“What is it to feel a calling for any thing? Is it not to do your work in it to satisfy your own high idea of what is the right, the best, and not because you will be ‘found out’ if you don’t do it? This is the ‘enthusiasm’ which every one, from a shoemaker to a sculptor, must have, in order to follow his ‘calling’ properly. Now the nurse has to do, not with shoes, or with chisel and marble, but with human beings; and if she, for her own satisfaction, does not look after her patients, no telling will make her capable of doing so.”
-Florence Nightingale, What is a Nurse?”
This year, it’s been difficult for me to write about Nurses Week. I’ve tried reading Florence, and I’ve studied what the big nursing voices are saying. I’ve wondered, like every year, why none of my non-nurse friends know about Nurses Week. I’ve thought about media silence on Nurses Day. Or any day, and about the fact that there isn’t a Doctor’s Day. Mostly, I’ve shrugged my shoulders.
In my decade with the profession, my feelings for this annual festivity have varied. Total unawareness led to gleeful expectancy. There were cakes and cards and gifts. Later, I used Nurses Day as a platform for activism – a way of telling my world why nurses deserved recognition. Each year, my stance was a bit different, my life was a bit different, my nursing was a bit different, but the day, and everyone’s reaction to it, stayed pretty much the same.
This is the first year I’m not at the bedside; I’m working in administration now. The transition has been surprising. It’s odd how quickly my repulsion for business clothes has mellowed; the click of my heels quickly replacing the soft squeaking of my trusty clogs. I do things like buttoning up my white coat when helping pull people up in bed; I’m thinking of dry cleaning for the first time in my life.
It’s weird to be the one telling bedside nurses about Nurses Week festivities, instead of attending them between turns and admissions. Sometimes I wonder how I did it for so long, and sometimes I miss the rhythm of bedside care that I had fallen so sweetly into. I certainly miss talking to patients, but the moments in this new job when I get to chat and lend a hand sometimes feel all the richer because of my degrees of separation.
Transition into my new role has come with the usual challenges of growth, and I’ve found myself fighting it at times. The work is draining and difficult in many ways, and thoughts of my Nurses Week days last year brings envious daydreams. Giving up the comfort of routine is exactly what they say it is – uncomfortable.
If I take a step back and listen to myself, though, I can hear myself complaining about things that I know are good for me, things I likely wished for last year. And while I’m letting go of tried and true skills, I’m learning new ones; last year’s bedside wouldn’t fit me today. The pain of growth is soothed by the balm of my progress.
Part of Nurses Week is our common reaction, “Who cares? Nothing changes.” Perhaps this is true for our insituitions, or even our place in health care. But this is only true for ourselves if we let it be so. Bedside or board room, nursing, when routine, can anesthetize us into forgetting why we became nurses in the first place. Look at nature; plants never stop growing. They either thrive or rot.
And that’s my challenge for Florence’s birthday this year. Yes, I think the world should know what nurses do, day in and out. And yes, I think we should be recognized. But this year, I think I’ll start using Nurses Day differently – as a marker for my change, and a chance to yearly reassess my calling.
What will I learn this year? What will I do? What do I want to do?