Becoming a Nurse

Nurse uniform in the 1900's.
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When did I become a nurse? Was it when I carried a burning candle, wore a silly white hat and got pinned in a church in Richmond, Virginia? In my memory I could swear that my pinning ceremony church was St John’s where Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech but that can’t be right. I do accurately remember that it was the first and last time I ever wore a nurse’s cap. My childhood Winnie-the-Pooh has worn it ever since and I am sure there is deep symbolism there…

Was it when I passed my NCLEX exam? Or perhaps my first day on the job as a public health nurse, decked out in navy blue? Or was it a year later on my first day on the job as a nurse practitioner at a health clinic for the homeless—when I found myself in charge of the clinic as the only health care provider and willing down my breakfast and my fear? Or am I still becoming a nurse or do I even want to be a nurse?

“Becoming” is a coming into existence. It implies a right of passage, assuming a new identity, a transition from one state to another—such as “becoming an adult” or “becoming a butterfly.” A quick Google search of “becoming a nurse” reveals many website links to things like “10 Steps to Becoming a Nurse” (NursingLink): learn about the nursing profession, find your path to RN title, chose nursing school, get into nursing school, decide on specialty, pass NCLEX, consider possibilities for first job, get hired, prepare for first year as nurse—presto! You have become a nurse! Good luck with that, most nurses burn out in their first year as a nurse…  “Becoming a doctor” has similar elements—MCATs, med school, residency, etc—but also includes things like “excel” and “commit.” There are at least twenty books in print with “becoming a doctor” in the title and only five  with “becoming a nurse” in the title.

Soon there will be an additional book on becoming a nurse and you nurses or ‘becoming nurses’ could be part of that book. “Becoming a Nurse: Real Stories of Nurses, Their Lives and Their Patients” is a book project by Lee Gutkind, editor of the journal Creative Nonfiction. They have a call for submissions (deadline November 30, 2011) for 2,500-5,000 word personal essays, “…stories (by nurses) that recall and recreate the most salient moments of their careers.” (Excerpted from their website call for submissions).  Jenelle Pifer, Assistant Editor of Creative Nonfiction has assured me that they want to include “a variety of perspectives on a number of different subsets in the field”—that includes nurse practitioners and all other flavors of nurses.

Creative Nonfiction, with Lee Gutkind as editor has already published a book Becoming a Doctor (Norton, 2010), with essays by well-known physician-writers such as Danielle Ofri, Sayantani DasGupta, Perri Klass and Robert Coles—as well as many relative newcomers to the physician-writer (published) role—and one who I think is a stretch to the doctor title (at least in how it was conceptualized for the book project)—Lauren Slater (Welcome to my Country and Liar), who is a now non-practicing psychologist. But it is an excellent book and I plan to use some of the essays as readings for my health policy classes this year.

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