University of Vermont

University Communications

Alumni Advice: Nursing Is a Labor of Love for Brigid Donovan

Brigid Donovan gives nursing advice
Brigid Donovan

A passion for science and helping people made nursing an easy career choice for Brigid Donovan.

After graduating from the UVM College of Nursing and Health Sciences in 1998, the Burlington native migrated out west as a traveling nurse. She settled in San Francisco in 2004 to earn her master’s degree as an acute care nurse practitioner at the University of California San Francisco. She became a trauma nurse practitioner at San Francisco General Hospital and an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing.

As part of UVM Continuing and Distance Education's Alumni Advice series, we talked to Donovan about her career, setting limits and the best career advice she ever received.

What’s a typical day like for you as a trauma nurse practitioner?

I manage the care of patients as they come into the hospital. These are people who have been brought to the hospital because they have been injured as a result of an automobile crash, bike crash, fall, stab wound, gunshot wound, etc. These patients can be severely injured, so, as a trauma nurse practitioner, I work closely with the trauma surgeons to manage the patients’ care throughout the hospital stay from the minute they enter the emergency department through the intensive care unit stay, and then progress them through their hospital course to be able to be discharged home or to a rehab facility. 

What do you love most about your job?

I have always loved working in a hospital setting. For me, the science of medicine and working with people really interests me. My work environment is intense at times. But to be with patients who are vulnerable after they have sustained terrible injuries and to know you are taking good care of them is very rewarding. Ultimately, managing someone’s care is about developing a trusting relationship. So working to establish that trust with patients so that they feel they will be well cared for in the hospital is a huge part of what I do every day.

What are some of the challenges?

I work in a county hospital, and a lot of the frustrations I encounter are systems-based. As a safety net hospital for the city and county of San Francisco, many of our patients are underinsured, uninsured, homeless, or suffering from addiction and mental illness. Sometimes these patients can be challenging; however, they’re human beings and they’re vulnerable, too. They deserve the same care.    

Could you share some lessons you’ve learned in the workplace?

One of the big lessons I learned is that you need to be aware of taking on too much work. I take on extra projects, but I’ve learned that can have negative effects as well. I want to produce quality work. Therefore, at times I need to set limits and say no. This allows me to stay focused on producing high-quality work. On the other hand, some people never want to take on an extra project at work. So I think you need to find a balance.

Nationally, jobs for registered nurses are expected to grow 19 percent over the next decade, faster than average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What advice would you give to someone looking to get into this growing occupation?

Nursing has been an amazing career choice for me. I try to encourage as many people as I can to become a nurse if they are thinking about it. It definitely has become a popular field these days. Many people are going back to school for a second degree in nursing. Here in San Francisco, I think our job market is pretty saturated. A lot of people come to Northern California, especially the Bay Area, because nurses here are well paid and the California nursing union is very strong. If you’re looking to work as a nurse at the bedside, there will be a job eventually. There are never enough of us in the nursing field. My advice? Stay positive. Be patient, persevere, and network as best you can.

What is the most valuable piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

There has been a lot. But what I have come to learn is that you need to work hard, communicate effectively, be respectful and be kind. Your reputation travels far in terms of your professional world. Additionally, be passionate about what you’re doing every day. I think if you are passionate and committed to your job, you will find professional and personal fulfillment. I know that I have found that as a nurse and as a nurse practitioner. I feel very fortunate to be a graduate of the UVM nursing program, which initiated a career path that has been so wonderful.