From a very young age, LaToyia Malcolm, MS, BSN, BA, RN, knew she wanted to work in something medicine- or science-related, but it took a while for her to become a nurse.
“I wanted to be a virologist in high school, a doctor who does disease research,” she says. But the idea of spending more time in a laboratory than with people dissuaded her from that career path, leading her instead to a degree in medical anthropology, as the focus was studying people. But there weren’t many jobs available in that field, so she worked in banking for 15 years instead, starting in customer service and working her way up to the executive office.
When it was time for her daughter to go to college, LaToyia again thought about medicine and returned to school to earn her master’s degree in public health. During this time she became involved with a growing grassroots organization, the African-American Health Equity Taskforce, and was exposed to a variety of social, economic and disparity issues in the city of Buffalo, which prompted a career in social work.
“I loved it, working with people and seeing how the world works,” she says. “There was so much I didn’t know about poverty in our city, about how it affects everybody. I did that for a few years and then a friend suggested I become a nurse to combine my love for health and social work together, so I went into that.”
During a job fair co-hosted by Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Buffalo Black Nurses Federation last fall, she learned more about the nursing programs here. “I wasn’t necessarily looking to leave my hospital at that time, but I came to the job fair and met a recruiter and a manager who told me about how Roswell Park works and what they do.”
Like many other people, LaToyia initially had concerns that working in a hospital specializing in cancer might be sad or depressing. She was impressed to find the opposite to be true. “My perception was not what I thought it was going to be. I came to the unit to shadow a nurse and thought I could see myself working here.”
The small patient-to-nurse ratio helped win her over as well, allowing her to feel like she was giving her patients all of her attention without having to rush between people.
More time with each patient
Six months into the job, LaToyia is happy with her decision and glad to be a member of the evening shift nursing staff on 8 West. Her work combines her experience as a social worker and in customer service with her passion and curiosity for medicine and health. “I think that, for me, the fact that there are so many different avenues in nursing makes it a great profession. You can work clinics, you can work in hospitals, you can work in schools, you can do research, you could be placed in a patient’s home,” she says.
“My team has been so helpful. Being in this critical care environment has been a huge learning curve for me. There are new situations that come up every week. Every day there is something new to learn. I’m also someone who isn’t afraid to ask a question. I’d rather get the right answer versus saying 'I know everything' and risk hurting someone.”
LaToyia also enjoys the opportunity to work nights as she gets to know her patients better, even if they’re not with her for the same length of time they might be in other departments. “I love having my patients’ families with them for the first hour of my shift. It’s nice to see them interact and know they have that support. But when they leave, being there when the patient doesn’t have anyone else there or any doctors coming in, I get a lot of time with them. During the day it’s so busy, with all of the ancillary staff, I feel like there’d be less time for longer interactions with patients, but at night, it’s just the two of us, and we have all night. We’re talking and laughing,” she says.
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The thread of customer service — making sure people have what they need and feel well cared for — runs throughout LaToyia’s career and is something to which she has dedicated her work. “I’m very good with my patients. They appreciate the work I do and how I’m there for them. Just knowing that they’re first, no matter what, they’re my main priority.”
While she still contemplates using her varied background to get into research and public health, LaToyia is glad to encourage others to consider a career in nursing. “There’s so much variety in nursing. You can get a degree in as little as two years and then you have it forever,” she says.
“I would also encourage nurses to consider Roswell Park. We’re a one-stop shop. Other hospitals have inpatient care and that’s all they do. We have inpatient, we have outpatient, we have clinics, we have research, we have specialized clinics. I love what I do so much. It sounds kind of cliché but I really think being a nurse is who I am.”