Why I Became a Nurse Educator
Sometimes, not really very recently, people ask me why I became a nurse. This is an easy question to answer now; not so easy when I was contemplating my future life through the eyes of a 17-year old. Born into a traditional Catholic family, the fourth of twelve children, I grew up in an atmosphere within which self sacrifice and working for the good of others was innate. We grew up taking care of one another and helping Mom and Dad in the house, in the barn, and in the gardens. The family business was in horticulture, we grew plants and flowers to sell. The family size was large; we grew fruit and vegetables to feed us all winter. We had, at most, a dozen horses and, usually, a few cows and steers.
With the amount of time spent outside in the early morning before school and the evenings after practice, the effort put forth to feed, water, and sometimes medicate the animals, I naturally gravitated toward more agrarian and rural pursuits. In freshman year of high school, I took an educational offering known as “Career Ed.” Career Ed was an actual course, one was graded on what one produced in this class. The part I remember, other than amazement at actually obtaining credit for doing essentially nothing, was the computer program. This program had the user input data about their interests, pleasures, and ideas and, based on those inputs, it spit out on double tractor-feed paper, what you should become when you grow up. I don’t know if I would be any happier as a horse trainer, a chicken farmer, or a park ranger, but those were my top three results.
Not being independently wealthy nor wishing to live as a pauper, I fairly quickly rejected these three options. The idea grew and blossomed in my head that the life for me was that of a large-animal veterinarian. I admit to reading James Herriot with great pleasure and many a chuckle and thus romanticizing the possible challenges that this life might pose to a family-oriented woman. I was all for it until I found out that one could not be a professional veterinarian without a good 8 years of schooling. This did not sit particularly well with me. I was hoping to achieve professional status in a bit less time than 8 years.
I can remember lying on the rug up on the third floor of my parents’ farmhouse in upstate New York, staring at the ceiling and listening to Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Keith Whitley, and The Oak Ridge Boys on the turntable of my brothers’ stereo. I thought while I listened and I lamented the fact that one had to grow up at all, being a child is about the best gig I can think of. Since I clearly couldn’t continue living the idyllic life I had thus been accustomed to, I set out to become a grown up, a person with a job, a life of their own, a responsible adult.
How does a 17-year old go about making such weighty decisions? I floundered for awhile, and then I fell back on faith and family. I mentioned at the start that growing up in my family bred in me a sense of duty, of care-taking. It also fostered a healthy understanding of self sacrifice and the value it brings. With these tenets in mind, I began to focus on Nursing. I was a nurse for Halloween when I was a preschooler. The white cap and the cute little dress and medical bag were not what appealed to me — it was the value that I saw in care-taking, in giving of oneself for the good of others.
Growing up Catholic gave me a desire to do good. I wanted my career to be something that would provide good for others. I wanted it to be something good in the eyes of God. I wanted it to make a difference in the grand scheme of things, to leave a mark on the lives of those I touched. If I was going to go to College and spend lots of money on becoming something, I wanted it to be a good thing and I wanted to be good at it.
Looking back at the decision now, I recognize that goodness can be found in all professions and in all lives lived in the service of God, but at 17 I found no desire to try business or finance or even becoming a doctor. These would all take either too much time to achieve, or once achieved become a harsh task master, dictating my time, limiting time with the family I hoped to mother.
So I went to college and became a nurse. I took the NCLEX Exam in Albany the summer after graduation. It was all on paper and I had to wait three months to find out if I passed. In the meantime, I took pretty much everything I owned, stuffed it into a soft sided suitcase and a couple of boxes, threw them in the back of an old station wagon, and with a boom box, a bunch of D batteries and a box of cassette tapes, took off for Arizona. I didn’t know what I wanted, but like Dan Seals, I was “Headin’ West!”
I became a nurse. I adjusted to caring for others in need every bit as well as I had hoped. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge, the interpersonal communication and the sense of purpose that it gave to me. Nursing gave me the platform to climb higher, to be more, to be better; I found the helping, the giving, the challenge of pushing myself to my limits exhilarating. Caring for the sickest of the sick in an environment rich with resources and top-notch teamwork has been an amazing experience. The interaction with the patient and the family, friends and loved ones has made for an utterly fulfilling career. I am a better mother because I was a nurse first. I am a better wife because I was a nurse first. I am a better listener, care-taker, advocate and joy finder because I have been a nurse. All of this is from God, the gifts He has given to me, the vision to see my path toward my perfect career and the grace, strength and faith to carry it out — all gifts. God is so good.
Faith had always been a part of my life and the rosary was a favorite form of prayer for me. I wasn’t a perfect Catholic, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even fully understand what that meant. I didn’t want to be Catholic just because my family was Catholic and just because I grew up Catholic and just because I had always been Catholic. I wanted to discover my faith on my own, away from everything I had known. I wanted to find the answers to questions and beliefs and misconceptions. I wanted to know more deeply why I believed what I believed. I prayed my rosary and went to Mass. I always prayed my rosary and went to Mass.
About 2 years into my Arizona odyssey, I was contemplating either a move to the ICU or a move back to hearth and home in NY, I met a man. A man who challenged me, questioned me, kindled in me a fire to know more, to explain well, to be able to defend my faith and hope. I thought, “Wow, I need to see where this goes…” So, I chose the ICU and the budding relationship. He was not a Catholic, but that never kept him from accompanying me to Mass, week in and week out. As we got serious and it looked like we might actually have a real thing, we discussed religious unity and the need for a united faith when raising children. He suggested that we seek the Truth of Christ together and follow wherever that might lead us. I readily agreed, and we both deepened our faith in God through the journey. Our relationship grew to an engagement and then to marriage and conversion. Mike has been an amazing convert, a Catholic man very well able to defend the hope that is in him. His generosity of spirit is impressive, and I would do well to imitate it. God has blessed this marriage with six beautiful, wonderful, faithful children and through it all, I have still been able to keep my Nursing career, with it’s benefits and blessings, sorrows and challenges.
Nursing was everything I thought it would be. I have given it everything I have and I have seen more joy and suffering than I had known was possible. I have had triumphs and failures and made mistakes and learned from them. I am in my element. I love the challenge. I love God and I love my husband, my children, my family. Faith and family are my strengths. I am a better mother because I was a nurse first. I am a better wife because I was a nurse first. I am a better listener, care-taker, advocate and joy finder because I have been a nurse. All of this is from God, the gifts He has given to me, the vision to see my path toward my perfect career and the grace, strength and faith to carry it out — all gifts. God is so good.
Nowadays, I am a nurse educator. This career move was a difficult one for me, because of the part Nursing has always played in my life. I did not know what to expect walking away from the bedside, my place for 25 years. I only knew that the long hours were becoming hard on the children and hard on Mike, so the choice was obvious. With the shorter hours came more days of work, but shorter days. I am able to be “Mom” so much more effectively. Presence during practice, picking up after homework club, attending games, making dinner, helping with homework, saying nightly prayers, reading and telling stories, tucking in at night, answering questions, having necessary conversations. These are the years I need to be at home. I can’t be off saving the world when I’m needed here, by the people entrusted to me by God. So, nowadays, I teach ICU nurses. I have not lost all that I have become in the journey, I have taken those experiences and molded it into a different approach. The effect is the same; patients will receive better care because I was at work.
I’ve been teaching for a year and a half now and when I am asked why I became an Educator, I can say the same things I said as a seventeen-year old: I wanted my career to be something that would provide good for others. I wanted it to be something good in the eyes of God. I wanted it to make a difference in the grand scheme of things, to leave a mark on the lives of those I touched. Teaching the current generation of intensive care nurses qualifies on all counts.