The Day I Realized I Didn’t Want to Be a Nurse

If you ask most RNs, more than likely they remember the time they discovered they wanted to be a nurse. For some, it was playing dress up as a child using a stethoscope and caring for their stuffed bear. For others, it might have been as they watched their mom get dressed to go to work as a nurse. Yet others recall a time when they were sick, and a nurse had a tremendous impact in their life. That event made them realize they wanted to do the same thing. I don’t have a story like that. I don’t remember the time I decided I wanted to be a nurse. However, I do remember the day I didn’t want to be a nurse anymore.

It was February of 2019. I had an infant and a toddler at home and continued working two shifts a week in the ER. Usually I went in at 3pm or 7pm – it minimized the need for childcare, but that day I went in at 11am. They were short staffed earlier in the day and I figured “Hey- why not get out early?” I was in Pod C that day, rooms 31-34. Usually that section didn’t open until 11am, yet I walked into a full assignment with four patients; all of whom hadn’t had a nurse since they arrived, and they all had sets of orders waiting for me to perform and assessments to complete.

I had sick patients that day. My elderly gentleman in room 31 was a full septic workup, add to it he was extremely confused and continually trying to get off the stretcher. Multiple labs, IVs, fluids to address his very low blood pressure, and IV antibiotics. I easily spent my first 60-90 minutes that morning with him. He was someone I needed to keep a close eye on, his condition could further deteriorate quickly. I had a sweet lady in room 33 who had recently had to make a difficult decision and chose a medical procedure she really didn’t want, but one that for her and her husband was the less of two evils. Now she came in with symptoms concerning for complications. She needed continued nursing assessment, but she also needed emotional support. My heart went out to her, I wanted to sit in that room with her all day and just hold her hand and cry with her. She had been holding it in for a few weeks and it was taking its toll.

Last shift at the hospital – 37 weeks pregnant

My patient in room 34 was a middle-aged woman with sudden stroke symptoms. She was a full stroke work up and required detailed assessment, almost continually. She was a candidate for powerful medication that could reverse her symptoms if she was positive for a stroke. The clock was ticking, and time mattered. I needed to stay close to her to help provide the care she needed. And then, there was the young gentleman in 32. He came with his entourage of family and friends. He was concerned he had a concussion. Honestly, I do not even remember what he had done – but it had been days. His symptoms were expected, and he could have been evaluated elsewhere. The drama was over the top. The family and friends chasing me into other patients’ rooms complaining about the care he was receiving that day, and the insults they were giving was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Seven years in the ER and I had dealt with plenty of complaints, ridicule, and nonsense. But it was that day, as I bit my lip to hold back tears walking to the bathroom I told myself “I am done with this”. I am done with the unsafe working conditions, I am done with the requirements that make me pay more attention to my charting than to my patients, I am done with the constant phone calls asking me to come work more, and I am done with a system that would rather put a band aid on symptoms rather than address the root problem. I am done being a nurse.

It has been almost three years now since that day, and I have come to realize it isn’t that I don’t want to be a nurse anymore, but my definition of nursing has changed. Nursing isn’t about medicating, charting, or being short staffed and delivering care you are ashamed of. Nursing is about empowering, equipping and helping people live their healthiest life. That the function of a nurse in our current “health care” system is not what nursing was created to be, and I am not going to accept what it has become. Nurses everywhere deserve better, and even more, our patients and families deserve better. And if my sons or daughter ever want to become a nurse – I will be proud to stand behind that decision and encourage them in it as I know the power they will have to be life changers. And so, I am not quitting nursing. I am rewriting what nursing is and taking it back to what it was meant to be.

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