Visions of Care: Why I Chose a Nursing Career


In honor of Nurses Week 2017, UB School of Nursing Clinical Assistant Professor Susan Zannoni shares how finding her calling in the pediatric intensive care unit eventually led her to advance her nursing education to affect not only patients and families, but also future generations of nurses.

baby in incubator.

I was never around nurses as a young woman, but I had an image of what a nurse is and does – and I knew that’s what I wanted to be. That image began my journey.

Nursing education back in late 80’s focused on different levels of education such as diplomas, associate degrees and baccalaureate degrees. I knew what I wanted to accomplish – so a baccalaureate degree was the right path for me. 

When I had the opportunity to go through my pediatric rotation as a student nurse at a children’s hospital, my focus became clear: I wanted to be a pediatric nurse specializing in critical care nursing.

The first time I saw a child in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), he looked so vulnerable and weak and the families looked so scared and helpless. I wanted nothing else but to help these patients and families in the midst of a family health crisis. I could imagine myself (though very scary) taking care of a child on ten separate IV drips;  on a ventilator, central line, arterial line, Foley; taking hourly blood draws and 15 minute vital signs and being constantly alert for any changes in vital signs.

I knew I would like the complexity of care, the variety and the pace – but I also wanted to get to know families and help them understand their child’s illness, provide support and guidance, and build trusting relationships. I felt I had the ability to affect the child and their family’s hospitalization experience and play a major role in helping the patient to recover, both physically and emotionally.

After I graduated from nursing school, I spent the next 25 years as a nurse in the PICU just as I wanted. As years went by, I noticed that children and families were experiencing traumatic stress reactions following life-threatening illness or injury. I also knew that most professional health care workers were not adequately addressing the patients’ and families’ traumatic stress reaction. 

After 25 years of clinical experience, I decided to go back to school and get my Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) to help identify and address this gap in nursing practice.

My capstone project was about integrating mental health assessment skills and identifying predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder by educating staff nurses in the PICU.

I knew then that I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives in a different way. So, I became an assistant professor of nursing to educate and prepare student nurses to care for patients with mental illness in a variety of settings: chemical dependency programs, outpatient psychiatric clinics, women’s care clinics, and in home health programs, as well as in acute inpatient units.

I have found fulfillment in nursing through my commitment to patients, families and students who want to help them. 

A Maya Angelou quote has resonated with me throughout my career. Her words are fitting for nurses, who dedicate themselves to their patients and families in their most difficult times:

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”