IntelyPro Spotlight Series: Catherine Wamalwa, RN

IntelyPro Spotlight Series: Catherine Wamalwa, RN

Catherine Wamalwa, RN from Allentown, Pennsylvania, shares her story about race in the healthcare industry. An immigrant from Kenya, she worked as a CNA for 10 years before becoming an RN. In that time, she learned a lot about family-caregiver relationships.

“I am a person of color. Sometimes when I walk into the patient’s room and tell the family that I will be their loved one’s caregiver, I can see their hearts sink because they want their loved ones to die in the arms of someone who looks like them – someone they trust. So I make sure I prove to them that they can trust me by conducting myself respectfully. When I treat families with respect, showing them I am compassionate and competent, they know their loved one is in good hands with me. Listening is the most important part of establishing trust and building relationships with patients and families.”

Catherine started her journey as a nursing professional when she moved to the US in 2002. When she arrived, she only had an associate’s degree in business administration and no experience in healthcare. So, after feeling dissatisfied with her line of work, her friend suggested that she become a nurse. “I kept telling her ‘I’m not a nurse,’ but she kept telling me I should first try being an aide.” The first shifts were challenging. But after about three months, Catherine started to love giving care. “In the nursing homes, I saw the suffering of another human. I felt compelled to do as much as I can to ease their stuffing. I’d give and give and give, but I felt that I still couldn’t give enough.”

Because she grew up in a place where healthcare was only for those who could pay, Catherine didn’t always think fondly of nurses. But when she came to the US and began her journey as a caregiver, she rediscovered a love for nursing. “Where I came from, many of us were poor. And if you’re poor in some parts of the world, you don’t get proper medical attention. When I was younger, I thought, ‘why would I want to be a nurse if they treat my grandmother like this?’ But when I came here and started as a nurse aide, I realized that I have to be the good nurse. It’s up to me to be the nurse I wish my grandmother had. Whether you make someone comfortable or save their life, they are always appreciative when you care for them well.”

After two years as a nurse aide, Catherine started to ask how she could become a registered nurse. “I am an ambitious person. So I asked my friend, ‘how do I become a nurse?’ The first thing she said was, ‘Go back to school. If you can get a degree in business administration, you can get a nursing degree!’ So that’s exactly what I did.”

Catherine moved around Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Maryland with her husband while completing her education and practicing as a CNA and LPN. “But my goal was still to become an RN. I wasn’t going to stop there.” She finished her Bachelor of Science in Nursing with a focus in mental health as well as her associates degree in nursing and became an RN.

In Maryland, she worked for a community mental health service. “I dealt with the homeless and the drug afflicted population. Most of these people suffer from depression or other mental health problems. My job was to check up on them once or twice a month and give them their medication to keep them mentally healthy. It felt good to be a voice of encouragement and positivity in their lives.”

“I’m used to traveling around because of the time I spent traveling with my husband to his jobs. I like IntelyCare because I can move to new facilities where I meet new people – I enjoy diversity.” Caring for others is what drives her to be a nurse. 

“There is a difference between the suffering you encounter as a nurse and what you do with it. I realized that if you want to give the best care, the most important thing is to listen. Once you start listening to your patients, they will listen to you, too. When you’re faking, everyone will know. But if you truly listen with your heart, they will know you are genuine and competent.”

Sometimes patients and their families ask her tough questions. “I always say that, although death is out of my hands, as a nurse, I look at two things: The lungs, and the kidneys.” When Catherine demonstrates she is compassionate and competent, she gains the trust of her patients and their families, even when situations are dire…

“One time I had a patient with severe lung issues. By the time I got to her she wasn’t breathing. I administered the oxygen machine and told the aide to get the supervisor to the room with another oxygen tank. But she was gone for three minutes when the supervisor came. I started praying for her. It was a miracle that she started to come back. The heart beat monitor started to show 43, 44, 45 beats per minute. By the time five minutes had passed, her heart rate was up to 80 beats per minute. I said, ‘open your eyes,’ and she opened them. She was back with us.”

“After a moment like that, there is not much else to do other than to take a deep breath and enjoy your lunch break. Nursing homes are slower but sometimes you get situations like that.”

