It’s been over three years since I last changed a PICC dressing, measured a blood pressure, cannulated a patient and ran around a ward like a headless chook. Three years since I decided to abandon what might have been a very promising career as a Registered Nurse. Like many other nurses out there, I had a strong desire to become a nurse from a very young age and felt that it was my calling. Weighing up all of the pros and cons however, I left nursing at age 22 after spending just over four years studying and working in the profession.
Since quitting nursing I have often been asked if my undergraduate degree was a waste of time. Would I have studied something else if I had my time again? Do I regret becoming a nurse? The answer I always give is a straight no. In fact, I believe that nursing was the best start to my career that I could have asked for and has been professionally rewarding in many different ways: I learned to remain calm under pressure, think on my feet and be resourceful, work as part of a team, manage my time, prioritise and plan ahead just to name a few things. But more importantly, nursing taught me some valuable lessons that I continue to draw upon and had some hidden benefits that I never expected.
Caring for someone in their last months and weeks of life can be a salient reminder that life is fragile. Nursing made me realise that life is a precious gift, something that Mary, one of my patients in Day Oncology knew all too well. Mary had been battling breast cancer on-and-off for twenty four years and would always come in for treatment with a smile on her face and a new story to tell since the week prior. Even in the last few months of her life Mary appeared to cherish every moment she had left. She often described how much she enjoyed spending time out in the garden, babysitting her grandchildren, having her friends over for book club meetings and a chinwag. This experience of looking after Mary in turn taught me to cherish my own life and be appreciative of my good health and that of my loved ones. It encouraged me to value the relationships I have with those close to me more than I ever had before.
Beginning my career as a nurse quickly prompted me to pay attention to my general wellbeing. It is very easy to suffer from burnout by working in a profession that can be physically, emotionally and mentally draining, and when I started to feel the effects of this in my first year out of nursing school, I quickly recalled the advice of one of my university lecturers: you can’t expect to look after others unless you look after yourself first. I started doing so by eating a more balanced diet, exercising, exploring alternate interests, travelling and doing the many things I continue to regularly enjoy outside of work. The importance and benefits of maintaining a good work-life balance became very evident.
Perhaps the greatest takeaway from beginning my career as a nurse is that it meant I’m now able to help my friends and family whenever they have a health-related question or concern. Sure, I can only provide basic advice but I’m able to point them in the right direction so they can find the answers and seek the expert opinions they need. And should I have children of my own one day, I’m very confident I’ll be able to recognise when they’re unwell and take great care of them.
You may or may not think you were born to be a nurse; you might question if you’d make a good nurse but if you do find yourself wondering if nursing is for you I suggest you strongly consider it. Like me, you might not stay in the profession forever but you’ll probably find that a nursing degree can be very rewarding in many different ways that you never anticipated. Of course, there’s also a chance you’ll love working in the profession and remain a nurse for the rest of your professional life!