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Aug 27

Doing, knowing and being a Registered Nurse.

In my classroom we often discuss and debate nursing as a way
of being, a way of doing and a way of knowing. Over the years, I have had a number of students tell me “I think nursing is just what I do, not who I am”.  That is a statement that I might have uttered
30 years ago as well, because I couldn’t really imagine myself as anything but what I was: a tired, overwhelmed, anxious, inexperienced student of nursing.
I couldn’t see past the next paper, the next exam or clinical shift—my “reflective universe” was pretty contracted then, and from that vantage point, the only way to overcome the next hurdle—the only way to cope–was to have some distance from it: make it about what I was doing instead of who I was becoming. Now, with the benefit of 30 years of experience in a registered nursing career, the inescapable truth is that nursing is indeed WHO I am, not just what I do. I have been fortunate in those years to have had opportunities to study and work with with many amazing and insightful nurses, in environments where we could take an opportunity to pause, reflect, and discuss the essential contributions
of registered nurses to health care. I have had time and opportunity to process and internalize what it means to “be” a registered nurse—to expand my reflective universe and witness my own growth within my profession. I think what I am seeing is that nurses today are experiencing environments and events that contract their reflective universes—many feel bombarded, bewildered and exhausted, and many try to cope by only dealing with what’s in front of them next. This lack of mindfulness about the role of the RN and the contribution of the profession to health care is corrosive, chewing away at our roots and leaving us feeling unbalanced and uncertain.

I was pondering that very thing the other day as I was buying groceries, and I ran into an older woman I know in our community who had just recently been diagnosed with a somewhat rare, yet easily identified and very treatable chronic condition (if caught early enough). You need to know that she is a real dynamo, a natural leader and extremely intelligent. She was telling me of all the steps she was taking to inform those she knew about this condition and how to get tested for it—she had a small article in the paper, and had been in touch with the national association for this condition to get information
and spread it within her sphere of influence. Then, she asked if I would assist her in organizing a community gathering of seniors for an informational evening, and attend, and possibly speak. I was a little bewildered, and quickly clarified that I really knew nothing about this condition, and in fact, had never cared for anyone with this condition. She gave me a quizzical look, and said “but you are a Registered Nurse in this community and people admire that; just having someone like you there gives credence to the importance of the issue and I know that people will hear me differently if you are there”.  I gratefully accepted the invitation—an invitation extended NOT because of what I know or what I do, but because of WHO I am—a respected
Registered Nurse. So, you might not think that nursing is WHO you are, but I have news for you…others do!

2 comments

  1. Sherri B

    This post is especially interesting to me because I am currently at the stage you were 30 years ago – feeling like a nursing student who has a long way to go to become a Registered Nurse. The reality is, my career is just around the corner. All of the hard work and dedication to my school work will be able to be re-directed to my nursing career and I cannot wait to see what that looks like for me. Most Registered Nurses I have met LIVE their role. They are proud of what they do and of the differences that they make in people’s lives. I look forward to becoming part of this admired group of individuals.

  2. Leanne Gerwing

    I absolutely love this post, Shannon! It goes hand in hand with our recent class discussion that asked the question, “Is professionalism something we “do” or something that we “are”? I 100% believe that professionalism and our identity as a registered nurse transcends the borders of the workplace, and one would be incredibly naive to think they are completely separate when not “doing”. Thanks for writing such intriguing posts, and I look forward to some new content soon! 😉

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