1. Meinecke, Judy RN, IBCLC

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AS I WALK INTO the auditorium and take my seat, the air is charged with excitement and anticipation. The day is finally here.

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As I wait for the ceremony to start, my mind wanders back 25 years. I see a younger me, ready to undertake a new career. I can still feel the relief that my long years of study were over...little did I know that the study never really ends! Memories of my first job make me shake my head and smile. It was so many years ago.


End of an era

After all these years in nursing, I know the time to hang up my stethoscope is near. I can feel it in my tired bones, my aching back, my sore feet, my crying knees every time I walk up and down those long hospital corridors.


Retirement is a bittersweet moment that I ran toward as I raced through my career. But now that it looms on the horizon, I find myself dragging my feet. It's the end of an era, the beginning of the rest of my life.


Since my graduation in 1986, I've had the opportunity to work in various nursing roles, including direct caregiver and nurse manager. I worked holidays, extra shifts, and weekends. I missed my daughter's activities; her Dad had to fill in for both of us. I served on numerous committees and drafted new policies and procedures. I did anything I could to make nursing practice better and easier for those who came behind me.


A new generation steps up

Now, I yearn to turn these responsibilities over to a younger and more energetic generation of nurses. They face new challenges that none of us could have foreseen: computers, productivity numbers, cutbacks, a larger population of older adults, immigrants with health problems we haven't seen before, and language barriers. They'll find mentors and friends along the way and encounter situations that will tax their minds and their hearts-just as we were tested all those years ago.


I watch as they file in, bright and eager to join the fold, anticipation in their eyes and smiles on their faces. Soon they'll begin their journey toward proficiency and will become the experienced ones leading others.


I wish for these new nurses a willing mentor, someone who loves the profession and enjoys teaching. I hope they find an experienced nurse to show them the way, and who also remembers what it was like to be the new kid on the block: the novice who has to ask questions all the time.


The first speaker takes the podium. The introductions begin and I wait anxiously. Her name is called and I am called, her mother, the one who will place her RN pin on her very first white uniform. The privilege is overwhelming and my eyes tear. My hands shake as I place that hard-earned pin, watch her eyes smile at mine, and know that I've encouraged her in this quest for a career that I've embraced for 25 years.


I hope I've prepared her for this role, that I've given her a true picture of what it means to be a nurse, and that I've been a role model she can emulate with pride. I hope she finds a job she loves with coworkers who will welcome her, teach her, and sustain her through the times that will try her spirit and her will in the coming days and years.


To all new nursing graduates, I say "Welcome!" Be proud of what you've accomplished and be ready to take the wheel. Many of us are waiting for you so we can move on to the next phase of our lives. We'll make sure that you're secure in your expertise, happy in your setting, and self-sufficient. Then, like all good parents, we'll step aside and let you take over. We'll rest easy in the knowledge that when we need you, you'll be there for us, just like we were there for you.