The Journey of a Former Ameritech Student and Nurse Extraordinaire
Some people might call Mark Sanderson a workaholic, but for the former fire chief, that’s just life. Working two full-time jobs while going to school was no picnic, but he wanted a change in career, and that’s what it took.
“I used to think the fire job was the perfect job,” Sanderson says. “Hanging out with the guys, getting four days off. But during the past 18 months I’ve been in school, I’ve tried to convince every fireman who comes in here to plan an exit strategy.”
That’s a good thing to consider.
An emergency worker with a plan
Having been a policeman, EMT, fireman, and fire chief, the physical demands of the job were starting to take a toll and Sanderson knew he wanted to continue a career in a field he could pursue over time.
Going back to school at Ameritech gave Sanderson the opportunity he was looking for.
“I bounced between every college in Utah: BYU, Utah State, University of Utah, Southern Utah,” Sanderson says. “I had all these credits just lingering out there.”
“In 2010, I decided to pull it all together. I knew I had to have something to show for all this education! I got my bachelors in emergency management with an emphasis on management. Because I was in school mode and eligible for retirement (from the fire department), I thought I might retire and be a paramedic. But I thought it would be so cool to be a nurse and stay in the hospital.”
Mark Sanderson’s journey to nursing has been a winding road. He finished his work to earn his BSN in December of 2016 and is now the director of emergency services at Mountain Point Medical Center in Lehi, Utah.
Related resource: 10 Reasons to Get Your Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing
A nursing specialty: emergency medicine
But even before Sanderson earned his BSN, he knew he wanted to go into emergency medicine.
“After I passed the NCLEX and became an RN,” Sanderson recalls, “I got a full-time job as an ER nurse. I was also still working a full-time job as fire chief, and I had a part-time job flying life flight. I’m lucky that I like to work and I’m always happy. I’m excited to go to work every day of my life.”
Of course, working 80-plus hours per week doesn’t leave room for much else — even if you do love your work. Shortly after taking the job in the emergency room, Sanderson got a phone call that would redirect his life.
“The CEO of Iasis Healthcare called me,” Sanderson says. “He wanted to interview me for a nurse manager job at the new hospital. I was puzzled, because I’d only been a nurse for one year and I was just an RN. But I sat down with the CEO, even though I didn’t think I had a shot at the position. It was the best interview ever. I wanted that job because of the hospital’s philosophy and their leadership style. The next day, I got a job offer. The recruiter called and offered me a salary.”
Related resource: The 7 Highest-Paying Nursing Specialties
But, before accepting, Sanderson wanted to be sure the job was a good fit. He asked to meet with the CEO again and asked more questions.
“After two more hours, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is totally the job for me!’” Sanderson took the job.
“Since the hospital was new, I had an opportunity to hire all the nurses,” Sanderson explains. “Just like I did at the fire department. I was selective. I only hire people I know have good work ethic and are awesome people. It only takes one bad nurse to mess up the whole system.”
“I spent a month going through hundreds of applications to hire 200 people. That was 18 months ago — we’ve doubled our volume. We’ve kept most of the same staff, which says something.”
Then it was time for annual evaluations. The new hospital had even measures of RNs and BSNs, and a lot of the RNs wanted to go back to school for their bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“I didn’t want to be that guy who still didn’t have his BSN, even though I was already in administration.” The hospital hired another person to assume some of Sanderson’s work on the floor, giving him an opportunity to go back to school one more time. “I was able to complete my BSN — I just turned in my 29-page paper last Saturday — so I’m done!”
“It was crazy sitting at my desk last night, and I didn’t have something to do!” Sanderson says. “It was so weird. I’ve done six years of school while maintaining at least two full-time jobs. Now it’s time to be a husband to my wife, and do all the things I’ve missed over the last 25 years of working. And I still get to take care of patients. I get to practice what I learned. I really have a great life right now.”
Related resource: 8 Qualities of the Best Jobs During Nursing School
The next frontier: a new career as a nurse
Sanderson thinks he made a good decision to transfer his emergency medicine skills, used so often as a fireman, to nursing administration.
“My job now is an administrative position, but we’re small enough and still growing, so I still get to take care of patients. I want to take care of patients. During my interview, I asked for an office in the ER and the ability to take my own patient load.”
“Some days are administrative, but I still love taking care of patients. We all do. We have amazing nurses who love what they do. Our patient satisfaction scores are great, and I’m pretty sure our nurses all enjoy coming to work,” Sanderson says. “That’s one of my main responsibilities: Making sure our nurses love coming to work.”
Rekindling a passion might seem like it came naturally to Sanderson, but having already had the experience of a career with a leadership role, he knew going back to school wouldn’t be easy.
Related resource: A Lifetime of Learning for Ameritech Graduate Keith Cunningham
“I’ve always been a good student, but never really applied myself,” Sanderson says. “I got into a statistics class that was really kicking my butt.”
“I don’t know what flipped in me, but when I got a couple of low scores, I got frustrated at my own lack of discipline. I just buckled down and decided, ‘I’m getting A’s in these classes no matter what.’ I was halfway through and thought, ‘I wonder if I can get a 4.0?’ And I did! It was hard, since I was working the whole time, but I made it. It was fun.”
Now, Sanderson finds himself with a household full of good-natured competition.
Two of Mark’s four sons had an interest in nursing from a young age. When they graduated from high school, they they both wanted to go straight into nursing school. “I wanted them to make sure they loved taking care of people, so I encouraged them to get their CNAs and work in a long-term care unit first.”
In fact, two of Sanderson’s daughters-in-law were in the nursing program, too. The former firefighter looks forward to sharing the graduation stage with one of them.
“With four boys,” he says, “I thought I’d have a house full of firefighters. But they’re all in healthcare! It’s a house full of nurses.”
Related resource: Which Medical Specialty Best Fits Your Personality?
Working in emergency healthcare administration is just the latest way Sanderson demonstrates care. The future will likely hold more jobs, and maybe more education, for the nurse. But for now, it’s everything he’s looking for.
“I love the ER,” Sanderson says. “Because it’s always a different patient with their own situation. It’s never routine ever, and I love that. Never knowing what’s coming through the door keeps you on your toes. I just want to be there every time, because that’s how you learn. One experience you’ve had with one patient may benefit another patient.
“A nurse will always have a job,” Sanderson says. “You might not always love it, but you’ll never be unemployed.”
Unemployment has never been a problem for Mark Sanderson, but nursing is one career that helps him find his passion in caring for people over and over again.
To learn more about Ameritech’s nursing program, visit our program page.