An important reminder of why I became a nurse

iStockphoto | ThinkStock

iStockphoto | ThinkStock

Every so often, I get caught up in the moment. I can forget why I became a nurse.

For the past few years, my career has been in “learning mode.” Not too long ago, I became a student for the fourth time and began the journey to become a nurse practitioner. Four years, two degrees and one national certification later, I accomplished my goal.

Six months into this new role, and I’m having a difficult time prying myself away from “learning mode” and back into “affect mode.”

I’ve gotten caught up, if not buried, by the monitors, medicines and mechanics of healthcare. I’ve been so preoccupied with hopping over the virtual fence of balancing my new role (as an ACNP) evenly among the professional boundaries of nursing versus medicine that I started to lose the forest for the trees.

Then, just like many other moments in the career of a nurse, a patient and their care grounded me.

Sadly, death has become commonplace in my career over the years. Caring for the critically ill yields a higher than average morbidity and mortality rate among my patients due to the nature of their care.

It was those first few patient’s deaths that I still remember. I’ve never forgotten the time a patient died and how helpless I felt caring.

The patient was a long-time smoker and had severe lung disease. He had experienced multiple episodes of respiratory failure, with numerous exacerbations that required extended episodes on mechanical ventilation.

He had had enough. No more intubations. No more life-saving measures. Just keep him comfortable. Let nature take its course.

No matter what I did for that patient, I could not achieve any acceptable level of comfort in my eyes. He was always struggling for air…always. No amount of medication, no amount of repositioning and no amount of empathy helped him breathe easier.

In the end, he died simply because he was too tired to breathe.

And all I could do was sit with him.


Nothing more.

Recently, I was reminded of that first experience. No amount of high-tech monitoring, no amount of cutting-edge medicine and no amount of mechanical force can replace just being present for another human being.

Another human being.

In the end, that’s what we are charged with doing. Being there for another human being.

Thanks to a wonderful patient, I haven’t forgotten that.


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2 Responses to An important reminder of why I became a nurse

  1. davetheinnkeeper8

    Thanks for the reminder, unfortunately with the way of the world and the fight for the almighty dollar, those of us that do this line of work because we actually care are a dying breed, beaten down and broken loyalty to the point that we no longer care, some say keep being that light, if you truly care you will make a difference, well to those of you, come say that to my “budget, budget, budget” administration, to those who have forgotten that they have an N initial in their title, yet are more concerned about their bonus, or to those who don’t even know what a nurse does, because they never were one. While I understand completely that those kind of people are needed and they even deserve a place at the table, however it only makes sense that they shouldn’t be telling me how to do my job, if you don’t or can’t do my job, than you certainly shouldn’t be making the rules or guidelines for how I should do it, pardon me for saying so, but that’s just common sense.

    Well I will keep that light, I will keep caring, I will continue to be passionate, if I have to work at 300 different jobs until I find the one that lets me actually care for my patients, and keeps their “budget” to themselves. I worked for 30 years to get the title of nurse behind my name, and I’ll be damned or dead before I’ll let anyone stop me from living up to it.

    I started my career in an end stage AIDS Home in Belmont, NC, that is where I realized that I wanted to be a nurse, I also realized that I had something called Ethics, as a result of those ethics, that job was taken away from me, I swore right then, that I would become a nurse, in fact I had a license plate that said RNBOUND. I also swore that I would never lose those ethics, and a few years later the administrator of that place, the one who took that job from me was removed from her post, Karma……… That my friends is the light, that little fire inside of my heart that keeps right on burning today and while I haven’t reached all of my goals just yet, I haven’t forgotten why I started this journey.

    I find that I don’t get some jobs because of my ethics, in fact it says plain as day on my Resume, Passionate, Ethical Nurse, and that’s okay, because if that is what keeps me from getting a job, I wouldn’t have wanted it anyway.

    What matters at the end of the day, is that regardless of your politics, preferences, passions, whether sometimes your right, and often times your wrong, if your willing to reach out and offer a hand, a hug, an ear, when people are at their lowest, than that is what makes you a good nurse, some knowledge and experience along the way doesn’t hurt.

    For those that know me, some I’ve known for years, some I went to nursing school with, some I’ve met since I started my journey as a nurse, I may not be the best friend, the most present person in your life, but when the chips are down, I will be there. I may only show up when you need me, but when you ask, and sometimes when you don’t, you can bet, I will be there. If you truly, truly need me, I will be there, whether you are my friend, my patient, my family, or even my enemy, I will lend a hand, a hug, an ear. and if I can, I will do it for free, because I care, now that’s why I am a nurse.

  2. Sean,
    Thank you for this story.
    So often we get cause up in the work of nursing that we don’t take time to ensure we are enjoying nursing for the reasons we got into it to begin with,