Purpose and Power: Erin Kilroy

Nurses don’t just identify as nurses.

First and foremost, Erin identifies as an athlete. She was born to sweat.  She’s been an athlete her entire life and it was her athletic abilities that enabled her to be where she is now in her identity as a nurse also. She continues to flex her athleticism (and muscle!) and love for fitness through her admirable lifestyle: sleep, sweat, nurse, compete, repeat. She’s a pediatric nurse, triathlete, traveler, social butterfly, confidante, and can likely run you through one of the hardest workouts of your life.
Erin is purposeful and powerful despite having a job that can be stressful, emotionally tolling, and not the most conducive to a healthy lifestyle. She remains ever positive, open-minded, and balanced.

“My identity as an athlete carries into nursing and most aspects of my life. Doing both individual and team sports taught me the importance of hard work, accountability, time management and team-work.”

We caught up with her in hopes of learning her secret to both this lifestyle and those rock-hard abs!

When did you realize you wanted to be a nurse? Why pediatrics?

Thankfully, nursing just kind of fell into my lap. I don’t have a ton of nurses in my family and I didn’t grow up knowing it’s what I’d always wanted to do. Honestly, when I was little, I wanted to be a dolphin trainer – go figure! But nursing sounded like a great idea toward the end of high school for a few reasons. First, I had always been better at and more interested in math and science and took anatomy as an elective my senior year. Also, I had volunteered two summers at Camp Easter Seals, an overnight camp for kids and adults with disabilities, which was truly one of the most eye-opening, humbling, and rewarding experiences of my young adult life. In addition, I got a volleyball scholarship to USF which also happens to have a great nursing program. So after putting all of it together, nursing sounded like a no brainer!

And pediatrics because kids keep you laughing even when you really feel like crying.

What’s the most difficult aspect of being a nurse?

Having to be everything to everyone sometimes. As nurses we wear different hats and often get pulled into many roles at once. Sometimes I feel like I’m the jack of all trades but no expert in one thing. There is so much to know and to do in a field that’s ever changing and evolving; it can be really challenging to tackle it all.

What aspect of your job keeps you going despite the really bad, hard days?

I keep going by recognizing that my job is in fact really freaking hard and I’m fortunate enough to do it. I’d have a full piggy bank if I had a nickel for every person who’s ever told me “I couldn’t do what you do.” Also, remembering that my bad, really hard days probably don’t even compare to the feeling of having your child in the hospital. In addition, I have some pretty freaking awesome coworkers in lucky enough to call my friends. Being able to vent and bitch and cry to people who really understand where you’re coming from is everything.

You’re a nurse, that’s one of your many hats. What’s another hat you wear that you feel most proud of? Which do you feel translates most into your success as a nurse?

I am an athlete. From competitive swimming as a kid, doing my first triathlon when I was 12, to track and field, and playing volleyball through college, to coming full circle and competing in USA triathlon nationals, competition and sports have always been my jam. My identity as an athlete carries into nursing and most aspects of my life. Doing both individual and team sports taught me the importance of hard work, accountability, time management and team-work.

How do you manage to do all of your training and stay so fit with your nursing schedule?

My training and workouts are a priority.  For me, fitting them into my schedule isn’t even a question. The beauty of my nursing schedule is that I have four days off a week that I get to kick my ass! When I’m really training or feeling ambitious, I like to swim before work.

Do you think it’s important to identify with other aspects of life in addition to “nurse” or “nursing?”

I think it’s important for anyone to identify themselves as more than their career. Our jobs are a huge portion of who we are and what we do but certainly not everything.

What do you wish the world knew about nursing?

I wish the world knew how beautiful and how terrible nursing can be. It’s about managing and doing so much more than I ever imagined. From the second I started nursing school, I realized my college experience wasn’t going to be like my peers. Feeling so much weight and responsibility. Knowing if you make a mistake, you jeopardize your patient’s life and your career. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable to develop a relationship with a patient and family, but also having the strength to part with them. That I chose to be a nurse not so that I could become a doctor one day, but because I want to be a nurse.

How do you feel about the future of nursing? Your nursing career?

Nursing is always changing thanks to research and evidence based practice. It can be overwhelming to keep current with new procedures, but I also appreciate the science and facts behind why I’m doing what I’m doing. I was always told nursing is so flexible and there are so many opportunities, but I haven’t quite found them yet. I’m looking forward to that discovery.

Healthiest habit for work days: Leaving the hospital and going on a walk on my lunch break
My work mornings usually start with…coffee I set to brew the night before with the timer or a double nespresso
Go-to meal that I pack for work: 2 soft boiled eggs, piece of fruit, huge salad, another piece of fruit, yogurt, almonds
Favorite thing to do on a day-off: workout!
Favorite app: Instagram
Clogs or sneakers? I alternate to keep my feet guessing
Compression stockings, compression socks, or neither? Compression socks. Stockings take way too long to pull up and down when you barely have enough time to pee in the first place
Puke, poop, sputum, IV starts in babies, we’ve all got our aversion, what’s yours? Pressure ulcers
Go-to choice of caffeine? Latte, full fat, no sugar
Sarah Gray
Sarah is a Pediatric Clinical Nurse III at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and a UCSF 2017 Evidence Based Practice Fellow. A New Jersey native, Sarah graduated from Penn Nursing and has been living in San Francisco ever since. She's been an athlete her whole life and continues to be passionate about health, fitness, and making the most of all opportunities. She continues to harness her passion for innovation and process improvement in her role as Founding Clinician at Trusted Health.