1. Macatangay, Garrick
  2. Lim, Fidelindo DNP, CCRN

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FILM IS a potent medium for aesthetic knowing in education.1 For nursing students in particular, films have the potential to evoke emotional responses to situations they may not have the chance to experience firsthand. The documentary American Nurse, produced and directed by Carolyn Jones, is one such film.2


Unveiling the work life of nurses on screen resonates with certain philosophical questions: How do nurses know nursing? What does it mean to nurse someone? Inspired by the care she received during her experience with breast cancer, Jones has immortalized in film the virtue of nursing and the virtuosity of nurses. Watching the film prompted me to reflect on my pursuit of a career in nursing and examine my personal philosophy of the profession.


Finding a path to nursing

My decision to become a nurse was initially based on a desire to live a life of social responsibility. Though still a novice, I view nursing as rooted in action but fundamentally a practice in selflessness, unconditional respect for others, and preservation of dignity of the person-patient. This film validated my informed decision to enter nursing school.


Like some nurses featured in the film, I took an unconventional path to nursing. Jason Short was a truck driver and mechanic before he pursued nursing. Before Brian McMillon began to care for wounded soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, he simply made a choice to follow an idea proposed by his father. For me, the unconditional support of my family allowed me to pursue many dreams.


My first degree was in molecular and cell biology. Shortly after graduating in 2001, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a professional dancer, which I enjoyed for several years. It let me experience the world and perform alongside many talented people. However, in between jumps, turns, and splits, I thought about my contributions to society and how I could help others. Dissatisfaction with a performing life that began to seem superficial and self-serving led me to activism in the service of others.


Nursing activism in history

I'm drawn to nursing because it's inherently a vehicle for individual and collective activism. By that, I mean "taking action to affect social change."3 This phenomenon is ingrained in nursing history. Florence Nightingale was doubtless an activist. Her activism propelled her into legend as she saved countless lives during the Crimean War by instituting sanitary practices. Through research and old-fashioned lobbying, she affected social policies by sharing lifesaving data with government officials. As a teacher, she set the groundwork for professional nursing education.4


Another example of activism, illustrated in American Nurse, is that of visiting nurse Jason Short, whose commitment to care for a marginalized population exposes the struggle with poverty and drug addiction in a part of America not commonly seen on prime-time TV. Traveling to the remote areas of Appalachia, Jason reminds nurses of their potential and limitations as healthcare providers as they navigate complex systems and care for patients with incurable diseases. Each nurse portrayed in the film evoked a certain quality of activism innate to nursing-an action motivated by a sincere desire to make a difference, rather than a desire for recognition. I'll take care to remain authentic to this ideal as I become a nurse.


A dignified profession

Though I see the power of nurse activism, what's most profound is the daily practice of unconditional respect and preservation of patient dignity, portrayed unapologetically in the film.


Of the five nurses in the film, Tonia Faust resonated with me most for the palliative care she provided to inmates of a maximum-security prison in Louisiana. Directing the prison hospice unit, Faust wasn't concerned with the morality or ethics of what brought the prisoners there; rather, she focused on providing quality care where it was needed most. I was moved by the way Faust respected the dignity of each person during her interactions with the terminally ill. She listened to prisoners make amends for past wrongdoings and cared for them without judgment or reproach. Although my clinical experiences are limited, I see something remarkable in caring for someone unconditionally.


Like many students new to nursing, I'm beginning to glimpse aspects of the human condition formerly unknown to me. Recently, for example, I took care of a patient who was blind and had lost most of his ability to perform activities of daily living. For this patient, eating, bathing, and using the toilet now demand expert nursing care. As an observer and a participant at the bedside, I feel that the soul of nursing lies in performing the simplest of tasks for our patients. My philosophy of nursing is grounded in the virtues of altruism, activism, and unrestricted regard for human dignity. Applying these virtues requires authentic knowledge of oneself and the values that motivate one's practice. I was drawn to nursing by a sense of social responsibility, but becoming a nurse also requires years of practice, collaboration, and cooperation.


My views on nursing will evolve over time, but I'm resolute about the principles that brought me here. Providing respectful and dignified patient-centered acts of service is the enduring promise of nursing. I look forward to fulfilling that honor.




1. Carper B. Fundamental patterns of knowing in nursing. ANS Adv Nurs Sci. 1978;1(1):13-23. [Context Link]


2. Jones C. The American Nurse [DVD]. United States: Carolyn Jones Productions; 2014. [Context Link]


3. Andrew X. ed. Introduction to Activism. Permanent Culture Now. 2014. [Context Link]


4. Fleming S. Advocating Change and Developing Policies in Practice. Minority Nurse. 2014. [Context Link]