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What leads us to Nursing?

I looked in the wanted ads today. Out of about 25 job listings, six of them were for nurses. There are pop up ads, flashing ads, and ads with smiling faces telling me to become a nurse. We hear in the media of the nursing shortages.

When I was in third grade, I told my mom I wanted to be a nurse. She looked at me disapprovingly and said, “Why? They do the dirty work. Be a doctor.” I never forgot that statement growing up and overtly gave up on the nursing dream. When I was thirteen, I started volunteering with an elderly neighbor lady. She was frail and, to be honest, scared me. I spent time with her and brought her the mail. When I worked, my early jobs were night sitting for the elderly and cleaning their homes. I took a job in housekeeping at the hospital. I can remember hearing the code system, getting goose bumps, and vowing that I would one day be responding to that call. From there, I worked as a medical secretary and then a nursing assistant.

This was probably a fairly traditional route of entry into nursing. I speak often to young people who are interested in nursing as a career. There aren’t many of them who are drawn to it for the patients. This surprises me. They aren’t thinking of it in terms of what they would be doing, but more about how long they would need to be in school and how much they can potentially earn. Few of them have spent much time with the elderly or the ill. This is an age where we live longer, and many of them are the children of baby boomers who haven’t had to deal with too much chronic illness yet. Almost every student with whom I have spoken initially states they are interested in pediatrics or maternity nursing. The men all say emergency room would be their first choice.

This could be a problem later in our field. The younger generation seems to be having some trouble with process as a growth medium. The incentives for new generations of nursing are more about money, getting it done quickly, and less about the career angle. The media image of the nurse has changed. We are no longer seen as “doing the dirty work”, but that IS often what we do. My mother was wrong, though. Doing the dirty work is very rewarding. It is what makes the patient well and meets their needs on a most basic and human level. There is satisfaction in this, and one can only hope that the next generation finds that to be true as well.

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