Christine Pokryfky



Johns Hopkins University - RN + BSN

Get ready to be impressed: today's profile features Christine Pokryfky, a first lieutenant and Army nurse in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. At age 24 — yes, just 24 — Christine has already completed a degree in nursing from one of the best hospitals and nursing schools in the country, lived in six states and worked in the ER, ICU, OR, Same-Day Surgery, Mother/Baby and on the Medical Surgical Floor of various hospitals. Currently, she works on the Mother/Baby floor of the hospital in Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne Division, where she supports an average monthly delivery of 180 infants as she assists soldiers, Army wives, dependent daughters and their babies making the transition into motherhood and a new life.

"Whether I'm handing someone their child for the first time, snuggling someone else’s kid while I administer antibiotics or singing Beyonce songs to babies in the nursery, I know that I'm having a positive impact on the lives of other people," she says. "That's what keeps me going and motivates me to continue to better myself."

I love being a part of such a positive transition in peoples' lives.

What drew you to your job?

I felt a calling toward a career in the health care field during high school when I was helping to care for my grandparents. The end-of-life care that they received from a small hospice in Ohio is what inspired me to pursue my nursing degree. As for the military, my grandfather's a veteran, which I've always admired. I felt an obligation to serve and give back for all of the opportunities that have been given to me. There's no more selfless patient population in the world than American soldiers. I wanted to care for the people who are willing to sacrifice the most for this country.

What does your job involve on a daily basis, and what types of responsibilities do you have in your position?

My military occupational specialty is a medical surgical staff nurse. Currently, I'm stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne Division, and also home to one of the largest baby booms in the Army. I currently work on the Mother Baby Unit at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, predominately functioning as a charge nurse. I make patient assignments on a 20-bed/bassinet, 4-bed transition nursery, 4-bed special care nursery floor and support an average monthly delivery of 180 infants.

I'm responsible for planning, providing and evaluating nursing care of both the healthy and critically ill, antepartum, postpartum and neonatal patients. At times I'm responsible for stabilization of critically ill newborns and preparation for transport when indicated. I administer medications and blood, identify emergency situations and initiate appropriate actions. I ensure maintenance of accurate care plans, written reports and clinical records. Sometimes I train new staff and nursing students. But ultimately, I take care of soldiers, Army wives, dependent daughters and their babies, and I try to make their transition into motherhood as happy and as smooth as possible.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love people. That has always been -- and always will be -- my driving force. I love being a part of such a positive transition in peoples' lives. Whether I'm handing someone their child for the first time, snuggling someone else’s kid while I administer antibiotics or singing Beyonce songs to babies in the nursery, I know that I'm having a positive impact on the lives of other people. That's what keeps me going and motivates me to continue to better myself.

I could work in geriatrics or oncology, or peds, or in Afghanistan with wounded soldiers and it would be the same favorite thing. I just love taking care of people.

What are some of the opportunities that you have had within the military that set your career apart from the civilian sector?

A big thing that comes to mind for me personally is my education. I won a national Army ROTC Scholarship as an 18-year-old high school senior and I attended the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing -- for free. I graduated in May 2011 with no student loan debt after completing all of my clinical hours at the best hospital in the country. I was one of the youngest students in my graduating class and had a lot to learn, but I was able to work with some of the finest physicians, nurses and faculty in the world. I learned so much about health care, and even more about myself, during my time in Baltimore. I'll be forever grateful to the Army for my stellar experiences there.

I've also had the opportunity to travel and live all over the continental United States. So far, my husband and I have been in Michigan, Maryland, Washington, Georgia, Texas and now Tennessee. I'm excited to see where the Army takes us next and I'm grateful for the opportunities that I would have not otherwise had.

