Well, it’s nurses week again and this year I will be watching from the sidelines, which absolutely kills me. I had knee surgery in January and have been off of my bedside job since then. Hopefully, I will be starting again in a month, but celebrating nurses week from my academic job just isn’t the same. I will miss seeing upper level administration wheel a snack cart through my unit during the busiest time of day when none of us can even get a snack and the cheap gifts provided by management to show appreciation. Although, I sound sarcastic, I really do love the whole scene.

This longing to be working again made me think about why I started in the first place and how I developed a passion for nursing. And I have to be honest, the passion was developed; it wasn’t technically inherent. I wish I could present a story to you about how I was born to be a nurse or that it was my “calling,” but it wasn’t. However, I do feel that if we all really dug deep and reconnected with the original reasons we went into nursing, it would rekindle our love for the profession. So let me unleash the real reason I went to nursing school and how this profession has absolutely transformed my life. This story is pretty personal, so get ready.

From the beginning, I had always wanted to help people. I grew up wanting to be a doctor my entire childhood and since I came from a medical family, the familiar smell of surgical soap evoked the most comforting feelings. I remembered spending weekends in the hospital at the nurse’s station when I was a kid while my mom rounded on her patients. The nurses would give me grape juice and crackers for sustenance and blankets to make a bed under the counter to sleep until my mom finished. While I didn’t understand it at the time, the nurses made the hospital a “home” for me.

Like many people who say they want to go to medical school, my gears shifted my senior year of high school and I lost confidence in myself. I decided medical school wasn’t for me and I went to art school (I know, great idea, right?) Naturally, this was tough. I didn’t have a passion or drive for what I was doing. I knew I needed to graduate, but was reluctant about finding a job when I did. I ended up getting into a relationship during my first degree and eventually getting married out of college.

Medical school never left the back of my mind, even after graduation. I spent a year looking for a job, but in 2007, the market was terrible and ended up working in retail. With my current life situation, medical school became a time commitment my husband would not agree upon. So, I reasoned with him and decided to go to nursing school instead. However, in the back of my head, I thought I would graduate nursing school and still apply to medical school.

When I wrote my entrance essay for nursing school, I told them everything they wanted to hear. At the time, I really didn’t know why I was going to nursing school. I couldn’t write, “I want to go to nursing school because I love the smell of surgical soap and my husband won’t agree with me going to medical school,” so I think I said something cliché about wanting to help others.

Eventually I was admitted and the next 18 months were a total blur. I just wanted to graduate, start working, and prove to everyone that I liked medicine so I could apply to medical school without contest. I honestly had no idea what nurses did all day. I’m so epically embarrassed to admit it, but I was an avid Grey’s Anatomy watcher and thought the portrayal of the medical community was fairly accurate… so, in other words, I knew nothing.

My attitude during nursing school and life at this time was incredibly negative. I didn’t even know what department I would work in when I graduated. When I rotated in ICU clinicals, I figured it was the most technically difficult and I would learn the most, which would benefit me for medical school. So, I fought hard for capstone placement in an ICU.

This is where my thought process started to change. I was awarded a capstone placement on the unit I would later be employed. My capstone preceptor also became my preceptor when I was hired as an RN. The nurses on this amazing unit showed me what real nursing care entailed. The teamwork, intelligence, holistic caring, and technical abilities of the nurses on this unit were exceptional. I had absolutely no idea of the single-handed difference a nurse could make in a patient’s life. Sometimes it was as dramatic as the difference between life or death and sometimes it was finding a way to get a dying patient into the sunshine for an hour before they passed away. Every single nurse/patient interaction had the potential to change a life.

Now, some might think that I was truly ignorant for not recognizing this and maybe I was, but I had tunnel vision toward medical school and nothing else. I knew doctors made the most money, so I assumed they were the most important in patient care. Also, nurses typically work behind the scenes; you don’t see them in bright white coats because they are always in the patient’s rooms in an ICU. Furthermore, there is not one TV show or movie that accurately portrays the life of the medical community; maybe Scrubs and Nurse Jackie are the closest? And the “reality” shows mostly follow the residents, so I had no example. I feel like I was just another typical representation of the general public who believed the hospital to be some fairyland where you get sick, go in, are treated by doctors, and miraculously return home well. Thus, this realization that nurses were the forefront of healthcare, changed my life and my entire outlook.

Was this the best-kept secret in healthcare? Why did I never hear anyone talking about this? Honestly, as soon as I discovered the imperativeness of nurses, I felt the need to inform everyone. As I continued my job in the ICU, my confidence as a nurse and a human being began to develop. Most of my life I was an easy going, pushover, who would succumb to any suggestion, even if I knew it would not positively benefit me. But, when it came to helping people who could not help themselves, I was a rock. I took my responsibility seriously because I fully realized the privilege I was given to care for my patients.

Fast forward through the next couple years and I had to relocate to another state with my then husband. I started a new job that finally erased any inkling to attend medical school in my mind. The nurses in this hospital were even more independent and implemental to patient care. My days at work provided me with confidence and happiness in a time where I was not happy otherwise. Experiencing raw, real, transparent emotion in an ICU and the fragility of life also helped me evaluate my own life and choices. By becoming a nurse and truly giving myself to others, I had found the “self” I lost years before.

Although it was the most difficult decision I have ever made, sparing the details, nursing gave me the strength to change my life and separate from my husband. There is a large part of me that feels like I owe so much to this profession for the genuine, fulfilled life I have been able to experience ever since, and at one time could not even remember.

As a side note, without separating, I don’t believe my ex-husband would have been given the opportunity for happiness had we stayed together and I always wanted him to have what I was incapable of giving him. Looking back, I was never ready to go medical school and I wanted to go for all of the wrong reasons. My time with him existed for a purpose and I certainly hope he thinks the same.

So, while I am celebrating this Nurses Week on the sidelines, I have had plenty of time to think about why I became a nurse in the first place. I deeply love this profession and the culture that surrounds it. Our reasons for becoming nurses are many, but it is undeniable that through helping patients, we help ourselves. Happy Nurses Week.