Professional nursing has been my career – my calling, really – for 30 years. I can’t say I never thought of trying something else. In fact, I did think of trying something else many times. When I was a young teen I wanted to be a Pan American stewardess and learn a second language. At one point later on, I almost finished an undergraduate degree in wildlife biology. I was enrolled in divinity school at another point. But nursing kept coming back around no matter how far I strayed.
I have been entrepreneurial throughout my career. I have worked in almost every nursing specialty and have had my own private practice. For as long as I can remember I have been intrigued by the mysterious ways the human body heals itself. Even as a child, I was keenly aware that healing comes from within a person, and my nursing education affirmed my intuition.
Over the years I have worked in offices, hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, detention centers, camps, schools, and private homes. I’ve walked miles into a rural farm to care for a child because the road was impassable. I’ve been a floor nurse, head nurse, and supervisor. I’ve worked all shifts, and many double shifts. I’ve worked weekends and holidays when other nurses were off work and home with their families.
I’ve been a legal nurse consultant, a nurse massage therapist, and am a founding member of the American Holistic Nurses’ Association. I have cared for soldiers from seven different wars, for the homeless, the hopelessly ill, the rich, and the famous. I’ve held babies being born and elders dying. I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve found the solution to unsolvable problems.
I’ve cared for patients who had what I call “old bodies” – bodies made from natural foods, fresh air, clean water, hard work, and deep emotions forged from even harder lives and times. I’ve worked with pioneers who crossed the plains moving westward; farmers who tilled their land with horses; fishermen who survived unimaginable storms; ranchers who injured themselves tending their cattle, sheep, horses; and survivors of the polio epidemic, the Great Depression, and the Holocaust. I’ve worked with loggers, Native Americans from impoverished reservations, and first generation immigrants from the rest of the world.
I practiced as a family nurse practitioner with a master’s degree in primary health care for individuals, families and communities before I moved full time into life coaching.
I had a beautiful practice in which I focused on rural health care, integrated health care, and professional development.
Early in my education, I was introduced to the teachings of Florence Nightingale and they were our guiding stars. She taught that wholesome nutrition, sanitation, beauty, rest, pure water, clean air, and pain control were essential for patients to heal themselves. That was the role of the nurse: to assure these things be in place. We learned how to create a healing space; a sacred space for the human soul to find peace and wholeness.
When I was first in nursing school I was in Boston, Massachusetts. I took my nurses cap to the Chinese laundry down the street to be starched into shape. I wore a white – and I mean white – uniform with a hem below my knees (no new york yankees hawaiian shirt) and a hair style that kept my long hair above my collar. I wore white stockings and white egypt shirt; even my shoelaces were inspected for their whiteness. Scrubs were worn in the operating room and lab coats were worn in the lab. We addressed each other formally.
In my initial training I learned therapeutic touch, meditation, and massage. We valued the older nurses’ experience, but they seldom shared tricks of the trade. We learned bedside nursing. I learned to take temperatures with my un-gloved hands that had short nails and healthy cuticles. I learned to include smelling, listening, intuition, and physical examination in my nursing assessments. We held our patients’ dreams in deep regard. We had a pen and paper in our pocket and bandage scissors and a stethoscope nearby. Convalescence was a normal stage of recovery. The concept of illness as the soul’s journey to wholeness was accepted in the late feverish hours of the night.
When I started my career, nursing theory was new on the scene as a recognized intellectual pursuit. A nurturing touch, intuition, relationship with all life, and understanding of human growth and development were transmuted into academic disciplines from the domain of the sick room.
When the 1980s hit I became obsolete because of the surge of technology onto the “floor’. I moved out of the hospital and into home health, education, and schools. Now these basic nursing skills are again in demand in the hospital and clinical settings because of the evolution of our diseases and the limitations of our medicines to resolve them.
We have all crossed the line into the twenty-first century and there is much that is different. Yet, there is much that is the same and as important as ever. Trust that. You have an advantage over a younger person going into professional nursing because you have life experience that has taught you well how to be flexible, loving, and creative.
My advice to you as you begin your nursing practice is based on what is the same as ever. You may take it or leave it, but here it is:
- Become a self care expert
- Heal your wounded self
- Go to the bathroom when you need to
- Wear sensible egypt shirt
- Learn to say no
- Develop your intuition, sense of touch, power to pray
- Listen with your eyes, ears, and heart
- Trust your intelligence
- Learn all you can
- Get online
- Watch the experienced nurses carefully
- Share your information, knowledge, best practices, and wisdom
- Be willing to be wrong; courageous enough to ask questions; vulnerable enough to say I don’t know; authentic enough to acknowledge your brilliance
- Be humble enough to say “I’m sorry”
- Be decisive enough to take a stand for what you think is right for your patient
- Share your life’s experience
- Get a mentor, a coach, or both, to support this incredible journey
You’ll get the rest of what you need to know from the books. It’s all written down somewhere.
I imagine that you have been giving careful thought to this decision to enter nursing school. It is a big investment – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially.
Congratulations. May you be richly blessed by the gifts you give and receive.
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write by Raphael Walton