Why I’m A Nursing Student When I Don’t Want To Be A Nurse
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Why I’m A Nursing Student When I Don’t Want To Be A Nurse

There's more to the profession than scrubs and a stethoscope.

Why I’m A Nursing Student When I Don’t Want To Be A Nurse

Studying nursing comes with a lot of stipulations. For one, our schedules aren’t limited to just a few 90-minute lectures a day – our clinical days can start as early as 7 in the morning and, if you don’t start until the afternoon, can go as late as 9 at night. We spend about 90% of our time in scrubs, or studying, or having conversations about bodily fluids that would probably make anyone else bring their lunch back up. But if there’s one thing I always found specific to nursing students is the expectation that all of us will spend our whole careers in scrubs on a hospital floor. Sure, it seems obvious, but I find it unusual – not all psychology majors become psychologists, not all history majors become historians, and not all biology majors become biologists – or even doctors. While nursing school is very occupation-focused, the skills and critical thinking techniques are applicable far beyond the hospital floor.

Think about the traits someone needs to be a nurse. You’ve got to be able to understand how the body works and how medications affect it, of course, but there’s so much more that goes under the radar. A nurse has to be analytical, and understand what a patient needs even when that patient isn’t capable of explaining it. A nurse needs to be compassionate, and able to speak to someone on that person’s level. How do you explain to someone that they’ll need a pylorus gastrectomy to correct their obstructive duodenal ulcer, to someone with a middle-school educational level? How do you explain why? Not unlike a businessperson making a presentation, a nurse must be able to communicate information effectively at a level that’s meaningful to the person receiving the information. Aren’t these skills that are useful outside the clinical setting?

I never grew up wanting to be a nurse. I always liked science, especially biology, but I never really saw myself going to medical school or becoming a doctor. So when I came to visit Penn and saw they had a nursing program, I gave it a “why the hell not?” and applied – and here I am. But I never actually wanted to be a nurse.

In fact, I was so sure that I did not want to be a nurse, that I spent a decent part of freshman fall looking into transferring into the College of Arts and Sciences. Turns out, I couldn’t just “drop” nursing – the process was actually a lot more difficult and to me, not worth going through. I decided to stick it out, because after all, my professors had spent a great deal of time talking about how “there’s so much you can do in nursing.” And they were absolutely right.

As I continued on in my nursing education, there was one thing in particular that always stood out to me – working with people who are outside of the health care system. People who don’t have access to a doctor’s office, people who can’t afford the healthy foods that we know to prevent so many diseases, or even those high-risk patients who lack the knowledge on how to lead a healthy lifestyle. Sophomore spring, I sat in my pharmacology lecture memorizing medications, and long lists of not-so-nice side effects to treat all kinds of diseases – and then went over to my nutrition class, where we read cutting-edge research on how proper eating and healthy lifestyle habits could prevent those diseases in the first place. We had talked about this disparity in some of my nursing courses, but I’d never realized how much my nursing skills and knowledge could play a role. The ability to work communicate with people, to spread your scientific knowledge in a manner that is meaningful to people and has an effect on their lives – isn’t that what we were really learning all along?

So I did some more research. I learned that there are far to few medical professionals out in the community working to prevent diseases, and far too many profiting off of them in the hospital. I learned that only 27% of medical schools meet the required number of hours of nutrition education, despite the fact that doctors have the power to encourage and influence healthy eating habits in their patients. Sure, it may seem obvious – don’t eat a lot of fat, or sugar, and you’ll be fine. But what kinds of vitamins and minerals are known to help prevent disease? Why do we need to limit certain types of foods? How can someone who’s allergic to raw fruits and vegetables (yes, that’s a real thing) eat healthy? Isn’t this something you would want a medical professional to know? But more than anything, I learned that we can treat diseases, and deal with their cycle of side effects, or we can work to prevent them. And I realized what I wanted to do with my career.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work at an insurance company in their Preventative Health & Wellness department. I spent my ten weeks there talking to people at corporate health fairs, giving physical demonstrations on how much sugar is really in a can of Coke, and developing a Healthy Weight Challenge based on nutrition research done by the CDC. The last I’ve heard, that program will be rolled out to customers beginning at the end of this year. I was making a difference. I was impacting the community around me in ways that nursing school, and even my clinicals, never could have taught me. I’ll stop here, because I hate bragging, but undoubtedly, it was the most fulfilling summer of my life.

At the end of the summer, my boss asked me to give a speech at an event where audience attendees would include the entire Executive Board of the company I worked at, and all of the nursing school deans in the Philadelphia region. Naturally, I was terrified. I spent weeks putting together, memorizing, practicing, and perfecting my speech. I had it down to a tee. And, in one of the most “of course I would do that” moments, I totally scrapped it when I got up to the podium.

I skipped my points about how I’d learned so much, and how important it was to supplement nursing education with experiences outside the clinical setting – although both were incredibly true. Instead, I talked about how we need more nurses working in the community with those who don’t have access to healthy food, let alone a doctor’s visit. I talked about how licensed nurses have the opportunity to serve as leaders in all kinds of capacities, and use their knowledge and analytical skills to make a real difference. And I talked about how all of my experiences over the past year made me realize why I’m a nursing student when I don’t actually want to be a nurse – because the knowledge and skills I’m learning are transferrable far outside of the hospital floor, and I can use that to make a positive impact in so many unconventional ways.

I probably titled this article wrong – I do, in fact, want to complete my nursing education and pass my boards to become an RN. And believe me, I have nothing against nursing education or those people who use it in clinical settings for their whole careers. We need those people, and nurses of all kinds are incredibly important. As for me, I still don’t know exactly what I want my career to look like – only time will tell that – but I know that when I graduate, I’ll have the knowledge to take me far beyond one setting. I might not want to be a "real" nurse, but coming to nursing school was one of the best decisions I could've made.
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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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