Today, I finally cleaned out my nursing backpack. Feeling a weird combination of liberation and sadness, I unpacked all of my old nurse supplies along with the heavy emotions that are tied to them. I felt some sadness and uncertainty as I stood there asking myself if I’ll ever use these items again. I honestly don’t know if I will. I still feel confident that I am exactly where I am supposed to be in life. I don’t have any doubts about quitting my job but I do feel a little sad about this change in identity. Feelings of liberation stem from a place of no longer feeling tied down by a corporate-like job title. I feel free to be exactly who I am meant to be. At times, working as a nurse made me feel suppressed.
I feel sadness about closing this chapter in my life but I think it’s normal to feel sad about walking away from something while simultaneously understanding that walking away is the right thing to do. As the layers of an old identity shed, I can feel myself mourning that loss. So, today I am here to talk about some of the aspects of nursing that I love, some of the ways that nursing shaped me in a beautiful way, some of the reasons why I am grateful to have experienced this wild, crazy, and interesting profession, and some of the reasons why I will forever have respect for nurses on a much deeper level than I ever did before I became one myself.
1. It connected me with people from all walks of life.
As a nurse, I cared for inmates, drug addicts, people with severe mental health issues, homeless people and the list goes on. I didn’t just care for them, I built friendships with my patients. Being a nurse made me feel a sense of friendship with the confused 50-something-year-old man, who’s stroke left him with severe neurological deficits and constant falls led him to be restrained to the hospital bed. I restrained him myself one day with the help of a couple of coworkers and he twisted my arm while I was holding him down. We later laughed together as we chatted and I spoon fed him his meal.
2. It taught me to judge people less.
Being a nurse showed me that we’re all human beings. At the end of the day, we all live and die in a similar way no matter our story. We all live a life of love, heartache, joy and pain, we are just born into different environments and make different choices, landing everyone in a different situation because of it. Before I was a nurse, I was quicker to judge another person based on their appearance. I might have seen a person who looked strung out on drugs or homeless and immediately assumed they were a threat. Or maybe it would be the opposite end of the spectrum — seeing someone with designer clothes and assuming their life is easier than mine.
Either way, being a nurse showed me that we’re all human. That dirty looking wanderer is probably harmless and that nicely dressed person might have just had the worst day of their lives. You honestly just never know who a person is and what they’re going through. At the end of the day, we’re all going through something. I have a lot more empathy now.
3. I bonded with my coworkers on a deeper level.
I’ve met some really great people at all of the jobs I’ve had in my life but I have never connected with any coworkers in the way that I did with my fellow nurses. Something about performing an enema together just really bonds you with someone (I’m not even kidding). It was hard not to get close with the nurses who have trained me. After multiple twelve hour shifts together, you just start to notice all of a person’s qualities and you really get to know each other. The true difficulty of being a nurse is something that I wouldn’t fully understand had I not been one myself. A mutual struggle can really connect people and working in healthcare is definitely an incredible challenge.
4. It strengthened me and gave me confidence.
Nurses are badasses. It’s impossible to do this type of work without letting it harden you a bit. After a while of working as a nurse I realized that I never really knew what I would be walking into on a given day. I didn’t know if I’d discharge six patients and admit six more in the same day. I didn’t know if I would be running around nonstop, sweating profusely. Or maybe I would have a nice, calm day, with a perfect work flow. Then again, I could also have a day where my patient falls in the bathroom and five people have to help me pull her up off of the floor. You honestly just never know. Every day as a nurse is a complete wild card. It teaches you to feel like you’re prepared for anything and makes you feel unfazed in the face of absolute absurdity.
5. It is interesting.
Working in a hospital is so genuinely interesting. There are so many different things going on within a hospital at any given moment. As a nurse, I learned about all types of medical conditions I had never heard of, I met some very interesting people (patients and coworkers), and I sat with some people in some of the hardest times in their lives. A new born baby could be taking their first breath, while someone else takes their last just a few floors down.
