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The “real” education of a new nurse

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What’s it really like to be a nurse? The inspiring film “A Nurse I Am” answers that question by featuring four compassionate, caring nurse role models who are deeply committed to their patients and profession.

Every year, Cherokee Uniforms holds a scholarship program based on the film. Entrants are asked to write an essay in response to “A Nurse I Am,” and the 10 winners each receive a $2000 scholarship to put toward their nursing education. Here’s one of the winning essays.

The “real” education of a new nurse

I must have looked pretty strange: peeling, library-borrowed nineties headphones engulfing my face, and rivulets of mascara-tinted tears rolling down my cheeks in the jam-packed study center during midterm week. You should have warned me that those videos were going to be tear-jerkers.

The nurses in the “A Nurse I Am” films inspired me immensely. Their actions personified the criteria of genuine concern, safety, and excellence that beget happier, healthier patients. As I am considering specializing in pediatric oncology, I immediately related to Bob Wilkinson.

Bob embodied hope. He understood the need for humor and smiles in his practice, coupled with the importance of spirituality to provide strength through the inherent difficulties of his field. Bob’s charity spanned the entire spectrum of concern. He was sensitive to the small details, pulling out extra toy soldiers so his young patient could battle when his brother arrived, or singing another patient’s name as he entered the room. But Bob also spoke of deeper concerns that arise from working with critically-ill children.

My own tears began when Bob got choked up describing the distinct look of shock etched in the faces of parents with newly-diagnosed children. I was surprised when Bob said there were harder things than a patient’s death. However, it made sense he expressed his grief when he can’t explain to a screaming infant that the pain he is causing is meant to heal or his feeling of inadequacy when he doesn’t have answers to pleads of desperate mothers. Bob spoke of times in which he begged God to spare a patient’s life and take his instead. The utmost sincerity rang through as he sighed, “He doesn’t take me up on it.”

Miss Mona Counts also exemplified sacrifice. As a nurse practitioner running her own practice in impoverished, medically-underserved Appalachia, Mona did not pursue further education to earn a higher salary but to serve an area in desperate need. With a roll of the eyes, Mona dismissed the concern of a patient who claimed she couldn’t afford to visit the clinic, saying, “Money? You can clean. Come on.” And Mona was serious that she wanted her patients to come to the clinic regardless of their financial situation.

She followed a day of work by trekking out to a patient’s home, and announced her purpose by explaining to the patient, “If you won’t come to see me, I’ll come see you.” As if the required check-up wasn’t enough of an added tax to Mona’s limited time, when her patient’s face lit up upon mention of her recent fiftieth anniversary, Mona good-naturedly looked through photos from the occasion. Never once did Mona check her watch – her body language and attentiveness suggested that she had all the time in the world.

During Mona’s medical assessments, she explained everything in terms that her patients could understand. As one of her patients complimented, Mona’s clients “are not a statistic to her.” She treats each of her more than five-thousand patients with respect and patience whether they are in her clinic, at their homes, or interrupting a family dinner out in town with a concern. Mona dedicated her life to her patients –true sacrifice that only the most golden people can uphold.

As a freshman in nursing school, my thoughts revolve around fasciae and filaments and sutures. My unfinished stack of A&P flashcards is staring at me from the corner of my desk, and there are times when the stress catches up with me and I wonder, is all this work really worth it? And then I head over to volunteer at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, or catch a Johnson and Johnson nursing commercial playing in the dining hall, or watch films like, “A Nurse I Am,” and I could not be more confident that I made the right choice.

My favorite saying, cliché and simple but more powerful than any other thought, is the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Nursing allows me the perfect venue with which to do this. This summer, I will start my journey towards this ideal (relative to my career) by volunteering at a health clinic in Nicaragua. In a world where the value of life is constantly being challenged, I will always remember that, in fact, there is nothing more sacred than the soul inside each person.

I intend on nursing the body back to health, but more importantly, I will administer to this soul. As Ardis Bush said, nurses are not treating a diagnosis, they are treating a person. I believe that so long as I keep this distinction in mind, I can do my job in providing a positive healthcare experience for my patients. Keeping the role-models of “A Nurse I Am” forever in my heart as inspiration, I cannot wait to begin my life as a nurse.

By Stephanie Foster

Read more inspiring essays by the 2012 winners of A Nurse I Am Scholarship Program here.

Caption: Stephanie Foster–University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing

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