“You just have to do it,” she says. Sometimes there is no training in the world that can prepare you for the situations you may face as a caregiver. “But you just have to fight. Even when the situation is in the hands of the emergency paramedics, you have to fight to keep your patients stable until they arrive.” When she practiced community and mental health nursing in Baltimore, she encountered plenty of those situations. “I’m not an acute nurse. But it’s still nursing.”

After an exhausting shift, Catherine decompresses by tending to her garden. “I’m always trying to find unique vegetables from Africa to grow and use when I cook at home. For example, in the US we eat pumpkins. But in Africa, we eat the pumpkin’s leaves too. When I make the Kenyan dish, Ungale, I use those pumpkin leaves with sauce made from other vegetables in my garden.” A home-grown Kenyan meal is just what she needs after a long day.

Catherine’s children are grown and out of the house, but she and her husband keep each other company. “Sometimes I’ll get a call from my grandchildren telling me how school is going and that never fails to brighten my day.” Catherine likes to take it easy when she’s home, saying, “I don’t swim anymore or go out for long walks. But I enjoy gardening and I go to church every Sunday.”

To the younger nurses out there, she says that “nursing is a call. If your heart’s not in it and it’s just a job, then nursing is not right for you. I remember writing a paper for my BSN on Florence Nightingale and feeling so fulfilled and inspired to follow in her footsteps. Even as a CNA, whatever you do, do it from your heart. Your patients will know if the care you give comes from your heart or not.”

Catherine’s ambitious spirit and compassionate heart make her a caregiver we’re grateful to have in the IntelyCare family. With IntelyCare, she can build a schedule that fits her life while offering the ability to travel to new places and solve new problems that keep her nursing experience fresh. 

Our mission is to empower healthcare heroes to transform the way they work, changing their lives the way they change their patient’s lives. If freedom and flexibility plus quality pay and benefits sound right for you, then become an IntelyPro today.


IntelyCare for Nursing Professionals

 Stay up to date on info, tips, and stories from your fellow IntelyPros! And don’t miss out on key resources we share on our socials!

How Nursing Professionals Can Be Advocates

How Nursing Professionals Can Be Advocates

“Actually, right before you called I was helping save a man from passing out at the store…”

Tammy Koslowski is a CNA from Massachusetts. Just moments before our interview she was out shopping when she noticed a man who looked like he needed help…

“Earlier today at the store I noticed a man across the aisle. He didn’t look too well; he was leaning over his cart and he just wasn’t acting right. It really seemed like he was struggling so I went over to him and asked how he was doing. He said he was diabetic so I said, ‘alright, let’s get you some orange juice, sit down, and wait for assistance.’ I alerted the people around me that he needed helped and they were quick to respond. We called for assistance, got him some juice, a stool, and just looked after him. He seemed embarrassed but I assured him it was going to be okay. Then the firemen and paramedics came and took him to take care of him… And then I proceeded with my day… I definitely think it’s my instincts as a nurse that’s allowed me to help people in situations like these… It’s just what I do. It’s who I am.”

Tammy grew up in a military family of chemists. Her parents own a chemistry company, and her family wanted her to follow in their footsteps. But for Tammy, it just wasn’t her calling. When she was younger, she was the one in her family who took care of her diabetic grandmother. So caring for people has always been a part of who she is.

“I always wanted to be a nurse. When I was little, like in the 6th grade, we did an adopted grandparents program. When I went into the nursing home and saw nurses and CNA’s doing their thing; caring for people, I thought ‘wow, I want to do that’… It’s challenging because the pandemic made nurses gett burn out and irritated. They haven’t been able to give the quality of care they used to be able to give. And you can feel the sadness amongst the residents because they can’t see their family the way they want to. So my goal is to just try and do something to brighten people’s day even a little bit. And I’m just an easy going person so I’ll try to bring the life back into a facility when I’m working a shift just by just having a positive attitude so that it can rub off on other CNA’s and nurses.”

Trying to pick people’s spirits up amidst a pandemic, understaffed shifts, and lonely residents is exhausting. So when Tammy has a moment for herself, she likes to go hiking when it’s warm out. She’s also taught herself how to crochet blankets and hats. She enjoys reading Stephen King novels and is currently reading The Outsider. Being a Stephen King buff, she said, “I know they made a show out of the book recently, but Stephen King is such a detailed writer, it’s just hard to compare”. She also takes some time out of her schedule to go on a vacation to recharge her nursing batteries. She hopes to either revisit Aruba because of how relaxing her stay was, or to go skiing with family in Germany. Though big vacations aren’t safe at the moment, over the summer she managed to take a weekend to hike the white mountains in New Hampshire. “You have to make the time to getting out and staying active. It’s healthy for body and soul, too.”

