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Nurses on nursing: Portraits of American nurses

Every nurse has a story. In the Spring 2013 issue of Scrubs, five dedicated individuals describe what brought them to the profession and how their jobs add meaning to their lives.

Jessica Graef, MSN, RN, CNL
Children’s National Medical Center
Washington, D.C.

Nursing is a second career for me. As a kid, I never would have predicted I’d grow up to be a nurse. I was interested in developing countries and famine relief because my dad did that kind of work. I lived overseas as a child, and after I got married, my husband and I moved to Mexico City, where he was a professor and I worked at the US Agency for International Development.

While we were living in Mexico, I got pregnant with twins–my kids were born ten weeks prematurely and put in the neonatal ICU. We moved back to the US when the kids were about a year old, and for a while I was a stay-at-home mom. When I thought about going back to work, I kept finding myself drawn to the health field.

My plan was to put my international experience and nursing together to do development work again. But life takes you to funny places. I started on the hematology/oncology unit four years ago as a new RN. I am very happy where I am; nursing is a great profession and a perfect fit for my interests.

I am challenged intellectually by the physiological critical thinking I do on an everyday basis. And I am able to help my patients emotionally. I’ve had some harrowing hospital experiences with my children, and that makes me more comfortable dealing with families and patients.

What I’ve learned about humanity through this job is the strength of families. I thought I’d see people just losing it, but these families are tremendously strong. I’m sure they go through their breakdowns, but they come back with incredible strength and love. They deal with some really hard issues and somehow hold it together. They pull from their inner strength to cope and to help their children.

I’ve learned so much about myself from seeing how other people interact, how they deal with things like this, and how they are able to come up with compassion in the most horrendous situations. I always try and have a sense of hope because without that, what do you have? Some people think that pediatric oncology nurses are angels or saints, but I have to say that I have learned and gained from my patients and their families just as much as I have given to them.


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Carolyn Jones

Carolyn Jones is an internationally-recognized photojournalist and an award-winning filmmaker. Learn more about Jones and The American Nurse Project at:

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