I wanted to be a doctor until I didn’t. That is to say that I had always planned on becoming a doctor. It seemed the most natural way for me to emulate my father, whom I have always idolized. That was the plan until, one day, the whole idea seemed completely wrong. When my father was diagnosed with cancer, my view of the health care profession radically shifted as I found myself occupying, or rather coping with, this new caretaker role. I experienced a rather fervent conversion: Nursing is for me. Just like that – no more medical school.
Some say I “settled” for Nursing. Settled! What kind of egregious accusation is that? Do they know how hard this is? I could cry every day for the rest of my life doing this job. I didn’t settle; I stepped up to accept awesome responsibility and privilege – the privilege of being able to lay hands on another human being, to become a participant-observer in their most intimate and excruciating moments, to navigate them, like a wayward ship, through the complexities of illness and wellness. Nursing is not about virtue or piety or maternal instincts or whatever Johnson&Johnson claims in their commercials. These characteristics don’t keep people alive; don’t keep people happy and healthy. Nursing is so continually sentimentalized and trivialized that it has become a veritable Hallmark Card in the health care industry. Somehow, Nursing is about “all the ways you care” and not about highly complex and skilled knowledge work.
Nursing is what results when a highly educated and motivated young woman, like myself, says, “I want to be present in another person’s life. I want to participate collaboratively in that life in order to effect changes. I refuse to merely view another human being as a disease model. I will recognize that people are not just the sum of their parts but complex individuals situated within ever-changing environments. I will take risks for the sake of a greater good, allowing myself to become open to criticism.” I imagine that such a philosophy was most important to my father in his practice of medicine – his primary goal being to relate to a patient human to human, not doctor to patient. So, really, my desire to emulate my father has nothing to do with my becoming a doctor, but it has everything to do with my becoming a good person. Nursing is my opportunity to achieve such a goal. It is social justice.