Tracy Cardin, ACNP-BC, entered college as a criminal justice major, believing her talent for crafting sound arguments and her passion for defending her point of view would translate into a successful law career.
Less than a year later, Cardin visited her gravely ill aunt and discovered her true calling. “I noticed a lot of small things: Her fingernails were a little long, her hair was sort of unkempt, and the environment wasn’t as clean as I would have liked,” Cardin says. “I didn’t feel the people who were caring for her were putting in the time or effort to make her as comfortable as possible. I didn’t see a lot of tender loving care, and I honestly felt I could do a better job.”
Cardin changed her major, pursued a nursing career, and now has 22 years of experience providing inpatient care.
“It’s a privilege to take care of patients, and hospitalists have a wonderful opportunity to impact the quality of care they receive,” says Cardin, one of seven nonphysician providers (NPPs) in the Section of Hospital Medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She also is Team Hospitalist’s only NPP member. “They are the reason I do what I do—and the reason I love what I do.”
Are there similarities between being a nurse practitioner (NP) and a litigator?
You definitely have to advocate for your patients. Both fields allow you to see the stories of the human condition. In my job, it’s all about the patients’ stories—how they came to be here and fitting your care for the patient within their narrative. And like the legal setting, people often find themselves in the healthcare world at a time of crisis. I like being there to help people in those times.
Why did you choose to practice in a hospital setting?
I like the objective data you get in a hospital. You have lab work, imaging, and vital signs. It helps create a better picture of what’s going on. I like that it’s very acute. Patients have a problem, hopefully you fix the problem or at least stabilize the person, and then they can go home. I also like that it’s fast-paced and varied. The hospital truly is one of the places I’m most comfortable.
What is your biggest professional reward?
When a patient knows it’s time to go home and die—when it’s their time and they are ready to go—and they need someone to help them get through that process. When patients and their families move from trying to solve unsolvable problems to an acceptance of their mortality, it’s a beautiful journey, and I really like helping them navigate that journey.
How would you describe the relationship between the physicians and NPPs in your program?
Like all relationships, it has gone through an evolution. It started with the “getting to know you” stage, during which the physicians weren’t sure what the NPPs do and the NPPs were very anxious to show our capabilities. There was this pushing and pulling. Over time, thanks to excellent leadership, we have a model that utilizes NPPs to the maximum of their capabilities. We have a very collaborative, collegial group, and it’s a special place to work. I have the utmost respect for the physicians, and I feel they have the utmost respect for our abilities.