Someone to Believe in You
For our final Certified Spark story of 2023, we talked with Kimberley Benzick, BSN, RN, CBRN, a 13-year ICU nurse who found a home in critical care and is among the world’s first CBRNs, having sat for the CBRN beta exam over the summer.
The mom of two teen boys and two bonus daughters has learned throughout her career, her time as a single mom, and in her current role as a Critical Care Unit Based Educator at Parkland Health in Dallas, Texas, how to keep a laser focus on what she values and make the details work towards her goals.
Kimberley talked about her passion for nursing … and coffee, including why she became a nurse, the importance of having someone who believes in you, and what it was like sitting down to take the CBRN beta exam in light of working at a world-renowned burn center. Be sure not to miss her tried and true tips for getting and staying certified.
If you’d like to tell us your story, visit the Certified Spark page. We’d love to hear from you!
Critical Care Chose Me
Nurses have a lot of options when it comes to choosing a specialty. So we asked Kimberley how she became a critical care nurse.
Kimberley: I wanted to help people and be there for them in difficult times, so I chose nursing because it gives me the flexibility to put being a mom first. I would say that critical care chose me. Early in my career, I did labor & delivery and med-surg, and pretty much went wherever there was a need. Through a hospital buy-out, the opportunity to work in the critical care area of a large Pennsylvania facility came up, and I fell in love. The constant learning and being able to help people at their worst time, I really felt like I fit there.
The Ideal Time to Get Certified
As a unit based critical care educator, Kimberley onboards and develops professional development plans for a lot of nurses, including brand new RNs, nursing switching to ICU specialties, and RNs new to Parkland. So, we asked her when the ideal time to get specialty certified is.
Kimberley: As an educator, I really like how BCEN recommends but doesn’t require two years of experience in the specialty. Everybody is different in terms of when they are ready. If you’re already in learning and test-taking mode because you graduated and passed the NCLEX fairly recently, you can keep going with that momentum and make earning a specialty credential your next big goal.
If you’re doing it later in your career, it can be intimidating, and you can have a lot of anxiety. But know you already have a good foundation, know your learning style, and know there are more resources out there than ever before to support you. Everybody who wants to do it should. If the main reason you’re not doing it is because you’re afraid you won’t pass the test, that’s all the more reason to do it … because you can do it, you can pass the exam.
Someone to Believe in You
For Kimberley, believing in yourself and finding others who believe in you is job #1. She also shared an example of how someone who believed in her made all the difference.
Kimberley: It’s also true that it can be very difficult, incredibly difficult even, if you don’t have people who believe in you. So first, believe in yourself … and then find someone else who believes in you. It can be someone in your family, a friend, or a neighbor. It can be a colleague at work who is as committed to getting their certification as you are and can be your study buddy. It can be someone at work who believes in you and will hold you accountable, but you also won’t feel embarrassed around. Or it can be your manager or educator. It’s particularly beneficial if you can find someone who is certified already, because they know what it takes to get there.
Who believed in me? My Aunt Judy is my person. She is my mom, my best friend, and my biggest and most faithful confidante. When I told her about the CBRN beta exam she just kept telling me, “Kimberley, you can do it! I know you can! Do it!” She has always been the stable person in my life, and she has really guided me and loved me through the toughest times. If it weren’t for her believing in me, I don’t think I would’ve done it. She has believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. So, it just goes to show you, no matter who you are or where you are, find someone who believes in you. And believe in yourself because you CAN do it!
“Nervous” Doesn’t Begin to Cover It
We asked Kimberley how it felt to sit down to take the CBRN beta exam as a Parkland Health employee, knowing Parkland’s world-renowned stature as a burn care innovator.
Kimberley: I graduated from nursing school in 2010, but I started nursing school far before that, and I remember learning about the about the Parkland Formula then. And I’m from rural Pennsylvania and Parkland is in Texas. It is a world renowned place, so I don’t think “nervous” gives you the full picture of how nervous I was. I’m not one for breathing techniques. They’re good for the people that they work for. But boy, I was trying all the things!
