Q&A with Nancy Haberstich, RN, MS, CEO of Nanobugs, Inc., Nurse Entrepreneur in Lincoln, Nebraska
Nancy Haberstich is a registered nurse, infection preventionist, health educator, self-employed consultant, and founder and owner of Nanobugs, Inc. She has a diploma in nursing from the Iowa Methodist School of Nursing, a bachelor's in healthcare services and a master's in healthcare administration from Cambridge International University. Nancy has more than 40 years of nursing experience, traveled extensively for the profession and developed Nanobugs, Inc. (www.nanobugs.com) in 2006 to both "entertain" and "educate" the masses about practical microbiology. Nancy was last featured in NEWS-Line for Nurses in 2008.
Q: What motivated you to become a nurse?
A: As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a nurse to help people and make a difference in their health. It seemed to be a Christian vocation assigned to me at my birth. When I was young, girls assumed they had only three career choices—become a teacher, a secretary or a nurse. I was attracted to nursing.
My mother shared with me, well into my nursing career, that she had always wanted to be a nurse. When her mother died when she was 12 years old, she had to help raise a younger brother. She married and had three children, and her dreams of a career in nursing flickered away. She did, however, become an office manager for a small family practice clinic and truly loved that job. As adults, we both wondered if she had selfishly influenced my career choice in order to live vicariously through my pursuit of nursing. My mother passed away last year on May 6th—National Nurses Day—and as I cared for her in hospice during those last days, I thought, "Doesn't matter, mom. My nursing career has served us both well. Thanks for any influence you provided."
Q: Can you describe the settings in which you have worked as a nurse?
A: I graduated from a diploma program with no debt because I had worked as a dental assistant for a local dentist, a nursing assistant at the hospital on the weekends and provided childcare for local families screened by the school of nursing. A small scholarship and these part-time jobs supported me through school and gave me experiences that enhanced my nursing education.
After graduation, I worked in the emergency room of a pediatric hospital, which quickly matured my skills and nursing judgments. I moved geographically with my new husband when he got his first career job. I found a job as a staff nurse on a large orthopedics unit. My next big step was to the position of clinical instructor for freshmen students in a diploma nursing program. I began lecturing and teaching skills labs in addition to the direct supervision of students on medical-surgical areas. I loved teaching and derived great pleasure in ensuring quality care of more patients through my students than I could provide as a single staff nurse. I brought my passion for teaching with me through the next geographic relocation—now a mother to two young daughters. I landed a position as infection control nurse in a 300+ bed hospital and matured in that role for 17 years. Now qualified with management skills, I was hired as a clinical specialist by a large medical products company and traveled around 14 states in the Midwest consulting with hospitals and teaching about prevention of UTIs and performance improvement strategies.
Q: You have also worked in international settings. What kind of nursing work have you done outside the United States?
A: In 1999, I accepted probably the biggest challenge of my career: serving as a global mission volunteer with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I went to Liberia, West Africa, to reopen a school of nursing and paramedical training programs which had been destroyed by 10 years of civil war. The project was funded by a generous grant from the government of Denmark and was to be completed in one year. This meant that I had to be a "quick study" of the culture and the history of the school. Before the war, the school of nursing had been a two-year program, and they wanted to expand it to a three-year diploma program and prepare graduates to function effectively in rural health clinics. My assignment was to direct the building renovation, which was done by other mission volunteers and local builders, design the curriculum with help from the West African College of Nursing, select and purchase the textbooks and training materials (skeleton and anatomical models, computers, VCR, CPR mannequins, etc.), hire qualified faculty for all programs (nursing, midwifery, laboratory technician, nurse midwifery, and nurse anesthetist) and supervise the application process for the first class of students. My reward for this volunteer work was to teach three classes in the first trimester after the school opened.
After returning home from Africa, I felt inspired to do international consulting work in infection prevention and control, and I was rehired by the medical products company for international assignments. I made 38 consulting/lecturing trips to Japan and developed a formal training course for nurses in Japan, graduating 151 nurses and one doctor over four years. I traveled to the UK 14 times to consult with hospitals and give lectures to nurses about infection prevention and control. In 1983, at the invitation of the Canadian Ministry of Health, I spent a month consulting with one of the Toronto hospitals involved in the SARS crisis, to redesign their infection prevention and control program.
Q: Do you have a memorable story you would like to share?