6. It gave me a different perspective on life.
I’ve gained a lot of respect for healthcare workers but I’ve gained a lot of respect for hospital patients as well. These patients are so incredibly sick and to add to that stress of fighting an illness or recovering from a serious injury, simply being in a hospital tends to make people feel even worse. All hospital patients have a complete lack of privacy and they rarely get to breathe fresh air or see the sun — and let’s not even get into hospital food…
Patients also lose the ability to sleep through the night without regular interruptions. Whether they’re a perfectly healthy adult, just here for the night because one of their lab values was off after coming into the ED with diarrhea or a patient who’s come from a nursing home with hardly any ability to even communicate, bound to the bed and barely responsive with no family involved to advocate for them — being in the hospital sucks.
Seeing these patients fighting their own battles gave me a new perspective on my own life and my own struggles. It was a constant reminder that no matter how bad things may feel, the sun will rise again tomorrow.
7. It made me proactive.
When working as a nurse, you are forced to be proactive. If something doesn’t seem right with your patient or a lab value or vital sign is off, it is expected that you take action immediately. At some jobs, nurses are so busy that if action isn’t taken immediately there’s a good chance it could get forgotten about because there is so much going on at once. So basically, whether or not it intimidates you to call that doctor, you’d better do it ASAP because it’s now or never. I’m so much more proactive in my day-to-day life now because of this.
8. I gained professional skills.
Becoming a nurse showed me what it is like to work in corporate America. I learned to speak up in a group setting, give presentations, introduce myself to a room full of strangers, and the difference between professional attire and business casual. Nursing has shown me that I’d rather not work for someone else but if I had to do so again, I’ve got the professional skills in my back pocket. And honestly, professional skills are beneficial to have in life whether you own a business or work for a corporation, so I’m super grateful to have gained these skills.
9. It taught me to advocate for myself.
Being a nurse showed me how important it is to ask for help. If you’re drowning at work and you don’t let anyone know, they can’t help you and drowning as a nurse is a whole other level of feeling “in the weeds”, trust me. The simple concept of asking for help during a busy day at work is something I’ve started to apply to all aspects of my life and it is having a profound effect.
I’ve realized that the most difficult conversations are the most important ones to have. The day I called my boss to quit my job, was one of the strongest moments of my life. It was so intimidating and so scary to make that call, but also so liberating and one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve been continuing to advocate for myself since, speaking up about what’s on my mind and saying what needs to be said. I’m not going to lie, it feels really damn good and has brought me so much peace.
10. It showed me that I can do anything.
Aside from being a mom, working as a nurse is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Honestly, I once thought I didn’t even have what it takes to apply to a nursing program. I thought it was only for straight A students and that has never been me. But then, I got into nursing school. During nursing school there were so many times when I thought I’d fail out. I constantly questioned my ability to make it through such a rigorous program. Then, I graduated. After I took my board exams, I was sure I had failed it. Then, I passed.
The reality is, you can accomplish literally anything if you apply yourself (as cheesy as it sounds) and becoming a nurse is how I’ve proven this to myself. Whether it be conquering a crazy shift, transferring an obese patient back to bed by yourself, passing an insanely challenging exam, running a marathon, it is possible. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
I’ve realized that every job I’ve had has helped me gain something. I’ve noticed a point at every job at which I said, “I’m finished here, I’ve gotten what I need and I’m done.” The day I called my boss and took that uncomfortable step to act in my own best interest, was the day I felt that closure in regards to nursing. I will always hold the time in my life when I experienced this profession close to my heart.
I still think about a lot of my patients, and wonder where they are or how they’re doing. I think about all of those patients that I’ll never meet, that are in there fighting as we speak. I think about my past nurse coworkers all the time too.
To nurses and patients alike, I say: I love you all, I’m wishing you the best, and most importantly, thank you for having me.