I knew, however, that I could not have been more prepared. The exam was very difficult, and because it was the first one, there weren’t all the study resources or practice exams yet. But aside from that, I didn’t feel there was anything I could have done to prepare myself more.
Over the Moon
Next, we asked Kimberley how it felt when she learned she was among the world’s first CBRNs.
Kimberley: Whooh! Wow! I actually got a text from my boss while I was driving on the Dallas Tollway, and she said something like, “Congratulations, Smarty Pants!” And I was thinking, what is she talking about? And then I got another similar message from the burn program manager. And my first thought was this is going to be embarrassing when they find out it was a fluke the message got sent out, and it wasn’t me who passed. I really thought maybe it was an accident, and I called my husband, and he said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” He was over the moon excited for me, and my 15- and 18-year-old boys were super proud of me and kept saying, “That’s so cool, Mom!” It really wasn’t until I got the certification in the mail that I finally believed that I did pass. I was just over the moon and so, so excited.
Parkland Health supports RNs being certified, and I’m super excited for all the nurses who have signed up to take the CBRN exam since the full launch. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.
Kimberley’s Tried & True Tips
Last but not least, we asked Kimberley to share how she has so successfully guided so many nurses to achieve professional (and personal) success and satisfaction.
Kimberley: In my experience, whether they say it or not, being certified is a professional goal for pretty much every nurse. We all struggle with work/life balance, and we have a lot to learn from the younger generations who are insisting on this as a priority. Whatever you have to juggle in your life, I’ve found these are the keys:
- Line up your support. If you’re going for your initial certification, get a mentor, ideally someone who is already certified. At Parkland, we have a mentee-driven program, so it’s up to the nurse who is pursing certification to request a mentor and pursue that relationship. I think that model works really well. If having a mentor is not for you, find a study buddy. Whatever support will work best for you, get that in place.
- Have a plan. Most nurses do well if they have a plan. Start small, work through your list step by step. Go through the exam content outline. Stick with it and be okay with studying taking some time.
- Schedule study times. Write study times into your schedule. Let your family know it’s a priority. If you have kids, tell them you’ll be right there studying while they focus on something else.
- Make it a positive experience. Incorporate self-care. Create a study area, a study sanctuary. Have your favorite lotion or candle there. People sometimes say to me, “Kimberley, that’s silly.” But it’s really not. If lotion isn’t your thing, make your favorite tea every time you study. The point is to feel good about yourself and take care of yourself. And getting that credential is self-care.
- Know it will make you a better nurse. You will learn a lot and have a much greater knowledge base. Everybody has something to learn. And when you understand your specialty well enough to earn board certification, you’ll be able to explain the “whats” and the “whys” to your patients and their families in a way they can easily understand. They will know how much you care because you got certified, and they will know they are being cared for by the most expert nurse possible. The combination of your care, compassion and expertise will make them feel safe and give them great comfort and confidence.
That confidence and broad knowledge will support you and empower you in a professional where you don’t get to have a bad day. And your peers and colleagues will flock to that confidence. Certified nurses are natural leaders, and certified nurses also get offered special opportunities and are often preceptors and charge nurses.
- Don’t give it up. You worked so hard to earn that credential, so don’t give it up. The choice to maintain your certification can boil down to finances. Sometimes CEs can play a role. If you are struggling with getting enough CEs to renew your certification, talk to your educator and your facility. There are more options than ever, and the key is to chunk it down and map out a plan over time.
As someone who was a single mom for a long time, I know all about having to make tough choices when it comes to money. If you get a bonus for earning your initial certification, put half of that away towards recertifying. If you do an overtime shift, put that money away immediately. The key is to think ahead and have a plan so that you don’t have to lose the thing you worked so hard for.