Confessions of a compassionate degree educated nurse

There’s a clip from a letter circulating on social media today.  Of course it has caught my attention – as a degree educated nurse I am one of those to whom it refers.

When I was choosing my career, nursing was the last thing I wanted to do. My parents were both nurses and both were keen to dissuade me from making it my own career of choice.  I remember as a 7 year old going to pick my mum up on Christmas day.  She had just done a night shift as nurse in charge at the hospital.  I was not  particularly impressed with that experience to be frank. I eventually decided to be an archaeologist.  I loved history and that was what I resolved to pursue.

Little did I know that my life would change forever when I was 16 and got a Saturday job in a nursing home as a cleaner.  Or so I thought.  Off I went, 8am on the first Saturday morning.  I was nervous but reasonably confident in what my work would entail.  I reported to the office as instructed only to find out that they didn’t need a cleaner after all.  I was to be working as a Care Assistant.  I was taken to a room with a woman sitting in a chair who was waiting to be washed.  With another carer teaching me I learnt how to wash someone and the value of making the most of that time you are with them whilst doing so.  I was learning to assess her care needs.  I fell in love with the work and I fell in love with the humans I saw every week; these vulnerable people that I cared for and cherished and mourned over when they were there no more.  I learnt so much during the 3 years I was there and took these valuable experiences with me to the university I was educated at for 4 years doing my nursing degree.

I had an option when I entered my education to become a nurse.  Not that I knew it.  My careers advisor at the tertiary college I went to made no mention of the diploma and (presumably intentionally) steered me towards a degree.  I was to find out when I got to university that this was definitely not the best financial option as we had no bursary and had an extra year of study but in the end I graduated, happy and ready for my first job in cardiac surgery.  It was the year 2000.  I’d spent the 4 years being very aware of the image a degree-educated nurse conjured up facing criticisms both from patients and my colleagues that were on the whole rooted in genuine ignorance and a lack of understanding about what my education actually entailed.  I smiled, happily answered their questions and gave my best anyway.

Compassion strikes to the very heart of nursing.  A degree education does not change this.  Nursing is not an “easy” career; there are much easier ways of making money let’s be blunt about it.  Look around and you will see nurses enduring through challenge. They endure because of what drives them. There is no room in this career for people who lack compassion and our code of conduct is quite clear on this.

Compassion is not passive.  It requires action.  It sometimes requires bravery.  Throughout my career, from the very early days working in that nursing home I knew this.  Everywhere I look I see both.  Compassionate nurses are not just out there, but we are infused throughout our places of work.  We are speaking out for the vulnerable, for the hurting.  Just listen and you will hear us.

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