Amanda Grabowski: Nurse on the Front Lines

Nurse works 12-hour shifts that can last into the wee hours of the morning.

July 5, 2010— -- Gutsy, compassionate and resilient, Amanda Grabowski is a nurse at the front line of care in the Mass General emergency room, where she can treat a mild headache to a multi-vehicle-car-accident trauma situation within hours.

"I just love the excitement of the emergency room," she said. "You see a little bit of everything."

Raised in Lynn, Massachusetts, Grabowski's parents divorced when she was nine years old. Living with her single working mom, Debbie, Grabowski considered herself a shy and quiet girl who struggled to fit in with people as a teenager. She grew up as a latch-key kid who learned very quickly how to be on her own.

"It was tough because I always had to kind of parent myself," she said. "I didn't have anyone there to say, 'Do your homework.' I just did it. Maybe because I had to take care of myself growing up is why I got into this profession -- was to help take care of other people."

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Another great influence on Grabowski's decision to follow a path into nursing was her Aunt Kathy. As a teen visiting her aunt in Florida, Grabowski was inspired by her work as a visiting nurse.

"She took me a couple times to houses with her, and I got to see what she did, and I just loved it," Grabowski said. "I think it's great to be able to be there for people, especially in the emergency department when you're seeing them at the absolutely worst, and to be able to comfort them and make them feel better in any slight way that you can."

Grabowski went on to receive her clinical training at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts.

In her four years at Mass General, she twice has been voted Mass General ER's "Nurse of the Year." She loves the unpredictability of working on the ER floor and the challenges of dealing quickly and skillfully with patients from all walks of life with a spectrum of problems.

"In the ER, you get the entire spectrum of nursing minute by minute in one shift," ," said Maryfran Hughes, nursing director of emergency services at Mass General. "You can be a pediatric nurse with one patient, a cardiac nurse with another, and then a psychiatric nurse with your next patient.

"People who like a lot of structure or control in their lives don't find ER nursing satisfying," Hughes added. "But people who thrive on not knowing what's going to come through the door, those are the people who stay on ER floor."

In spite of the central roles nurses play in patient care, stereotypes that a nurse's sole purpose in a hospital is to follow doctor's orders persist.

"I think a lot of people think we just pass out medicines, put people in bed pans, wipe their butts and that's it -- but it's really so much more," Grabowski said. "The nurses in the ER are the ones that are going to be the first ones to notice if there's a change in your condition, if you're getting worse, if you're getting better, and we really advocate for patients and what they need."

Nurse's No-Nonsense Attitude

For Grabowski, part of her advocacy is standing up to colleagues if she thinks patient care will be compromised. In last week's episode of "Boston Med," Grabowski argued with a resident about the appropriate dosage of medicine. In the end, the attending doctor agreed with her suggestion.

"I think when you have to work with a new doctor, sometimes getting them to believe you and to get that you know what you're talking about is the hardest part at the end of the day," she said. "If they don't like you because you bugged them so much, if you got what you needed for your patient, who cares? I don't have to be liked by every single doctor in that hospital as long as I'm doing my job and I'm doing what's best for my patient."

Her no-nonsense attitude and lacerating wit can extend to dealing with patients, especially if they are ignoring doctor's orders.

In the most recent episode of "Boston Med," Grabowski lectured a student brought into the ER for alcohol poisoning, who pleaded with her to discharge him so he could finish an exam due that day.

She refused: "You almost died last night, so I don't care that you have an exam due, you should have thought of that before you went out and got so drunk you almost choked on your own vomit."

Search for Love

Grabowski's demanding ER schedule, working 12-hour shifts that can last into the wee hours of the morning, has made sustaining a romantic relationship tricky for her in the past. It's been difficult to find someone who understands her work life.

Dating within the hospital has its pitfalls too. The working atmosphere in the ER can be very intense, where sometimes instant connections are made between co-workers that don't last outside of the ER bay room.

"You would think work would be a great place to meet somebody, and it's tempting, too, because they go through the same things that you go through, they understand what's going on," she said. "But I've made the mistake of dating someone I worked with before, and it was disastrous in the end. It makes working together difficult."

Online dating didn't offer much of an alternative to finding "Mr. Right" either.

"My problem with the thing is that I'm too nice," she said. "I would probably wind up marrying the first person I went on a date with because I just wouldn't want to have to dump them."

But Grabowski remains hopeful about her love life and about finding the right person.

"I think when it happens it'll just happen," she said. "I'll be on a subway or something and I'll just meet somebody sitting next to me."

Next week on "Boston Med," Grabowski returns with a medical case that leaves her unsettled. Watch to find out more about her personal life and her hopes for the future.