By Ann Worley, RN
I often tell people that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was 30. That was when I returned to college to become a nurse — a decision that changed my life. I have been an RN for more than 30 years and recently earned an MSN with a specialization in nursing education. I cherish the opportunities I’ve had to mentor students in their fourth year practicums on my unit. I tell them nursing is a career that requires your heart, your head and your hands.
If your passion is caring for people at their most vulnerable moments, ministering to their physical and emotional needs, then nursing is the career for you. You are called upon to give from the depths of your very being — your skill, your knowledge and even your spiritual foundation. Your role is a privileged one, as patients view you as trustworthy of their innermost concerns. Challenges confront nurses every shift that demand problem-solving and stretch the limits of one’s creativity. Yet a nursing career can bring the utmost satisfaction. As a nurse you are often the person on the healthcare team whose assessment and advocacy skills can change the quality of care your patient receives.
Regardless of how advanced your nursing education, if you do not have curiosity, ask questions or seek opportunities to learn, you will find little success. Keep asking questions. Seize opportunities to become a leader in your field. Find an area in your field that sparks your interest and become consumed with it. Learn from your patients and families, as many of them demonstrate courage in the face of stress and illness.
Perhaps the most powerful learning tool is mistakes — we all make them, and their impressions can be lasting. Always ask for help when you need it. Your colleagues will inevitably ask you to do the same.
Develop effective communication skills, and never make assumptions. Never be afraid to speak up in the face of opposition when you are advocating for the safety or welfare of your patient. A spiritual faith can help carry you through a tough shift when you think you have no more to give. And a sense of humor can lighten the load for you, your patients and colleagues in seemingly hopeless situations. As a pediatric nurse, I have found that children are particularly amenable to humor. The time I drew a smiley face on my isolation mask and referred to my isolation gown as the “latest costume fashion in hospital attire” produced a smile from a fearful child and a chuckle from an anxious mother.
You have the power to influence the future of the profession. Embrace change. By way of electronic medical records, you contribute to the development of data which empirically demonstrates the value of your work. Get involved in research — this is the way nursing-specific knowledge is generated.
You came to the start of your career with a sense of expectation. You joined the ranks of the most trusted profession. Never violate this trust, and always do what is right for your patient. When others learn you are a nurse, you may be the one who family and friends seek first for personal healthcare advice. Be proud of what you do. Never get caught calling yourself “just a nurse.”
Ann Worley, MSN, RN, CPN, CNRN is a pediatric nurse at Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
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