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Thoughts on Nursing and Teaching

Updated on August 10, 2013

As this year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on my career. I am a nurse and a teacher. At the end of most years, I find myself nostalgic with more sweet than bitter. While I would not say I am bitter as this year is ending, I am glad it is over and am hoping that the new year will bring more joy than this year has.

I’ve done a lot of driving during this holiday season, more often than not spending hours in the car with no company. I detest radio commercials and grow tired of holiday music quickly, so with the radio off and no one to talk to, I’ve had much time to think. My conclusion is this: certainly, there have been many lessons to learn this year from the chaos, the turmoil, and the heartache. I hope whatever wisdom the universe meant to impart, I did my share and absorbed it.


The Legacy of the Lamp

Florence Nightingale often is referred to as “The Lady with the Lamp.” She earned this moniker by carrying an oil lamp through dark halls of military hospitals during evening and night rounds. The lamp has become a symbol embedded in nursing, and my thoughts keep returning to it.

Teaching people how to be nurses is a tough job. Nursing changes who you are as a person. (If you are a nurse and have not found this to be true, I dare say you need to do some self-reflection). When you are facilitating the education of others in a way that challenges their core beliefs, values, and traditions, you are bound to run into some obstacles. I accept this as part of the career path I have chosen, and in fact, often I very much enjoy this part of my job. Nursing opened my eyes to see past the ignorance I learned growing up in a small town in eastern Kentucky. Nursing taught me to view the whole person, not just a tiny detail. Nursing taught me not to judge others. Nursing taught me to be who I am, and it continues to teach me daily lessons. I love my profession even more because of this, and I relish the opportunity to be a part of that learning experience for others.

Teaching the mental health component of the curriculum allows for this opportunity tenfold. People who suffer from mental illness already face challenges from the stigma of the disease itself. Watching students grow as they realize the depth of the stigma and the impact it has on people is an amazing experience for me. I love to hear students say, “This could happen to anyone,” and even more so to hear them say, “This could happen to me.” Yes! That moment is THE MOMENT. I will never stop loving that.

I remember when I first began teaching this particular course. I found myself thinking of my students as “my children,” and in many ways, they were. Learning about mental illness and how to care for those who suffer from it is very new to most students in nursing school. Watching them learn was similar to watching a baby learn to crawl, then walk, talk, and interact with others. Oh, how I loved “my children!”

This year has presented a new set of challenges for me. From personal illness to political stuff to heartbreak and much more, this year has been full of trials. I have found myself wondering how Florence kept carrying that lamp when I have been wanting to just throw it down (in my angry moments) or blow it out (in my bone-numbing fatigue). Florence Nightingale faced uphill battles every time she turned around. Her parents did not want her to be a nurse; the military did not want her in their hospitals; the medical profession was not interested in what she had to say; and even when bedridden during the latter part of her life, she continued to consult on issues relevant to nursing. What possessed her to continue? Was she just terribly stubborn or perhaps even obsessed? In my pessimistic moments, I think she must have been, but then I remember “my children” and the joy they have brought me, and I think, “No, not obsessed or stubborn, but impassioned. Yes, impassioned.”

There are times this career will threaten your passion. I have felt it this year, more so than ever. I am tired, and there have been times when I wanted to give up, to just stop fighting uphill battles. But I haven’t. Because nursing made me into who I am, and the legacy I follow is Florence Nightingale. I can see her now in my mind’s eye: one woman alone walking the halls, wounded soldiers crying, the smell of infection and filth, and one small gas lamp. I bet she wanted to throw it down. I bet she wanted to blow it out. But she didn’t. Instead, she held on and she kept fighting.

Lessons Learned

The lessons I’ve been forced to learn this year are many.

  • Remember, above all, what you are fighting for.
  • Know when you have done everything you are capable of doing, and as a result of this knowing, let go when it is time, but never before it is time.
  • If something threatens to destroy your passion, recognize it for what it is and do something about it! If you are a nurse, you were not made to sit idly by and let stuff happen to you. You have a legacy to follow, so follow it.

© 2012 Leah Wells-Marshburn


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