LIFE EXPERIENCES and events often provide a catalyst for career decisions and trajectories. I reflect upon that premise as I try to remember the moment when I decided to become a nurse.
Starched white cap
I recall as a 5-year-old watching my favorite aunt graduating from St. Catherine's School of Nursing. How awesome she looked in her crisp white uniform dress, stockings, and clinic shoes!! Wearing a winged, starched white cap with a thin black stripe, she resembled Sally Field in TheFlying Nun. She was enveloped in a navy blue full-length wool cape complete with brass buttons, epaulets, and a red satin lining that was mesmerizing. My aunt was the embodiment of the mystery-solving nurse Cherry Ames from the books I read as a child, and adventures awaited her-or so I thought. I so wanted to be my aunt!! Was that why I became a nurse?
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My grandfather came to live with us following an above-the-knee amputation, a complication of diabetes. I was 7 years old and remember the glass and metal syringes boiling in a small pot on the stove. Amazed and frightened, I watched him inject milky white insulin. I helped him scoot around the house on his buttocks to get to the bathroom. I retrieved his dropped canes, crutches, and the heavy metal and plastic -artificial leg that never quite fit or worked right. I recall my mother saying, "Go help Poppa," or "Go give Poppa a snack." There were many "rescuing Poppa" incidents, but I mostly remember the turmoil that his living with us caused. He died when I was 12-we cared for Poppa for a long time. Was that why I became a nurse?
Caring for Poppa was replaced by caring for my younger brother, who had autism. Although he appeared "normal," his social interaction was greatly impaired. Autism wasn't understood in those days, and the only real "treatment" was institutionalization. My brother became a target of neighborhood bullies. I ran interference for him, learning early on how to read body language and be mindful of people and events that could pose a physical or psychological threat. I grew up advocating for his safety. Was that why I became a nurse?
Did I choose nursing because it gave me a sense of purpose? Or because it gave me structure and a sense of self during my developmental years? I can't identify the moment I became a nurse because it seems I've always been a nurse. My life has been shaped by caring for others.
I graduated from a diploma nursing program and returned throughout my career to obtain Bachelor's and Master's degrees in nursing. I've been teaching nursing students for many years and I always ask them, "What brought you to nursing?" I marvel at the number of students who tell me about a nurse who touched their lives and inspired them to join the profession.
Nurses are unique-we touch the hearts and souls of those around us. We help others "grow up" in safety and health and, in turn, perhaps help them grow toward nursing as a career.
As I conclude my doctoral studies, I reflect on a personal philosophy of nursing and nursing education. I believe that nursing is based on caring, humanitarianism, altruism, and self-actualization for individuals through wellness, understanding, education, and technical skill acquisition. I see potential in all my students and nurture their desire to improve. I view my ability to teach others the art and science of nursing as a mission. That's why I became a nurse.