October 19, 2023 | 5 minute

From Clinician to Sales: One Nurse’s Observation

A nurse standing next to a patient in a hospital bed
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Christine Corning from Shares her Firsthand Experience as a Nurse and How it Translated into Client Relationships.

It has been eighteen years now since I “left the bedside”. Yes, I still keep my RN license active, but I think it is safe to say at this point I’ll not be returning to patient care. People often ask why I left nursing to go into sales. I tend to chuckle at the question. I mean, how many of us went to college for one thing and are in an entirely different field? I have software sales colleagues who have undergraduate degrees in Art History, Psychology, Journalism etc. I never hear anyone ask them “Why aren’t you a museum curator or writing for the WSJ?” Nurses outside of the hospital are frequently asked “why did you leave nursing?” as if we abandoned our calling, left the club or broke a code. The question had me contemplating the differences between my career in nursing and my career in technology sales. Clearly, there are many very obvious differences. For example, (and thankfully) there are no life or death decisions in my current role. What is surprising are the similarities.

Similarities Between Patients and Customers

As a nurse, my primary concern was my patient, everything else was extraneous. There were politics, peer conflicts, hierarchies to navigate and respect, and of course, constant change that required you to quickly pivot and change direction, but the patient’s experience is what drove me to do my best.

As a salesperson my primary concern is my customer, everything else is extraneous. There are still politics, peer conflict, and hierarchies to navigate and respect, and ongoing change with the same need to quickly pivot and change direction. Again, the client’s experience is what drives me to do my best.

My first day “on the floor” as a nurse I was told by my manager to go to a patient and change her Foley catheter (indwelling urinary catheter). For a seasoned nurse changing a Foley is a routine procedure. For a rookie this is an anxiety provoking activity that requires you to review the steps in your mind, find the appropriate equipment, and while focusing on the mechanics of the task also remember you are intimately invading the privacy of and requesting the trust of a perfect stranger, who is now at the mercy of your professionalism and care. I was terrified. I felt like I was impersonating a real nurse but I pulled it off.

Fast forward 10 years to my first sales meeting. I was presenting to a room full of Nurse Managers and C-Level Executives. The topic was the value and necessity of the software I was selling (EMR in its infancy). I spoke to the benefits of the software, I spoke to improved patient safety and outcomes they could expect, I spoke to the experience and expertise of the company I worked for and my experience as a clinician. I was terrified. I felt like I was impersonating a salesperson but I pulled it off.

It’s About The Experience

I’ve noticed that my patients and my customers have a lot in common. They want to be confident the person they are entrusting, be it with their medical care or their budgeted dollars, has their best interest at heart. I’ve heard many speakers say patients do not remember the care they received, they remember the experience.

I always think of this as the green Jell-O phenomenon. I’m sure I didn’t coin that phrase and picked it up somewhere – but it fits. A patient may not know or remember their nurse catching a critical electrolyte imbalance. An imbalance which would likely have caused a cardiac arrhythmia. They don’t realize the nurse took it upon themselves (and had the courage) at 2am to call and wake up the on-call physician, intervening on their behalf, possibly saving their life. They most certainly will remember that they got orange Jell-O on their dinner tray instead of the requested green (can’t blame them, who likes orange Jell-O?). They definitely and fondly will remember the nurse, aide or volunteer who made a special trip down to the cafeteria to get them the green Jell-O they so desperately were craving. It is this experience that will have them speaking positively about the care they received.

Buyers don’t necessarily remember the differences between the screens and buttons in the software I sell versus the screens and buttons in the software my competitors sell (for the record, ours are much better…just saying). They remember the experience of the sale. An experience which includes mutual respect while providing accurate, pertinent, and valuable information and taking the time to understand their unique needs and concerns. All the while, building a solid level of trust for a long term business relationship.

In the end, I may not be a “real” nurse anymore, nor am I minimizing the amazing work clinicians do on a daily basis. Nursing is one of the most difficult and simultaneously most rewarding professions one can pursue. It takes a very special and dedicated person to continue to provide care, put their patients before themselves, and navigate the ever-changing healthcare landscape. I would like to think my nursing experience has provided me with a foundation on which to build solid business relationships and always consider what is best for my clients. Much like technical nursing skills, business acumen can be gained overtime. Remembering that patients and customers are human and really just want their green Jell-O is a lesson I learned as a nurse and will never forget.