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She’s Taken a Winding Road to the Nursing Profession

Abby Candee

Abby Candee


That was the one-word answer provided by Abby Candee when she was asked to describe her work as a paramedic in Springfield and also with the Longmeadow Fire Department.

“Really, really heavy,” she went on, adding the twin adverbs for emphasis before elaborating.

“It was too heavy — it was starting to affect me personally,” she told BusinessWest, noting that she handled more than her fair share of shootings, stabbings, cases of abuse, and more. “I had a lot of calls that have personally affected me and deeply affected my colleagues as well. Some of them are things that I still have to work through.”

These experiences riding the ambulance helped influence Candee’s decision to make a career change and get into nursing, by enrolling in the accelerated BS nursing program at UMass Amherst. She graduated in December and started a much different chapter, in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Baystate Health, in March.

“Prior to going into nursing, I was both a paramedic and a firefighter,” she said. “While I loved what I did, I wanted the opportunity to practice more medicine and have more than a transient connection with my patients. In EMS, I saw people at their worst, never knew what happened to them after I dropped them off at the ED, and never had the power to advocate for them to get preventive care so that they wouldn’t end up in those situations in the first place. As a nurse, I can advocate for the gaps in care that I see.

“I also really like the complexity of my patient population,” she continued. “Pretty much every patient I work with … they’re all puzzles. Everyone has some pretty complex medical needs, and my brain is always working.”

Candee has taken a winding road to the nursing profession. She started her career in healthcare as an EMT, which was a means to pay her way through college.

“I was pre-med, and I needed a way to get patient-care experience,” she noted, adding that she took the EMT licensure course the summer after her freshman year in college and found a job working overnights in downtown Springfield.

“I also really like the complexity of my patient population. Pretty much every patient I work with … they’re all puzzles. Everyone has some pretty complex medical needs, and my brain is always working.”

Much of her early work in EMS fell into the ‘transit’ category, she explained, adding that she would discharge patients back home or take psychiatric patients from the ER to other treatment settings, for example. Overall, it was far less stressful than the paramedic work that would come later.

“I got to meet people from every walk of life, people I would never have interacted with previously,” she said. “And I also met a lot of nurses; I interfaced with them a lot because they were the ones I was getting reports from.”

Through this interfacing, she started thinking about joining the nursing ranks.

“From spending that time on EMS, I thought, ‘you know, I kind of like what nurses do more than what doctors do,’” she recalled. “My initial vision of what healthcare was leaned more toward the nurse’s role — I just hadn’t realized it. I wanted to be more bedside than I did making the decisions and supervising. I liked being the boots on the ground.”

But as she was acknowledging this, she was also of the opinion that she needed more “life experience and maturity” before embarking on nursing school. So she enrolled in paramedics training and then commenced that phase of her career.

Abby Candee with her good friend, Jamie Allen

Abby Candee with her good friend, Jamie Allen, one of the people who inspired her to go into nursing.

As she noted earlier, some of the calls she handled as a paramedic affected her personally — and they’re still affecting her years later.

“There are places in various towns that I avoid driving by, and there are people who I still think about and wonder what happened to them because … you don’t know,” she explained. “Maybe you find out by word of mouth, and sometimes you get a good follow-up from the hospital, but most of the times you don’t know. And it’s a very difficult thing not to have closure.”

In the Cardiac ICU, closure is much easier to come by. “Especially when we’re dealing with something like death, we’re usually the last stop for someone — so we’re the ones who get closure,” she said, and this is just one of many things she likes about the unit.

She arrived there quickly; the accelerated BS in nursing program at UMass Amherst takes the traditional four-year nursing program and allows students to earn their degree in just 16 months.

The Cardiac ICU was the setting Candee desired as she worked her way through the program, and she has been rewarded with not just a job, but the day shift — although she’s worked nights most of her career and would have been fine with that, too.

“I lucked out,” she said, referring not just to the hours, but to the broad scope of the work.

Those assigned to the Cardiac ICU handle both medical and surgical patients, she said, meaning those who have suffered heart attacks or end-stage heart failure, and also those recovering from bypass surgery, heart-valve procedures, or any other kind of open-heart surgery.

And there are many rewards from working in this setting.

“I like seeing people’s successes — that’s something I get to see a lot of, especially on the surgical side,” Candee explained. “These people come in for their surgery, they come out of the OR, we get them extubated, we get them up in a chair, and we are their cheerleaders through being able to get up and walk, through learning what meds they have to take, being able to get them home and through recovery. I love being that cheerleader, being that educator — it’s a role I haven’t been able to take on before in the past, but it’s a role I really like.”

She also loves being part of the team in the Cardiac ICU.

“I work with incredible, wonderful people,” she said. “And I would not be the nurse that I am right now without the nurses and techs I work with here.”