Linda - Not a "Bleeding Heart Nurse"
I’ve never done the same job twice, ever. It wasn’t by design, I just didn’t have a plan. When I was getting my nursing degree, my fellow students and I used to say that we would never go back to school again once we graduated. We all thought that by the time we reached our fifties, we’d be working as the nursing director in some nice, quiet little two-hundred bed hospital, and people would think we were wise and benevolent and that’s how we’d end our careers. But I realized in my early years of working that I could end up fifty years old and one of those poor, broken down night-shift house supervisors too. And I observed that all of what I called the “interesting jobs” went to people with more education. So it came to me in a blinding flash of the obvious that I would have to go to graduate school after all! It was a very pragmatic thing for me to do, because at the time the government was encouraging nurses to get advanced degrees by paying for their education and even giving them a stipend. And sure enough, once I had my degree, doors started opening up for me.
Throughout my career, I’ve consistently had a hand in the directional decisions of the organizations for which I’ve worked, at least where it affects patients and nurses. For example, twice in my career I have successfully argued against management attempting to save money by not paying nurses who worked in the ambulatory clinics as much as the ones who worked in the hospital. In both cases, I felt I made a fairly assertive, eloquent argument and I won against more powerful figures by pointing out that reducing the individual to the hours they worked totally ignored the basic qualifications that they were asking people to bring to the work – a certain level of education, critical thinking skills, independent decision making – and if they didn’t bring that, then you didn’t need a nurse to do that work.
One thing that I have never been, though, is a so-called “bleeding heart nurse.” The bleeding heart nurse believes everything revolves around nursing and that nurses are always the smartest and best. Of course the work we do is important, but not necessarily more so than that of a pharmacist, or physical therapist or physician. It’s different work and it takes different education.“You can’t help but learn, which is good for the mind as well as the soul.” But it’s harder to articulate its value, because for example with a pharmacist, there’s a tangible thing that he or she gives you – your medication. The care you receive from a nurse is not as tangible or quantifiable. Part of the problem is the inability to adequately describe that care, and why it is unique to nursing. And yet, it’s only a portion of what nurses do. People don’t understand all the critical decision-making that goes on every minute a nurse is working with a patient or thinking about a patient, all the things they’re sorting in their minds that they don’t write down and tell everyone about.
Many women my age went into nursing because our career options were limited to one of three areas – secretarial, teaching, or nursing. Of course, the women’s lib movement changed all of that, but it took a while for young women to break through that kind of thinking and realize they had more choices. But I have never regretted going into nursing. It’s been a great career, and I would still encourage people to go into it because if you’re halfway interested in the profession, it’s extremely meaningful. You make such a difference in people’s lives. You’re invited into the most intimate times of their lives – births, deaths, serious illness, bad news, disabilities, and they let you help them. From a pragmatic standpoint it’s actually a fairly decent wage. You can work anywhere in the world. If you had a hundred people in a room, you might find at least fifty of them were nurses. They might not be working as nurses but it’s somewhere in their background. So everywhere you go, you touch people who are nurses even if you don’t know it.
What I like most about nursing is that you’re always learning. You can’t help but learn, which is good for the mind as well as the soul. When I was in school, I didn’t especially like the OB-GYN part, but I did love births. I can still remember the first birth I ever saw. It was at an inner-city hospital where almost all the patients were young, unmarried African-American women. A young woman gave birth to twins, and for me it was so wonderful and emotional to witness these two beautiful black babies being born. I’ll never forget that. It was so exciting and I just wished that everybody could have experienced it. I’ve seen lots of other births since then and it’s always exciting, but I will never forget that first set of twins I helped welcome into the world.
Of course, the healthcare world aside from nursing is also a work world. One of the things I’ve noticed about other fields compared to healthcare is that healthcare is populated by all kinds of extremely well-educated and diverse people. You work with engineers, accountants, architects and psychologists. It’s a very rich world in that way. That became clear to me when I met a new human resource professional who was brought into a hospital where I worked. He came out of manufacturing, and one day he said to me, “Wow. Healthcare is so different. You know, in manufacturing if you have ten people in the whole organization with Bachelors degrees, you’re blessed. Everybody else is a good worker and they’re on the line doing whatever the work is.” He was just impressed with how educated the healthcare workforce is. And it was affirming because that’s one thing I have always liked about my career – meeting interesting people who know lots of things I don’t know, and learning from them. The intellectual stimulation – nothing else matches that for me.
Power Strategies: Mastery, Influence, Adventure
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