CAREERS IN NURSING
FULLFILLING BUCKET LIST OF ACHIEVEMENT, SERVICE, JOY: INTEGRIS BAPTIST
by Traci Chapman – staff writer/photographer
For many people, their bucket list might feature seeing the Scottish Highlands or parachuting out of a plane, but for Michelle Walton, her dreams are about nursing – and those dreams are big.
“I have really loved what I’ve done throughout my career, but there’s so much more, so many things that I want to be able to do to help people and to make a difference in their lives,” Walton said. “It’s just who I am and what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Walton’s service may have ended with nursing, but it didn’t begin with it. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, Walton worked for about three years as a teacher – first at Kirkland Elementary School in Putnam City and then as a Midwest City High School vocal music teacher.
While Walton excelled at her job, which gave her the chance to celebrate daily her love for music, high school music teachers – both vocal and instrumental – often do not have the kind of hours enjoyed by many of their peers. Rehearsals, competitions and preparation often take up many breaks, weekends and evenings.
“I loved it in so many ways, but it was so stressful – and I had no time for family,” she said. “I couldn’t see how I could have kids, and I couldn’t properly do the job and be the best teacher I could without putting in all that extra time.”
Ironically, as Walton reflected on how she could continue her goal of service, she thought back to her early college days, a time when she almost made a change that would have dramatically changed her path.
“I was going to Oklahoma Christian University and was majoring in education, and I almost transferred to nursing – but my dad talked me out of it,” Walton said.
Years later, as her determination to make a professional change grew, Walton said she remembered that fleeting idea – and a friend and fellow teacher who went through an accelerated nursing program prompted Walton to make the leap.
That led Walton once again back to school, this time to Oklahoma City Community College, where she enrolled in BADNAP – Baccalaureate to Associate Degree Nursing Accelerated Pathway.
BADNAP was the program recommended by Walton’s friend; geared to individuals who already obtained an undergraduate or graduate degree, the 10-month concentrated study program allows students to complete 36 required nursing credits in that abbreviated time.
“It was a very, very intense program, such that most of the people went full-time and didn’t work while they were in it,” Walton said. “It was a really great program and a great experience, and I loved every minute of it.”
After graduating in 2015, Walton joined Integris Baptist, working both in the hospital’s mother and baby and labor and delivery units. When she had her first child, Walton discovered an opening in lactation services and immediately applied for it.
“I was so happy to get into this – it was one of the things on my bucket list, and I absolutely love it,” she said. “I really like being a part of the team of lactation consultants, of helping the mothers and their babies in such an important way.”
Walton – like the rest of the lactation nursing staff – took part in a 17-hour Breastfeeding Continuing Education program, a special session funded in part by Oklahoma State Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While that training gave her a new perspective on her new specialty, it wasn’t enough for a woman always striving to learn every detail of her chosen study path.
“I wanted to do everything necessary to be as completely knowledgeable about lactation as possible,” Walton said. “That led me to IBLCE.”
International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners is an independent certification aimed at helping health professionals across the world provide the most up-to-date breastfeeding care and education to patients. Tests are only offered twice a year, and those wishing to take it must apply five months in advance, Walton said.
“It’s a very intensive and well-respected certification process, but it’s something that really helps take your nursing in this field to the next level,” she said.
Lactation nurses are on call, working not only in the mother and baby ward – where most new mothers and babies are transferred after giving birth – but throughout the hospital and on an outpatient basis.
“It could be anywhere – ICU, the emergency room, pediatrics,” Walton said. “It could be a patient who’s having problems with breastfeeding or who has medical issues, or even a patient who’s comatose, and we help her family learn how to pump.
“It’s emotional on many different levels,” she said. “I like the teaching aspect – to see that lightbulb moment with mom, the joy that fills your heart when you know, ‘I’m feeding my baby.’”
Throughout her nursing journey, Walton has constantly worked to learn yet another aspect of nursing – next, perhaps, that’s something unusual in Oklahoma nursing now.
“My desire is to be a CMN – certified nurse midwife – someday,” she said. “That’s kind of where my passion for nursing is heading.”
While there are not any CMN programs in Oklahoma right now, Walton said she is hoping to be part of an effort to change that. Of course, that will mean yet more schooling, something she welcomes.
“I love learning things – it’s important to keep learning, to keep growing,” she said. “My son has always known me as a nurse because I started nursing school when he was eight weeks old, and I want him to know just how important this work is – not just to me professionally, but to helping others.”