Why Be a Nurse?

The ability to show compassion while providing life-saving care is a talent that deserves recognition. During Nurses Week, we celebrate those individuals who take on the often challenging and exhausting career of nursing. Why do they choose to do such difficult work? One nurse shared why she chose nursing in the first place, and why she keeps doing it year after year.

Why Be a Nurse?

In her early 20s, Jennifer Smith traveled the world. Her curiosity took her all over — to England, to Tanzania, to Egypt, and to many more places. Although sightseeing topped the agenda, the personal connections she made on her journey shaped her future.

“I got to know a few registered nurses and enjoyed their company, but also their approach to people and their approaches to life. Prior to this, nursing was not on my radar at all,” she explained.

While she was traveling through Africa, a motorcycle exhaust pipe burned Jennifer’s leg. The nurse who tended to her wound was incredibly personable and gentle, leaving a lasting impression. “It was the care and attention that I first noticed. Not to mention the support, education, and advice. As you can imagine, I was quite worried about my wound healing given the environment that I was traveling in,” Jennifer explained.

That experience was a turning point. The kindness Jennifer felt during her trip to Africa led her to also become a nurse herself, a job she has done for over 20 years. Jennifer has since discovered she loves palliative care, and now works in that field in a rural community in New South Wales, Australia. This sensitive sector of nursing focuses on providing relief from symptoms of life-limiting conditions and terminal illness diagnoses. Being available for someone at the end of their life, as well as for their grieving family, takes strong mental focus and an empathetic heart.

The Importance of Self-care

Jennifer found the fatiguing struggle of doing shift work while caring for multiple people with poor prognoses to be a huge challenge. After 15 years in the field, she awakened to the necessity of self-care and how it could improve her quality of life and that of the patients under her care.

For Jennifer, self-care goes far beyond a few moments of meditation or exercise. Instead, her approach to personal resilience is woven into every aspect of her lifestyle. “How I prepare for my day actually makes a big difference to how I am at work, whether or not I take on the stress of the day, or whether I am able to go with what the days presents,” she said.

Jennifer starts her day without rushing. She allows herself the time and space to be mindful while eating breakfast, showering, and preparing for the day ahead so she can enjoy commuting to work and feel fresh when she arrives.

This purposeful self-care mindset is present throughout her day, which allows her to be more open, relaxed, and attentive to her patients with the kindness and care they deserve.

“I realized I loved everything about nursing, even the really difficult aspects,” Jennifer said. “This is not about perfection because when working with people it could never be perfect. I have and continue to learn so much about people and life through nursing and also myself.”

Small, Kind Gestures Make All the Difference

Assisting with procedures, administering medications, and providing comfort are all in a day’s work for Jennifer. She emphasized that simply being present for others when they’re ill and acknowledging their feelings is personally rewarding.

She makes a point of being there for patients and their families as someone is approaching the end of their life. This might take the form of a phone call to help alleviate anxiety or just taking a quiet moment to sit together. She also finds that making sure her patients are comfortable in bed — helping them move to a new position or stay warm — is personally fulfilling as a nurse.

“Our presence and support is greatly valued by our patients and families, and we do need to see this and appreciate this about ourselves as nurses. Everything we do, even the simplicity of walking into a room, is of value,” Jennifer said.

So, why be a nurse? Because as challenging as it can be, the opportunity to use your own kindness, skill, and intelligence to make a difference in other people’s lives is well worth it.