I Came for the Job, I Stayed for the Calling

Is nursing just a job? Or is it something more? I realized for me it's both. Some days it's just a job, but it's the calling that makes me stay. It's knowing that I'm touching lives, not just bodies, that makes the difference.


  • Specializes in NICU, Newborn and Maternal Health. Has 10 years experience.
I Came for the Job, I Stayed for the Calling

Nurses struggle to know whether their work is just a job or a calling. We go to work and do a job, but there is so much more to it. Can it be just a job? Days filled with tasks, even kind words, and that's the end? When I start to get bored of the job, or I don't enjoy it anymore, what makes me stay? Why not do something different? So is it a job, or is it a calling?

You know what? It's both. When I get caught up in the calling part of it it's easy to quickly burn out. If I imagined that every baby that came through the nicu was mine to make a difference in their life, every parent needing my every possible drop of compassion and caring I could muster, I would be diluting the gift. I would end up with nothing left to give.

Nurses know that intuition can play a big part in our job when it comes to assessments. Every nurse probably has a story of the eye rolls they got because they just "knew" something was off. In my experience I've been right more than wrong.

When it comes to who might need a little extra care and compassion I also go with my gut feeling. Some patients will just be a job to me. I will feed them and bathe them, start IVs, give medications and then send them home with no emotional attachment. They will be well cared for.

Then, there are the others. The ones I'll remember. For me in the NICU, it's the withdrawal babies, or the babies whose parents live far away and they spend more time alone. It's the one's whose moms are breaking, that need some extra care.

I now see my compassion and care as a finite resource. When I look around at my colleagues I acknowledge that they have it too. We can share the load. Is this my baby to cuddle longer? Do something extra? Are these my parents to come alongside and support and teach more than the average family? Maybe, and sometimes it's somebody else's turn.

It is possible to have a nursing career that is just a job, but with all the crap that nurses have to deal with literally and figuratively, I can think of a lot of other jobs where I could probably make the same amount of money for less stress. It is the part of the job where I hear stories of nurses who were a light in a dark place for people that makes me stay.

It doesn't take every nurse to have a deep impact on people in our care. Just one.

As a nurse, I arrive on my evening shift already having given all day to my kids, I know that while I care deeply, it is a well with a bottom. Some shifts I may choose to spread it thinly. An extra smile for every parent and cuddles for each baby.

Most shifts, I consider what I have to give beyond my nursing duties of feeding, bathing, medication, assessments, and communicating. I consider the need. Is there a mom that is having a hard time that I connect with? A baby that is already a heavy assignment, is going home tomorrow, but has a sore butt and could use a nice bath?

I give when I can, where I can. Some babies and families make me cry and many I'll never think of or remember again. It's the nature of the job.

There are lots of patients that pull at my heartstrings, but so many of them get amazing care from the other nurses on our unit. Not every nurse can love every baby(or patient) all the time. It's just not humanly possible.

Nursing is my job. I clock in like everybody else and perform tasks. Some days I'm tired or it's busy and it's all I can do to keep up with the physical demands of the job. A checklist that must be completed. It's a job that requires skill, skills that aren't always teachable, it's nuanced and not everyone can do it, but still a job. I think there are lots of good nurses who do this job and we need them.

However, for the nurses that it's a calling, I think the rewards of giving and caring are worth the pain and missed breaks. I know, that many of the NICU parents and mothers I've cared for wouldn't recognize me in the mall.

What about the mom who delivered a stillborn under my watch though? She would. I think she would remember how I knew just how she liked her tea from the night before and brought it to her in the morning along with a perfect handprint from her baby.

I know that the mom whose twins I cared for when one got NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis) and I let her hold for bloodwork because it was important to her, remembers me because she called out my name when she saw me and was excited to show me how much the boys had grown.

So like intuition that tells me when something is not right in a patient's physical body, I use my intuition or discernment to know when I can give a little extra. Those babies, those families are the ones that make it more that a job, they are the ones I feel called to.

I love the job but it's the calling that inspires me to keep going despite the politics and abuse, the bad days and the being puked on, the sore back and sore feet, and proximity to loss and death.

At the end of my career, I want to know that my hands touched not only people's bodies but their lives, that my support was what helped them get through. I want to read the Dear Nurse letters of gratitude with tears because I know my work was that valuable in someone's life. When I read comments from nurses who believe it's just a job I don't begrudge them that. The world needs lots and lots of nurses who are skilled and hardworking.

However, to me, nursing is my life work. The lines between mothering and nursing in my life are blurred. I see it as my calling to nurture hope and hold grief wherever I see it, even while I do my job.

I struggled through nursing school after being told I was too sensitive to make a good nurse. I started in Pediatrics, then Emergency. For the last 7 years I've worked in the NICU except for 1.5 years on Labor and Delivery. I love anything maternal/newborn health and blog at www.cryandnurseon.com

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22 Posts

Last year I hit my wall with nursing (after 31 yrs.)+7 yrs as a CNA/CMA and honestly tried to leave the profession. No luck....the jobs I applied for (and was willing to take the big pay cut!) didn't give me the time of day. I ended up leaving LTC and going back to a rural hosp. and say it's both...a job to pay the bills but the people (patients and families) give me something MY soul needs.


2 Articles; 26 Posts

Specializes in NICU, Newborn and Maternal Health. Has 10 years experience.
and say it's both...a job to pay the bills but the people (patients and families) give me something MY soul needs.

Totally. Some days it's one or the other and sometimes it's both.


3,726 Posts

I don't feel that it's a calling so much as one of my main purposes. I have to have purpose and I am drawn to the ownership and making things happen that comes with my job.

Home health nursing is my trade, it's my skill set that I've worked years to get to a point where I know it well enough to enjoy it. It's hard work and I'm tired by the end of the day or week, but it's a good tired.

In spite of all of the needling details and everyone seemingly pulling at me, I make good things happen and I'm addicted to that sense of accomplishment that I get everyday.

I didn't always feel this way, certainly not everyday like I do now. Time and experience got me here.