A: During one of my trips to the UK, I had the opportunity to visit the Florence Nightingale Museum in London. I concluded that Florence Nightingale was probably the first infection control nurse. Her strategies for infection prevention and her hospital designs lived on after the Crimean War and her death. This exposure to a very creative and courageous nurse fed my passion for infection prevention and empowered me to pursue novel approaches to infection issues.
Q: How did you make the transition to nurse entrepreneur?
A: After exposure to healthcare delivery in six countries on five continents, it was obvious to me that infection prevention was a top priority everywhere. Yet there was a lack of interest among nurses about microbiology and the principles of infection transmission. This compelled me to create a novel engaging teaching strategy for applied microbiology featuring cartoon microbes—the nanobugs. Foodborne nanobugs, sexually transmitted nanobugs, respiratory pathogens, urinary pathogens, normal flora nanobugs, probiotics—there was something for everybody!
My passion grew and my role evolved to infection preventionist and health educator. I transformed my retirement fund into a unique investment in the start-up of Nanobugs, Inc. I continued to consult in Japan and "nurse" my new business through its infancy. So, in the afternoon of my career, I have focused my attention on infection prevention outside the hospital—I want to help people prevent infections and therefore, avoid hospitalization, and the related agony and expense.
Q: Can you describe Nanobugs, Inc.?
A: Nanobugs, Inc. is a company that owns and manages intellectual property featuring cartoon microbes that are morphologically correct. Our mission is "to entertain and educate people of all ages about practical microbiology for the purpose of infection prevention and health promotion." At this time there are no employees, just me—the founder, CEO, infection preventionist, health educator and author. Nanobugs contracts all of the necessary people and services: artist, webmaster, ghostwriter, social media manager, bookkeeper, printing, product producers and distributors. The nanobugs office/headquarters is in my home. I fill orders from the online store directly although there are distributors that carry some of our products (one in the US and one in Canada). I am currently writing two books, one fiction and one non-fiction, that will facilitate our mission to entertain and educate. You can visit us at www.nanobugs.com and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nanobugs.
Q: What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
A: My responsibilities include blogging on the web site, posting on the Nanobugs Facebook Page, writing for the two books, filling orders from the online store, creating custom PowerPoint programs featuring the nanobugs, occasional presentations at local schools, colleges and daycare facilities, and before and after school childcare for my grandchildren.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you face in your role as CEO of your own company?
A: Maintaining an income while I continue to develop the business to the point where it can support its own growth and development. Strategic planning in today's economy is a real challenge.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Now that I am a nurse entrepreneur, I no longer "do a job;" I fill a "role" or more accurately, "roles" in the business I created. I am responsible for the company's mission and I am the keeper of our vision. My favorite activities in my role are writing and sharing my knowledge and expertise in creative ways that engage audiences.
Q: What do you like the least about your role as CEO of Nanobugs, Inc.?
A: The business management part—bookkeeping, tax documentation, etc.
Q: Are there other areas of interest for you as a nurse that you plan to pursue?
A: I would like to write more books and maybe a screenplay featuring the nanobugs. I have also considered getting credentialed as a health coach.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of entrepreneurship?
A: The flexibility and independence to follow your passion.
Q: How do you think the role of nurses has changed during your career?
A: Throughout my career I have watched nursing grow as we compiled the endless list of nursing diagnoses, and I even participated in one of the early workshops to write nursing diagnoses. We redefined the role of the nurse to include nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists, allowing advanced training of nurses and credentialing them in the areas of their passion. We've come a long way in the 40 years I have spent in the profession and it makes me proud.
Q: What advice do you have for other nurses?
A: I would really like to encourage nurses to consider expanding their career into the area of epidemiology. We have observed a graying of infection preventionists in the last few years and not so many young nurses are feeling a passion for this role. Infection prevention is a good place for a nurse who has come to nursing as a second career, building on a background in statistics, microbiology, management (especially business management), and even zoology.
One of the underlying objectives of the fiction book I am writing is to inspire young people (especially girls) to pursue careers in math and science, in particular, epidemiology. I think there is a growing need for epidemiologists, especially for the management and prevention of pandemics.
Q: If you could sum up your nursing career in one word, what would it be?
A: Maybe it would be best described as "onion"—because I peel off one layer and then enjoy the next challenge that is exposed.
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