"What made you get in to this field?"
“What made you get into this field?” A question I’ve been asked countless times during my years as a nurse. Patients, parents, and co-workers all interested in my nursing journey. Thinking back on all the steps taken. All my past decisions leading me to this current moment. I think it was more of a combination of factors than one sole experience that pointed me in the direction of healthcare, specifically oncology nursing.
I grew up realizing life is not necessarily promised to all. My Dad was lucky to be alive - beating the odds for osteosarcoma in the early 80’s was rare. Sure, I saw his struggle everyday. He was a right above the knee amputee. Not something I took lightly, but I’d also never known him any different. Even seeing pictures of him before his surgery still strikes me a bit strange. That didn’t look like my Dad.
My parents still keep in touch with his favorite nurse - over 30 years later. That stuck with me. What an impression she must have made. What could a bond like that feel like on the other end? What was it like, providing support to young newlyweds during such a difficult (and potentially bleak) time? I wanted to be that person. I wanted to know what that level of rapport felt like. I wanted to be there for people in their time of need and help them through their crisis – just like that nurse had done for my parents so many years ago. I wanted to connect with people.
I worked many odd jobs over the years starting in my early teens. I was a cashier, waitress, worked in a laundromat, tanning salon, law office. But the two jobs I loved the most were babysitting and working in a day care center. I liked earning the parents trust and really enjoyed spending time with the kids. Going through high school I had big ambitions and knew I wanted to end up somehow in the realm of pediatrics. But there was more to that story.
I had always been a sick kid. Struggling with frequent infections and illnesses. I frequently think back to a nurse I had during my first overnight stay on a pediatric ward at a New Jersey hospital. I remember her so clearly. Her name was Beatrix. With such a beautiful and unusual name, how could I forget it? Her care and kindness has stayed with me - nearly 20 years later. It was the small things she did that made an impression. She was on the day shift - when she came to do my morning assessment I told her I hadn’t slept. She asked if the nurses station was too loud (my room was directly across the hall). I told her the noise was okay, I was...afraid of the dark. I thought she might laugh at me. She didn’t bat an eye. Before her shift ended, she came by again - leaving my bathroom light on with the door slightly ajar. “Leave this on, it will help you sleep.” This seems like such a small gesture, but it made quite the impression on my ten year old self. She remembered!
My exposure to pediatric nurses continued throughout my young adult life. Because of a newly diagnosed illness in high school I had need for regular infusions (and nowhere else to receive them other than the Peds Onc unit). I was lucky enough to observe these nurses first hand. The patients, nurses and families all seemed to have quite the symbiotic relationship. I had found my calling. I was going to try my hardest to do it, despite a few setbacks.
In high school I thought maybe I wanted to go pre-med and become a doctor. My guidance counselor quickly dismissed the idea and told me I would be wasting my time and should choose another path. I took a week to think about my options. I came back and said, “I’d actually really like to be a nurse”. She told me there was “no way… just apply undecided”. My grades were fine but I had missed a ton of my junior and senior year. High school can be hard enough to navigate but especially so when you’re dealing with a chronic illness.
In the end, that counselor shaped my future path. It was the best (and obviously, the worst) advice I ever got. Lucky for me, I’m stubborn. I’m the type of person that loves to prove you wrong. Off to nursing school I went. Well, that is after going to a large state school & dropping out after a semester. Longer path (and extra student loans) but my nursing journey had begun!
I met countless patients through nursing school and many more once I started working as an RN. So many of them stick out in my mind on a regular basis. My first patient, my first death, all the big hugs from tiny patients and the thank you’s from parents or spouses. Laughter, joy, sadness, comfort and so many more emotions come to mind thinking about all I’ve experienced with my patients over the years. Nursing is an incredible profession. It has taught me many life lessons I can’t imagine learning elsewhere.
We all have our own stories, setbacks and struggles. It’s important to remember how far we have each come, both personally and professionally. Everyone has taken a journey to get here. We are now the nurses - not just those aspiring to be. Today or someday soon, you may be the one nursing students look up to, the one less experienced nurses ask for help, the one influencing a child's memory of healthcare. No matter how many years you have under your belt, our actions as nurses today can inspire our young patients to be our replacements tomorrow. Let’s be sure to leave a lasting impression.Last edit by Joe V on Oct 19, '17
About Ashley Hay, BSN, RN
Over 10 years of nursing experience in several areas of pediatric & adult oncology including clinical research, chemotherapy, transplant, hematology, proton therapy, GI surgery, wound care, post anesthesia recovery, etc.