Before using IntelyCare, agencies denied her from taking holidays off to see her family in Germany. But with IntelyCare, she’s able to work on her own terms which has allowed her to see her family more. For Tammy, the ability to have that flexibility is priceless. Before using IntelyCare she recalls her work feeling like “groundhog day; just the same thing over and over.” Staying focused and compassionate as a caregiver used to be hard for her when her days were like that.

“The last straw for me working in a facility was this: My partner at the time was in the military and was deployed. I didn’t see him for a year. I asked a month in advance for one day off on Veterans Day to take him out and I still got denied. It was devastating… They knew it too. They knew he was coming home for a month and they couldn’t give me that one day… That’s when I said, ‘no more’, and I put my two weeks notice in.”

Tammy’s biggest piece of advice for people is to do what makes them happy. People are drawn to nursing because they’re driven by a sense of compassion for others. But along the way, tough working conditions burn them out. So when she sees her fellow nurses and CNA’s experiencing burnout, she’s quick to recommend the solution.

“The other day I was getting some blood work done and the CNA was telling me about how she was a single mom and the facility was giving her similar problems. So I said, ‘check out IntelyCare. It’s going to help you the way it helped me’… I was actually on a zoom call with some other CNA’s for the nursing program I’m doing and they were talking about their less-than-great experience working with facilities and I just kept saying ‘I actually love my job now, it’s stress free’… And it’s crazy, I see it in other IntelyPros too. They’re just like me, they’re stress free and they bring such positivity with them. They have pride and confidence in their work, and it shows.”

Finding your voice in the workplace can be difficult.

For some, speaking up comes naturally. But for others, it’s challenging to feel comfortable advocating for their patients, coworkers, or themselves in a work environment. And to be honest, not all workplaces have an environment that encourages you to be an advocate. But in those environments, especially in the nursing, it’s even more important to find your voice before you feel burned out in your nursing job.

When something doesn’t feel right in your workplace, it can be hard to introduce changes in a productive way. These tips can help you advocate for yourself in a productive way.

Listen To Your Patients

Nurses have been their patient’s best advocates since nursing became a profession. One of the best ways to advocate for yourself is to listen to your patients.  Advocating for them is a productive way to advocate for yourself, so remember to value your patients and listen to their needs

Giving high quality care to your patients means that you’re engaged, focused, and happy at work. So if there are improvements that can make your work-life better, it can have a direct impact on the quality of care you are able to provide for your facility.

Talk To Your Colleagues 

It’s much harder to advocate for yourself when you’re doing it alone. If there’s something about your work-life that’s bothering you, bring it up to a coworker and see if they experience the same issues. You may find that you’re not alone in recognizing ways to improve your work. Sometimes you may find that multiple staff members are experiencing the same problem. In that case, there will be more of a reason for your facility to implement changes. 

But even if you don’t have colleagues that share your goals, it’s still important to keep open lines of communication between you, your management team, and your coworkers. As opposed to demanding changes, try to work with your DON and upper management to solve the problems at hand. A teamwork mentality goes a long way when solving the problems that affect your work-life.

Get Connected

Stay in-the-know about current topics, trends, and issues in the nursing industry. For example, joining the American Nurses Association is a way to tap into a support system and become an informed nursing professional. By joining organizations focused on nurses, you have the opportunity to make new connections, discover new opportunities, or get valuable guidance on how to make the most of your nursing career. 

If you ever need to propose a change to your facility management, remember to always be respectful of the different issues your administration deals with. Sometimes a facility simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to implement changes, even if your colleagues or fellow organization members suggest them. In this case, be open to working with your management team to find different ways to make positive changes to the work-life of you and your fellow staff.

Explore New Work Options

Caregivers often find themselves working with low staffing levels, rigid schedules, long working hours in an over demanding environment, little career growth opportunity, uncompetitive pay, and undesirable benefits. Innovative per-diem nursing options that bring freedom, quality, and stability to your work-life can help you solve stress-related work issues. 

Become an IntelyPro today if a nursing life you enjoy is what you need!