Friday, July 24, 2009

Are Passion and a Calling Pre-requisites for Being a Good Nurse?

Several years of news about the nursing shortage, and now the recession, has made nursing a popular career choice. And, it is a popular choice for those seeking a second career because, in part, it is viewed as offering job security. For decades it was assumed that those entering the profession had a calling and a passion for the work before they’d even set foot in a nursing school classroom—in fact, it seemed to be a requirement. Even nurses were of that mindset, and many still are.

Recently, there was a comment posted on a forum by a nurse who was miffed when she heard a second-career nurse say, “I wish I’d gone into nursing first because it’s a recession-proof job.” Nurse Miffed is of the opinion—and I’m paraphrasing here—that someone who chooses nursing for job and salary security can’t be dedicated to the work.

I disagree. I have first-hand experience as a nurse who felt neither a calling to, nor a passion for, the profession. I grew up in a middle class family, a child of parents who never attended college. They wanted us to have the opportunities that had been out of reach for them but they didn’t have the experience to advise us about career choices and colleges. We were pretty much left to our own devices.

In my senior year of high school I knew I should be making plans regarding my life’s work but I hadn’t a clue what that might be. As the sports editor of my school newspaper, I’d developed an interest in journalism, but such a career seemed so abstract I couldn’t grasp it. My hometown was a mostly agricultural community of 1,200 people that hadn’t produced a single journalist ever. It felt like a make-believe job and I am nothing if not pragmatic, so I thought I should seek something more practical.

It was an era of television medical dramas and I was an avid fan of those programs. Watching the medical shows planted the seed of thought that maybe I could do what the nurses on TV were doing (which wasn't much compared to reality) and that is how I decided upon a nursing career. No calling. No passion. Not much thought at all. I suddenly found myself in nursing school where our instructors wasted no time whipping us into shape. I followed the rules (mostly), did what I was told (mostly) and found that I not only had some talent for nursing, but also really loved most aspects of it. By graduation our class had shrunk by nearly a third. Some of those who didn’t make it to the end had a passion for the profession, had wanted to be nurses since childhood, but in the throes of school they discovered it wasn’t what they’d imagined and their bubbles burst.

I think salary and employability are factors we all think about when considering a career, so why should nursing be put on a pedestal as being something we would pursue, no matter the wage or job possibilities.

I have used this quote by Diana Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN, former editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Nursing, a couple times before but it is so wise and so true, it needs to be repeated: “It does take a special something to be a good nurse, but it can be learned—with proper desire, skills can be gained.”

I’m certain there are untold numbers of caring, highly skilled nurses who, like me, arrived at nursing school without a passion but, with guidance from superb instructors, learned to be good nurses.

Be honest. Was it passion and calling alone that led you to nursing? Did salary and job prospects affect your decision? Please weigh in here.


Dawn Ginese, R. N. said...

Hi Glenna, The Singing Nurse checking in. I chose nursing as a kid out of high school because I wanted to help people. Not sure but it all fell through at that time, got married, had 3 kids and I didn't go back to nursing school until my last child was in school. Frankly for me the final deciding factor to go back into nursing came when I was painting windshield advertisement on cars as my now pastor husband did detail work on cars, pinstripes, vinyl repair etc. It was in upstate NY and it was getting cold out and I decided I did not like freezing fingers so decided to go back to school to become a nurse. Little did I know that it would prepare me for what I do now. Nursing is such a broad field and I'm glad I did go back and the human body is such an amazing creation. Concerning salary, I was also working at a school for emotionally disturbed children as a T.A. and after becoming a nurse tripled my hourly wage, a nice side benefit. Enjoyed your blog. Sincerely for Healthy Children. Dawn

Glenna Murdock, RN said...

Hi Dawn! Good to hear from you again. Thanks for sharing your story. I suspect that most of us have a unique story re: how we ended up as nurses. I'm just now finding your message as my blog is on hiatus for awhile and I haven't checked the site for quite sometime (obviously). I have a new grandbaby (my first) and have thought of the little video of you singing to your little grandbaby.


Lisa Wyle - Prerequisites for Nursing said...

I agree with you - I don't think you need to feel a calling in order to be a good nurse. That is a nice romantic view of life, but life is more complicated. People choose their careers for many different reasons. A good nurse needs to have compassion for people, and a nurturing personality, but she may choose her profession for very prosaic reasons as salary, availability of work and many other reasons.

Glenna Murdock, RN said...

Thank you, Lisa, for your comment! Your view of the subject is very practical---and I agree that a "calling" is perhaps a bit romantic.


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