Joined: Aug '16; Posts: 88; Likes: 324
Freelance Healthcare Writer & Pediatric Oncology RN
Specialty: 10 year(s) of experience in OncologyMar 31, '17Honestly what drives me as I go through nursing school is the patients that I meet. I honestly can't imagine being in their shoes but they continue to inspire me as I continue to care for them. I also have always wanted to work as the backbone of healthcare and be on the frontline with my patient. Getting to do this job is the most rewarding thing I have ever done and I highly recommend nursing to anyone who is thinking about it. The ability to be with my patients in their time of need is very humbling. I enjoy getting to spend time with my patients because that is why I am in this field in the first place. To help the vulnerable and care for the sick. I love being a nursing student.Mar 31, '17I have no idea what spurred me to go into nursing. A bad breakup happened and the next thing I knew I'd changed my major. Temporary insanity?Apr 2, '17Father is English, played professional soccer in the UK, contracted asthma, coached in America whilst at Uni here, American mother, born here, then moved back to the UK. His asthma cont'd to plague him but he was a trooper, cont'd with his studies, ended up a barrister. Dad was a massive inspiration and formed almost every aspect of my intellectual curiosity. He never stopped trumpeting the nurses empathy and compassion and it germinated. Best job ever!! The fund of knowledge and experiences have been never ending. So many specialties with so many options re travel and too many positives to list.Apr 4, '17I never really planned on going into nursing until earlier this year. All my life, I wanted to be a teacher, until I had to job shadow for a project last semester. I realized teaching wasn't for me and decided to go into a different path. At this point, I was already undecided about what I wanted to do. Going through high school, I went back and forth between teaching, nursing, and marine biology. When my uncle died from cancer three months before graduating from high school, that set something off in me. Do I continue onto getting my teacher's license, or do I go into nursing? After my experience with that job shadowing project, I decided to go into nursing. But I also debated whether to go into oncology or neonatal nursing. Ultimately I decided with the latter. As much as I wanted to help out people with cancer, I just couldn't go through seeing people suffer with cancer as I did with my uncle on his death bed. His passing left me somewhat traumatized, as I never knew he had cancer up until a few months prior to his passing. So I decided to become a neonatal nurse. I was born almost 2 months premature, and I couldn't breathe on my own when I was born. I ended up staying in the NICU for two weeks. I decided to go into neonatal nursing because I feel a special connection between myself and other babies who are currently in the NICU and those who might end up in the NICU. I also feel a small sense of guilt on occasion, knowing I was able to leave the NICU healthy while others never survived. I want to make sure that every baby that comes into my care leaves the NICU healthy.Apr 5, '17Needed a job where I could keep myself. Been doing this over 30 years so it was a good decision but no noble reason to start with.Apr 5, '17We were asked to answer this question by our CEO. My first response: "No experience with abuse as a child so I thought I'd try nursing." Decided against the snarky answer (bad move professionally) and decided on a more honest approach: I was called into nursing when I was 14 years old. Ministers are not the only ones who are called by God. I was blessed with more than one miracle during college and passed boards on the first try. I have worked long term care, rehab, ICU, PCU, office, and ER in my 37 year career. The best compliment I've ever received was from an elderly gentleman in ICU. The second day I cared for him, his family was visiting when I went in to assess him. He grabbed my hand and, smiling from ear to ear, told them that "this is the nurse who helped me. She listened to me and got what I needed!". Listening and meeting someone's needs.......don't underestimate the power in those two actions.Apr 11It's the year 1967 + in one year I was going to graduate from high school, where I was on the RI and National Honor Society. Excelling in mathematics, I had wanted to teach at a RI university and be a math professor. The woman guidance counsellor told me "No, women don't teach math at that level. You are very good in the sciences and math, so nursing will be a good choice for you. Why, someday you'll get married and have babies; it's a great career for that because you can always work part time!" Can you imagine? So the following year comes, I am standing on the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI, with my best girlfriend, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean and Bam--it hits me like a spiritual drift. I said out loud "I want to help people." So I ended up graduating from a 3 year diploma RN school of nursing 1971, got my BSN in 1980 and a MS in computers/ information systems in 1990. In March I just d/cd my RN licensure after holding it for 47 years; I am retired at last.
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