Mid-Career Shift to Nursing

Daigle found where her heart is.

It took a while to figure it out. But then Lesley Daigle knew exactly what she wanted. "I knew I wanted to work at Virginia Hospital Center (VHC).” She says she got into a couple of nursing schools but she knew she wanted to work at her community hospital so she called up VHC and asked them which was the best path to end up there.

She says, "I had my children at VHC, had been a patient several times, surgery for my daughter and been in the emergency room like you do with kids. This was my community hospital. I wanted to give back." She ended up in an accelerated nursing program at George Mason University taking 47 credit hours and about 600 clinical hours in 11 months. "That was harder than law school."

Daigle had started her career in commercial law representing lenders in Atlanta in 1998, then became a partner in a boutique law firm in Washington D.C. in 2005. "But I had a growing sense for quite some time that it was not a bad career, but it wasn't where my heart was."

She says, "The tension got so great." For a couple of years she looked at different things like the seminary, creating a business linking children to environmental causes, then nursing came up. "My mother questioned me at just the right time." Her mother had been a nurse as well as her grandmother working with pre-term babies back before it was a common practice.

So in February 2013, Daigle was hired as a staff nurse and telemedicine coordinator in the VHC Outpatient Clinic. Daigle said, "This clinic is open only to Arlington residents who have no insurance or have Medicare or Medicaid. We serve the low-income population." She says their OB/GYN unit sees almost every low-income mother in Arlington at some point." This translates into about 50-75 mothers per week or 300 a month.

Michelle Altman, who hired Daigle, said, "I love having her. She was a great fit as a second career nurse who knows what she wants. She has a desire to work with this patient population. She has a passion to help them, to do what is necessary to meet their needs." Daigle also came with a Master's degree in Latin American studies and had spent a lot of time there. "Her ability to speak Spanish was also critical. Seventy percent of the patients speak Spanish."

Daigle explains that there are some similarities with being a lawyer and a nurse. As a lawyer she enjoyed the really hard mental drafting of very complicated and specific loan provisions. "Nursing taps into that part of my brain. There are a different set of patient circumstances every day, and my goal is to make them better than when they came in."

She explains one patient was in a great deal of pain. "All of these mothers have their bad nights. By the end of the day she told me 'I am a new person.' I worked all day to make that happen."

She says there are a lot of nursing interventions that can work — hot and cold, up and moving, distractions, helping with the baby in the nursery, "even a clean room."

In August 2017 Daigle became assistant patient care director of the VHC Outpatient Clinic. "I was looking for more of a leadership role." She is currently in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Outpatient Clinic handling most of the administrative duties of the clinic and interfacing with the community partners to ensure that they are covering as many of Arlington's residents as possible with a healthcare safety net. She also continues to be very involved with the telemedicine program which she implemented at the clinic under a grant.

Daigle is also the chair of the Nursing Research & Performance Improvement Council where she works on quality improvement projects focusing on best medical practice. For instance, she says there is a policy in place for high blood sugar. "We look at how to enhance these policies, get nurses on board. We survey the nurses before the new policy, provide information and then survey them afterward."

Daigle adds they have a nurses committee that meets monthly, and anyone can attend. This way concerns from nurses get elevated. For instance, they did an audit of the best tape to use with an IV. "May not sound like a big thing but the tape they were using wasn't sticking." She says you can feel the character of the nurses here, when they are empowered to feel as professionals and rewarded for creativity.

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