy one that can hurt all of us.

We don’t yet know what the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic will bring. Maybe this is half-time, or maybe we’re at another point in the game. But we know the game is not over yet. Do not let up now — not if you feel tired, and not if you feel like we are already winning. The game isn’t over.

Please don’t confuse my care for fear. I believe and have confidence we can win the game if we all come out to play our best, with and for each other.

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