Lynda, I do not have debt. Mine was free because my mom taught at the school. I actually switched majors three times, nursing being the last obviously. Nursing had nothing to do with the money, I like public health anyway, which is like the lowest paid in nursing. I was like the OP, that is my point. The cutesy, excited type that liked the critical thinking, but I like public health rather than solely working in the hospital. I realized post school and hopping through the hoops with the Board and volunteering with Americorps, volunteering in general post Americorps, and hearing about what medical assistants can do, etc. Nursing anymore is not the Florence Nightingale type nursing. Most of the time, nurses chart a good portion of their time and manage rather than hands on care. I realized after the fact that most of the stuff that I am interested in is not solely nursing skills...lay people can do a lot of that stuff too.
The way nursing is presented in school is not real world. I am lucky I came out debt free, but for me, the little money I make now to keep the license and not do have job and I ask myself when is enough enough. Let it go. It irks me slightly to think I spent almost 2 grand, which is everything I made post school on drugs screens just to keep a license. That is really the only thing that keeps me from getting rid of my license. Thinking how much I spent already in HPMP. I would be out that money and nothing to show for it.
OP, you have to realize that once someone has a license that DQs them for many jobs--CNA, cashier type jobs (due to being overqualified and thinking they will leave if they got a job as a nurse), etc and they are under qualified for others. You can end up stuck. I think being stuck in the middle/rut really made me resent being a nurse and having a license.
In all fairness, OP asked if people were proud to be a nurse. No one was slamming OP and crews choice to be a nurse, but my experience having the license has not been good. Therefore, no, I am not a proud nurse. I have other things in life that made me so much prouder than this. Plus, I do not define myself solely by a profession.