Break Room

This Thing We Call “Nursing”


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It seems to me a bit odd to be authoring my personal philosophy on what nursing is and is not as a student for readers who all have a great deal more knowledge, wisdom, and experience in this wonderful field of ours, but here I am writing, and you reading. There are many topics to cover including what I believe nursing to be, how I believe that is best carried out, who I see as the real nurses, the qualities of a great nurse, our future direction as a profession, how it all fits together, and finally, my boiling down of the most important parts to ensure they are adequately communicated.

Nursing began as an art, a vocation, a calling even back when humans first began to get sick and die. There have always been those of us who reached out to the suffering doing what we could for them to ease the pain and provide companionship and attentive care. The science of nursing has evolved as all sciences have and will continue to do so, but the heart of nursing, the deep down central core of it all is a genuine, deep seated, burning desire to assist those around us in any capacity possible to relieve suffering and improve their condition. That is why this field exists and that is what is inside every single nurse as they begin their journey and hopefully all of us still practicing it. As Mother Theresa so eloquently explained, “It is not how much you do, but how much love you put in the doing.” Which also illustrates the underlying theme of nursing which is action. Nursing is an action oriented profession, always doing, always moving, always improving, always growing. To nurse is to do regardless of any acknowledgment or thanks or lack thereof. Nursing is doing despite all of the adversities it has had to battle throughout the course of history and will continue to conquer in the future.

To be a nurse is to be a great many things simultaneously for the benefit of those we serve. Nurses must be masters of our emotions that we may cry with the husband of the dying wife and walk next door to celebrate with the family of the awakening trauma patient after a week long coma. Nurses must be stern with proper bounders while gently and compassionately caring for those in their charge. A nurse must be able to juggle, to act, to have thick skin and a soft heart, a great mind and a calm demeanor, a strong back and soft hands. To be a nurse means to protect those placed in your care with everything you’ve got, and then a little more. Nurses must be diverse with diverse backgrounds that they intentionally continue to expand. A nurse must be able to balance, for balancing is what we do.

The requirements of a great nurse are a challenging and puzzling description to write. It is often assumed by laypeople I meet and interact with that a great nurse is one who accomplishes all of the qualities aforementioned and additionally diagnoses the puzzling patient, performs an emergency intervention and saves the day. However, this is not the makings of a great nurse in my experience. The great nurses of this world are not the smartest nurses, or the most experienced nurses, or the nurses with the most letters after their name. The greatest nurses are the ones whose fire still burns brightly with passion for cleaning the soiled man, or consoling the drunken woman, for doing the dirty and not at all glamorous parts of this job.

We see them roll their sleeves up and do what needs to be done for the patient by doing it with the patient and conveying their absolute joy in being able to be a part of their care. The great nurse has bad days like all of us do, but their patients never have a clue about it. The patients of the great nurses feel loved and cared for and protected. The coworkers of the great nurses know they can rely on them and lean on them and those great nurses will be there offering words of encouragement and uplifting ideas to refresh and inspire our teams to do better for our patients with each interaction. The great nurse allows everyone to feel comfortable being themselves as they are and in doing so helps open the ways to improvement and growth for all.

As nursing continues to evolve we are going to have to continue right along with it. In fact, we are the ones evolving it! We are finding new applications for old technologies and drugs, we are inventing new devices, we are making our patients safer and healthier with research that translates to the bedside. We are shaping political policy and giving a voice to the sick and dying. Nurses are problem solvers who do not stop until they find the best way of doing something for all involved. They will not settle for win-lose scenarios because they can find a way to get a win-win. We will continue to apply technology in exciting and amazing ways, build on clinical knowledge to improve current practices, continue to step up into new positions for the growing and changing world of health care, speak up when it is time for a change and not shut up until our patients get what they need which is the best care possible. Nurses will develop new computer systems that can do more and see more and diagnose more. We will invent ways for patients to have a better quality of life living with the diseases that we have not quite figured out how to cure yet. Nurses will do and do and do. The future is bright and I am excited to be part of what unfolds.

Nurses bring people together from all sorts of backgrounds and specialties and issues. We become the family counselor as argument erupts in one of our patients rooms. We get the doctors and pharmacists and social workers to all look each other in the eyes and discuss the important things going on. We get our coworkers together to resolve that petty argument that should have never gone as far as it did. We connect people with people. We build the bridges that most others can not build and we do so faster and better than anyone else could and we do that just because that is what is right. We maintain the highest integrity because we have been through enough to know that maintaining our very high moral standards and ethical principles always serves our patients best even after the fads fade away. We do not lie to our patients. We do not take the easy road. We march head on and handle tragedies with grace and skill. Nurses are building others up every day that they are awake. Nurses also constantly seek out the newest knowledge, the most accurate practices, the best techniques and we never stop learning and growing. We lead by example and we teach with experience and we show the communities that we are living what we teach them so we do understand how tough it is sometimes.

Nursing is an art first, a calling from a burning desire deep within to ease suffering and improve upon the condition of those in need. There is a strong and compassionate heart at the center of nursing in a way not reflected anywhere else in the world. Nursing is also a science that must be continually assessed and built upon and advanced. Nursing is a balancing act between enjoying the good and improving upon the bad and experiencing loss and experiencing new life. Nursing is about protecting those patients and fighting for them whenever called upon to do so.

Great nursing is never losing the passion and helping everybody find that peace that lets things get better. Nursing is leading in all directions into the uncharted territories and improving upon the known practices. Nursing is advancing our systems in every way we can because people deserve the best possible lives that can be lived. Nurses are bridge builders who can connect people with people in ways that work well and feel natural. Nursing is not just about what is done and is everything about the intention with which it is done and how that is conveyed. Maya Angelou described it so well, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did; they will remember how you made them feel.” I am honored and blessed and excited to be in this great profession of ours, the greatest profession in all the world, this thing we call “nursing.”


Article written by Randy T. McGonigal, Sr., Graduate Nurse, Main Line Health, Southeastern Pennsylvania

After 14 years working in a support role as Patient Care Technician, I finally got serious and went for m nursing degree. 2 years later I now have my Associates of Applied Science in Nursing from Delaware County Community College, will be passing NCLEX in a few weeks, and am half way one my RN to BSN through Drexel University through a newly developed concurrent admission program. I am married and the father to four of the greatest kids around! My hobbies include amateur songwriting and guitar playing. I aim to get a strong foundation while perfecting my assessment and time management skills, have a future interest in Emergency or Critical Care, and Pediatrics. I am also interested in some travel nursing eventually. Basically, I want to do it all! Reach me on Facebook and Instagram @nurserandy

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