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The Winding Road to My Nursing Career

By Todd Zebulske, UB School of Nursing Class of 2016 | May 10, 2017

In honor of Nurses Week 2017, Todd Zebulske (BS '16), shares his career (and life) journey that led him from biologist to business and medical sales to nursing.

I was born in Western New York the 6th of 7 children with three brothers and three sisters. From a very early age, I recall knowing that I was going to attend college. In fact, my siblings and I all indeed graduated from college, with just one of my six siblings graduating with only one degree. It was never arrogance or condescendence; it was merely fulfilling my parent’s wishes, which we rarely doubted.

So when two of my sisters received their degrees in nursing, it was no surprise 25 years later when two of their children also received degrees in nursing and two others were working on other clinical professions! As time crept by, the nursing profession slowly became a familial professional undercurrent.

Here’s how I found my way to a career in nursing.

First Stop: Biologist

My first postsecondary college experience began in the fall of 1986 in Melbourne, FL, at Florida Institute of Technology (FIT). My major was Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Marine Sciences. In 1990, I graduated from FIT and in 1991 was offered an opportunity to work with marine mammals, marine reptiles, and marine and freshwater fish. I was officially a “biologist.”

I spent the next several years working with and, in many cases, developing relationships with these animals. I had the joy of caring for numerous fish species, including large sharks, invertebrates inhabiting coral reef structures, sea and land turtles, manatees, wild porpoises, and alligators. My tenure as a biologist encompassed a cornucopia of unique, exhilarating experiences – most wonderful, but as in many relationships, sadness also had to be endured. Animals, especially rehabilitated animals (ergo, patients), would pass away as result of injury or disease.

In a unique way, my nursing career actually began with my “biologist” title. In every way, my day dedicated to the delicate care of and concern for my animals – a parallel to my current daily care and concern for my patients.

Turning a Corner: Business and Medical Sales

At the age of 25 I decided to broaden my intellect by taking business-based classes at a local community college in Orlando, FL. This endeavor was initially fueled by a desire to learn about investing into corporate stocks. Quickly these efforts became an obsession and a challenge within myself to excel. Two classes became three and eventually led to a new goal: another degree.

My intellectual growth was broadening as my education continued.

In a short time, I would earn an MBA/Marketing from the University of Central Florida (UCF). The combination of science and business was not happenstance, as my professional goal was to segue into medicine by representing medical device products for corporate manufacturers.

Shortly after graduation, I landed a sales position with a well-known medical device manufacturer! My job was to educate and provide support for cardiovascular physicians and staff for the proper use of these medical devices during and after surgery.

Over the course of the next 15 years, I participated in thousands of surgeries and procedures that helped countless patients and their families during stressful medical events – I prospered and enjoyed the vast majority of that time.  However, at the end of those years I found myself back in western NY selling medical device products that I truly didn’t believe helped the hospitals provide value to the patients and their families.

For this reason, I decided to leave the corporate medical sales environment.  

My Destination (and Continuing Journey): Nursing (and Lifelong Learning)

I wanted to stay in health care, but, rather than being peripheral support, I wanted to help patients on a more personal level. Therefore, at age 46, I found myself again in the classroom, this time with a goal of earning a nursing degree.

I had sisters and nieces that were/are nurses – and I had spent 15 years working with nurses as a medical representative. And, truly, health care is my informational skill set, so nursing just seemed very natural. I hadn’t been in a college classroom in 17 years, so being an older student created initial apprehension. But the value of continued intellectual learning quickly calmed any early fears.

As I excelled in community college prerequisite classes, my confidence began to expand. I applied and was accepted to University at Buffalo School of Nursing’s ABS (accelerated bachelor of nursing) program. From day one, the UB nursing instructors fostered critical thinking, which is vital for nurses to become patient advocates and provide excellent patient care. It is the backbone to proper nursing care.

I graduated from UB in May of 2016 and immediately started working in a western NY hospital as an interventional nurse on a telemetry floor. Because of my academic preparation and dedication to expanding my nursing knowledge, I also passed the NCLEX on my first attempt. I adeptly work with patients and their families every shift. Each day presents various care challenges that provide me opportunities to learn and to help my patients and their families manage and understand medical events, which sometimes profoundly affect the quality of their lives.

I turn 50 years old later this year and cannot imagine doing anything else with my life right now.

The moral of my story? Personal growth, no matter your age, can be obtained through lifelong learning – a quality and goal especially important for nurses. Through my professional journey, I have accomplished things that I never imagined as a young man. In my mind, to say, “I can’t” do something actually means “I won’t.” 

I have resolved myself to never accept “I can’t.”

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