What do I want to do with my life? What career should I chose? What should I study? These questions are not easy to answer but at some point you have to take a leap of faith and choose something. Three years ago my classmates and I chose nursing and over the course of our degree we decided the ‘leap’ we made was the right one. Below we share our stories of the moments we knew we’d made the right choice.
As an 18-year-old fresh out of high-school, I chose nursing based on the vague idea that it was a profession that involved helping people.
Or as I defined nursing at the time: “a career in which human beings get to look after other human beings”.
I was relatively sure I’d made the right decision from day one of nursing school. My lecturers inspired me as they talked about nursing being a career of compassion and caring.
However, there was always a host of niggling doubts in the back of my mind. What if I can’t handle it? What if I’m not good at it? What if I don’t like it? These thoughts continued right up until the end of my first year, when it was finally time for our first-ever clinical placement – a two-week hospital placement.
On the first morning my stomach felt like a washing machine. I was so nervous. All of those bothersome doubts were running through my head on replay, intermixed with the constant “don’t be sick, don’t be sick” and “remember to breathe, remember to breathe”.
But that afternoon an inspired and energetic student nurse emerged from the hospital with all doubts expelled and the security of knowing that nursing was for her.
What had convinced me in that short shift that nursing was for me? I loved the interaction with my patients. My favourite part was being able to chat to them after I had done my tasks (after, not during, because at that point there was no way I could count a heart rate and talk at the same time!).
I enjoyed building relationships and seeing the way the simple, thoughtful things made a world of difference. I remember taking a wet sponge to moisten the lips of a nil by mouth patient. She was so thankful for some relief and this led to an outpouring of gratitude.
I also loved the challenge of ‘difficult’ patients and working out how to interact with them. It was the interpersonal intertwined with the practical nature of providing healthcare that I loved, and that led to my revelation that “this is for me”.
Was that just my experience?
After reflecting on my own experiences, I began to chat to some of my fellow third year classmates. I found that they all had their own unique experiences of realising that this was the right degree for them.
“I loved the purpose that I found in my relationships with patients. All of a sudden it seemed real and these experiences made me value the important things in life.” – Rachel M
“For me it was when I once put a towel behind a patient’s neck, and the amount of relief she felt was enormous; she was so grateful, and it made me realise how much of a difference I could make, even if it was small.” – Rachel R
“As soon as I started to get along with the team and was able to feel confident in completing tasks, I knew that nursing was for me.” – Mady
“On my first day of placement I knew I had made the right career choice. I just sat with my patients and really got to know their stories; it was a privilege for me to hear and from there I felt the conviction to make a positive difference in their health journey.” – Amy
It was the patients who had inspired us to continue. It was the patients who let us know that we were in the right place. It was the fact that our degree was allowing us to move into a career of caring for these people, a career where we knew that we would have purpose and could make a difference.
Thriving rather than just surviving
As I was reflecting on this more I began to think, if what we are doing for others is giving us a sense of purpose how can we also help our patients to find a sense of purpose?
If we are driven by this purpose and knowledge that we can make a difference, would giving our patients a sense of purpose help them to find that extra drive to get better? Would it help them to be more than just better? Help them to thrive rather than just survive? Thriving is a state in which we do more than just live at a normative level; it enhances wellness and helps us to enjoy life and purpose is a part of this (Perlman, 2017). Imagine if we were able to aid ALL our patients to thrive.
So I love nursing. I know that this is the place I want to be and upon reflection I have worked out why.
My challenge to you is to work out your ‘why’ too.
My challenge to myself is to remember my ‘why’. To remember the patient, to remember that ‘nurse’ will not only be my job title – it will be an opportunity to make a difference. Being a nurse will be a way of living my life so that I thrive, not just survive and get the chance to help others to do the same.
Larissa Sproul is currently a third year nursing student at the University of Auckland’s School of Nursing.
Perlman, A. (2017). Helping People to Self-Actualize: Revising the Role and Goal of Our Healthcare System. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 13(1), 6-8. doi http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2016.10.009