As far as nursing's concerned, as a newly minted Army nurse, all Lieutenants go through a six-month residency, known as the Brigadier General Anna Mae Hays Clinical Nurse Transition Program. CNTP provided me the opportunity to orient on all of the floors at the hospital where I'm currently stationed. I worked in the ER, ICU, OR, Same-Day Surgery, Mother/Baby and on the Medical Surgical Floor. This experience allowed me to hone my nursing skills and it helped me to become a more well-rounded caregiver for my patients. At the completion of the program, I can honestly say I'm comfortable floating anywhere in the hospital, and I feel more competent as a new nurse because of the experience.

But the No. 1 thing for me has been the amazing people and patients that I have met in my short time as a Cadet and on Active Duty.

What challenges keep you awake at night?

I think all nurses lay awake at night thinking absurd things like, "Did I chart that drug I gave?" or, "Did I forget something today?" But I definitely lay awake thinking about my patients and wondering what comes next for them. I always wonder about my young single mothers and teen moms, worrying about what the future holds for them and their children. Certain patients stay with you forever. They become a part of you and the way that you do your job; the way that you view your life.

For me, I think that providing care for women whose husbands are away at war is something that really hits me hard. Watching these strong women relay the message that their child has arrived through an email or over the phone is heart-wrenching. Watching them go through something as life-altering as having a baby, alone, is extremely sad. Military families sacrifice so much and I sympathize with these patients because I understand all too well what it's like to sleep with the phone next to your face or the computer in your lap because you're hoping to have a two-minute conversation with your husband. These women put on a brave face and carry on alone -- sometimes thousands of miles away from their families and friends -- so that they can support the man that they love while he defends his country.

Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?

Ultimately, the best function of one's cell phone is the off button. Sometimes you just have to take time for yourself. I'm a firm believer in mental health days. My personal no-fail tactics include cooking good food, shopping, blogging, perusing Kate Spade, talking to my girlfriends on the phone, my newfound love of CrossFit, FaceTime with my sisters and chatting with my husband, who's currently deployed in Afghanistan. In the military, you quickly learn how to manage long-distance relationships with a majority of your support system, which is how my blog came about. Writing has always been a great creative outlet for me.

Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I can't believe I have this job?" What was it?

I think honestly, once in a while when I catch a glimpse of myself in camo with my hair in a bun, I still cannot believe I joined the military. The fashionista in me occasionally has a heart attack over my combat boot-to-stiletto ratio.

In nursing, the first time I felt that way was the first time I ever saved someone's life. I was a new grad moving out of my apartment in Baltimore when my nursing school BFF and I witnessed a local man having a heart attack right there on the street. I remember after we helped load him into the ambulance and gave a report to the EMTs we just looked at each other and thought, "This is our job." Nursing is one of the few fields where your decisions for your patients can mean life or death. The critical thinking aspect of health care is what makes it so exhilarating, and at times, simultaneously terrifying.

What are some of the rules you live by?

I'm a firm believer of the philosophy, "If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun." (Thanks, Katherine Hepburn.) I think if you're willing to work hard and do the right thing, that most of the time, good things will happen. I just do my best and let God take care of the rest.

What qualities does one need to possess to be successful in your line of work?

To be an Army nurse, the most important thing someone could possess is heart. Nursing is not something that people pick up at the drop of a hat. It's a calling and it's not for the faint of heart. I think as an officer in any branch of service, you have to be motivated, but above all, you have to be a leader. You have to have backbone -- a thick skin -- and you have to be able to lead by example and advocate for your soldiers and, in my case, patients.

To be a good nurse, you have to be a good person, and genuinely care about the lives you are influencing every day.

What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?

Well, I'm only 24 years old. But at 21, I was making some pretty big life choices that most young 20-somethings don't ever have to think about. I think if anything, I know now more than ever that I made the right decisions; going with my gut -- and my heart -- following my dreams to Johns Hopkins, eloping and marrying my best friend and working my butt off to earn my commission as an active duty officer.

The only person that controls your destiny is you. I'm glad I had the fortitude to put in the blood, sweat and tears that got me to where I am right now. I would tell myself to keep my eye on the prize and not to ever let other people determine my happiness.