It’s midnight and your toddler has a fever. You could wait till morning to call the doctor or head to the ER immediately. What should you do?
Elizabeth Cote, RN, hears this question all the time. Elizabeth is a health coach for the Informed Health Line, a 24/7 hotline for Aetna members. For two decades, Elizabeth has been working the phones, addressing health concerns as minor as a sore throat and as serious as a new cancer diagnosis. Here, she shares her health ambitions and what it’s like to help others for a living.
Q: What motivated you to become a nurse?
A: I developed an interest in science during my middle school years. But I didn’t think about becoming a nurse until I worked at a local nursing home in high school. I realized I wanted to be part of a caring profession. Nurses have the benefit of earning a living while making a positive impact on others’ lives.
Q: What’s your background?
A: I’ve been at Aetna for 19 years. Prior to that, I worked primarily in hospital settings. I also worked with the Visiting Nurse Associations of America and at an outpatient ambulatory clinic.
Q: What do you like most about your current role?
A: I like the variety of calls we receive. Even though I no longer work in a clinical setting, researching health topics for members has allowed me to stay up-to-date on many areas of the health care field.
Q: Can you describe a call that really stands out in your memory?
A: A few months ago, I received a call from a woman in her twenties who had a history of asthma. She was out taking a walk in a secluded area when she suddenly developed tightness in her chest and difficulty breathing. She was unable to speak in complete sentences. Typically, we try to have members call 911 from their location, but I did not want to hang up since she was alone and her breathing was becoming more labored.
I quickly sent a group message to the other Informed Health Line nurses. One nurse was able to reach emergency services near the member’s location. Help arrived within 10 minutes.
Q: Who do you admire most in the world?
A: Mother Teresa. Her life was an inspiration. My favorite quote of hers is, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
Q: What’s the one word people most often use to describe you?
Q: What’s the best piece of health advice you ever received?
A: Stay active and positive.
Q: What’s your health ambition?
A: Getting in shape in time for the New Hampshire Spartan Race (famous for its obstacles and messy conditions) this September.
Q: What is your go-to healthy snack?
Q: What has been your most fulfilling professional moment?
A: Many years ago, while I was working at a hospital, I was caring for a 30-year-old woman with breast cancer. It was Mother’s Day, and her condition deteriorated quicker than expected. This was a time before cell phones, but with a little effort I was able to make calls to track down her husband and two young daughters so they could make it to the hospital in time to say goodbye. In nursing, you deal with a lot of joy, and a lot of sadness. In both cases it’s gratifying to be able to help in some small way.
About the author
Emily Leland is a writer and marketing professional living in Charleston, SC. Her goal is more exercise, less caffeine and finding balance as a working mom.