Columbia University School of Nursing – Class of 2015
Whenever someone asks me why I became a nurse—and yes, this includes during job interviews—I always have a pat response: “Because I wanted to be useful in the impending zombie apocalypse—a wedding planner gets eaten first, but a nurse people might try to keep alive for awhile.” It’s a joke—mostly. Although I don’t actually believe in zombies, the fundamental tenet of that response remains the same: I had spent the better part of my first years of adulthood in a very satisfying and lucrative career in events management engaging with people, organizing chaos and contributing to some of the most important moments in my clients’ lives (sounds familiar, right?), but what I was missing was a drive, a passion—and above all else—a greater purpose in my life and career that could maximize on those same skills mentioned above, but result in a more lasting and meaningful impact for both the people I was engaging with, and myself personally.
As I’ve begun my new career in nursing, I’ve been struck by the simultaneous familiarity of it all, and the absolute abject foreignness. This half-in/half-out feeling of calm and panic has really opened my eyes to what I like to call “nursing with a lowercase ‘n’ vs. Nursing with an uppercase ‘N’”. I often thought—and still think quite often—of Nurses as quasi-superheroes. It was “one of those jobs”, like being a Doctor, or a Fireman, or an Astronaut. To be one meant there was something inherently Astronaut-y about you to begin with, and when I first embarked on this, I wasn’t sure I was Nurse-y enough to really be cut out for it. What I have seen is that some of the ‘Nursiest’ things just happen to be some of the things that I have always loved about life in general: the opportunity to open someone’s eyes to something with special knowledge you have. Before, for me, it was what particular Pinot will drink easily on a warm summer afternoon, but have enough stamina to stand up against the duck breast—and now, it’s the relationship between my patient not monitoring their blood glucose, and the unremitting pain they have in their feet. I love that nursing is first and foremost about the patient—or the client, or whatever terminology your system uses—it’s about making connections and being the link to medicine that actively engages our population in the management of their own health. On the flipside of that, too often I see nurses around me who have lost sight of that—who are focused on their tasks and their checklists and their mandates from the overseers. I think it’s a delicate balance, and I hope—as a new graduate—to infuse some of my (possibly naïve, but I hope not) zeal and fresh-eyed optimism into the units I join.
And with utmost honesty, I think a big part of that zeal and optimism has come from my involvement with the Men in Nursing organizations I am currently a part of. As a member of the NYC Chapter, and as current President of the Columbia University Student Chapter, I have been fortunate to enter the profession with the strong foundation of many generations of men and women who have come before me, and are available to me now to help navigate and shape the future of nursing. One of the most exciting things for me since embarking on this journey has been to see how the conversation has been re-structured the longer men have been becoming more active in the field. The role of the nurse has often been misunderstood, misrepresented and too often taken for granted—and through organizations like ours, we lend strength and plurality to our sisters (and brothers) in the profession, while simultaneously attract a more curious eye from our colleagues in the other healthcare professional silos. It is for this reason, and so many more, that I think it is crucial that we continue to breakdown stereotypes and make way for even more men to join us as nurses. I’ve seen firsthand just how the power of education can help us in this cause; at a recent career day for a friend’s primary school class, I had the opportunity to break down barriers with 40 bright young minds, and challenge their notion of what being a nurse—and being a man in the profession—means. It’s a small ripple, but enough of them will cause waves of change; and that’s what nursing is all about, for me: riding the waves of change across a sea of possibility.