AN E-MAIL FROM AN OLD FRIEND from nursing school arrived in my inbox, inviting me to visit her in Los Angeles. It had been years since I'd seen her. A few months later, I was flying across the country for a visit.
Even though we'd been in different specialties, she in psychiatric nursing and I in community health, the bond we shared as young nursing students stayed strong through the years. Since our graduation, we'd never lived in the same city, yet our lives crisscrossed many times through the years—weddings, funerals, and long vacation weekends. We learned about important life changes through letters and phone calls. Thanks to what nursing taught us about people, we knew the challenges the other was experiencing.
How nursing shaped us
She met me outside the airport. The way she styled her hair hadn't changed. The skin around her eyes was a little softer, and like me, she was a few pounds heavier. Had it not been for nursing school, I never would have met her. We grew up in different states in families with vastly different value systems. Nursing is what held us together.
As she welcomed me into her home, memories of our 3 years together in nursing school came rushing back. I thought of anatomy class when we dissected a frog, nursing arts labs where we practiced our newly learned skills on manikins, and clinical rotations under the ever-watchful eyes of our instructors. I remembered us reciting pertinent facts about medications that we memorized from our drug cards, keeping our hands from shaking as we learned to give our first I.M. injections, and calculating the correct doses of our patients' medications. Nursing was instrumental in developing our critical thinking skills.
We talked about how we were always there to support each other throughout nursing school. Nursing took our caring tendencies and made them strong. It taught us the definition of commitment.
We laughed about the things we thought were important back then—having a boyfriend, outwitting the housemother, staying out after curfew—and how certain we were that we'd live “happily ever after.” Nursing taught us how our present behavior is affected by our past experiences.
We rehashed the details of our early lives, sensing both the sadness each of us felt about our broken dreams and gratitude that we were given second chances to make things right. Nursing taught us therapeutic communication skills; our patients helped us integrate them into our personalities and learn to trust our intuition.
We recalled the hours we spent in the library, poring over medical books to find the causes and management of different diseases. Nursing taught us the importance of using scientific research and a comprehensive knowledge base to solve problems.
We remembered our late-night talks about a higher power and the meaning of life, and how we were so idealistic in our search for truth. Nursing taught us to look for meaning in everyday life and explore the cause-and-effect relationships of health and disease. Our patients taught us what's really important in life—health, family, friends, meaningful work.
A strong bond
Our time together passed quickly. As I sat in the airport waiting to board my plane back home, I realized how much wisdom we'd gained from each other, our patients, and our coworkers. Nursing provided the strong bond that held our friendship together, and it gave us a secure base on which to build a meaningful personal and professional life.