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From the Emergency Room to the Board Room

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5 things I learned on my unexpected and unconventional career path.

Code Blue — Emergency Resuscitation. My first Code Blue as a new ER nurse. A man had collapsed while walking his dog. The EMS team radioed ahead — he had no pulse and they were performing CPR in the ambulance. They were five minutes out. I watched wide-eyed as the veteran ER team was setting up equipment, and getting ready to perform carefully rehearsed roles. My heart was racing, but the team was chatting nonchalantly — another “day at the office.” I couldn’t imagine how I could ever get used to desperate situations like I was about to face.

The attending physician saw how nervous I was and said “Cara, you have one job. Apply the blood pressure cuff and hit the button on the monitor. When the reading comes up, announce the blood pressure to the code team.” Moments later, the patient was wheeled in, and the room became a flurry of carefully choreographed activity. With blood pressure cuff in hand, I worked my way to the top of the gurney, ready to do my job.

But, this patient didn’t have an arm — he was an amputee. Without missing a beat, I reached the blood pressure cuff across the gurney, where the patient had an arm for another nurse to use. And, at that moment, learned a valuable lesson about my new career. Always expect the unexpected.

I spent the next twelve years as an Emergency room nurse, honing a skill set that I believed was specific and non-transferable. I learned many valuable life lessons along the way. I learned to do things calmly that I never imagined I would be capable of.

When I decided to leave nursing and become the CEO of my own start-up company, I knew I was in for a steep learning curve. What I never considered, however, was that the lessons learned in ER would serve me well on my journey as an entrepreneur and CEO. Here are the top five lessons that I learned as a nurse that helped me transition into my new role.


On the surface, emergency room chaos looks a lot different than CEO chaos. But both jobs require calm, collected thinking and action in the face of a million distractions. In both domains, compartmentalizing and remaining laser-focused is essential to success. I realized that, in the ER, I had developed the ability to tune out distractions during times of stress with practice and intention. I had learned that releasing what you cannot control, is a key to keeping a clear head in the code room and the board room. I obviously could not control that my first code patient didn’t have the appendage that I needed to successfully perform my assigned task. Instead, I had to pivot. Turns out the ability to pivot is an important skill both nurses and CEOs need.


In the ER, sometimes, whatever the team is doing, isn’t working, and a patient is at imminent risk. In those moments, knowing when to raise the flag, and having the confidence to speak up, is a matter of life or death. Thankfully, pivots in business strategy are rarely matters of life and death. But, they still involve flexible thinking, trusting my gut, and removing my ego. Timing is also critical in both areas. Pivoting too soon or too late can both be fatal. Knowing the difference between an obstacle that can be overcome and one that can’t is a major key to success.


People erroneously assume that nursing is a task-driven profession. Quite the opposite. A proficient nurse does not robotically checkboxes and complete tasks. Rather he or she must accurately interpret, analyze and evaluate information from a variety of sources and reach valid conclusions. Those conclusions dictate appropriate clinical actions. Similarly, as a CEO I have learned to look at situations and scenarios from multiple angles and then imagine several different ways to proceed. Systematically thinking in an open way, introduces innovation and uncovers solutions that expand the opportunities for success.


Triage means to sort. Every ER has triage nurses. Their role is to make a preliminary assessment of how urgent a patient’s medical needs are. This job requires quick, accurate decisions. Business triage is similar. It involves — in an environment of limited resources — what needs to come next and what can afford to wait. Granted, in the business context, this involves assessing both threats and opportunities. As a CEO I use triaging to make thoughtful decisions about what I need to address immediately and what can afford to wait. I know that self-care cannot always be pushed to the bottom of the list if I’m going to keep my mind and body sharp enough to meet the never-ending demands of a growing business.


When ER teams don’t communicate and work together effectively, it doesn’t end well. In business, as in the ER, leaders need to assemble top-flight teams with a wide range of complementary skills. These team members need to communicate effectively and work together synergistically. At Baby Barista, one of our greatest strengths is the determination and cohesion of our founding team. Everyone is deeply committed to our mission, ready to “step up” at a moment’s notice, and willing to wear many hats. We rely on a culture of transparency, honesty, and mutual support. This culture encourages the presentation of valuable ideas in a supportive, judgment-free environment.

Baby Barista directly benefits from the commitment each member of our team has to help each other become their “best selves”. If you are considering taking a leap of faith and leaving the safety of an established career to chase a dream, pursue a passion, or run your own company — you can be confident that you, too, have many transferable skills that will guide your journey and lead you to success.



Cara Armstrong is the Founder and CEO of Baby Barista, mother of three, and a passionate advocate for the special needs community. To learn more about Cara and her entrepreneurial journey, go to You can follow Baby Barista on Instagram at @mybabybarista and her daughter Mia at @count_mia_in