What It Means to be a Nurse

As Published on American Nurse Today

I remember laying on the cold, vinyl couch in the deserted waiting area. I looked up at the clock, 2:35am. I listened to the sounds of monitors beeping faintly in the distance and hearing the whispered chatter of night-shift nurses discussing their patients. The pungent smell of anti-septic mixed with a faint odor of stale coffee from the nurse’s station hung in the air. At that moment in time, I did not know what was going to happen. Any minute, the elevator doors would open, and five staff members would be wheeling a patient into the Intensive Care Unit, accompanied by a large machine and a barbaric mask over her face forcing her to breathe. Acute exacerbation of COPD, they’d say, hypercarbic and acidotic on BiPap, still lethargic and confused, resper’s 8, she’s got a 20 in the right AC. A bunch of clinical talk that any lay person wouldn’t understand, just a bunch of words. The nurses would receive their new patient, hook her up to the monitors and the machines that are keeping her breathing. They would take her vital signs and hope for the best.

That patient was my mother.

I have worked with a lot of nurses throughout my career, but I will never forget my mother’s emergency department nurse that night. I will never forget the way she spoke to me, honest yet compassionate, serious yet empathetic. She not only had the intelligence to take care of my mother with the very best clinical skills, but she took care of me as well. I promised myself at that moment that I would spend my career learning to become that nurse.

I now work as an emergency department nurse in a Level II trauma center. It is not just about the title on my badge, or the letters “RN” that I wear with pride, it is about the work that I do. I can join all the committees and win all the scholarships, but if I cannot comfort my patients and their families while they are hurting in my emergency department, I have failed. I also know that every experience has made me the nurse, and woman, that I am.

Being a nurse is not what I do, it is who I am. Regardless of whether I was wearing fancy office attire as a clinical office supervisor or bright blue, worn out scrubs covered in fluids as a staff nurse, I know I have, in some way, touched someone’s life. Furthermore, I plan to take everything I have learned during each step in my career and grow to become a part of transforming healthcare. I hope to be able to guide others, and to inspire them the very way I have been inspired. I hope to take what I have learned and one day teach others.

While every nursing position I have held has brought me joy, I now feel as though I have reached my calling in the emergency department. I am honored to care for my patients at the weakest moments. Above all, words cannot express how proud I was to call my mama, who is alive and well today, and tell her I had finally landed that emergency department position. I had reached my goal, and now I was going to do what I was meant to do. I was even happier that she was alive to share the news with me. So to that nurse, who I still have contact with today, I say thank you. What is even more special is that I had the honor of being taught and mentored by this particular nurse. She taught me the importance of both education and compassion, two essentials for any nursing professional.

No nursing school will teach you how to hold a dying person’s hand when you’re the only family they have. No textbook will tell you will tell you what to say when a patient’s family member asks, “What’s going to happen to them?” No pinning ceremony ever qualifies you to give a dignified bed bath. I am honored and humbled to be a nurse, and to have the privilege of helping people through their darkest moments.   


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