Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

What Would You Do If You Weren't a Nurse?

Paradisi, Julianna, RN, ONC

AJN The American Journal of Nursing: May 2019 - Volume 119 - Issue 5 - p 50
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000557913.43022.30
Best of the Blog

Updated several times a week with posts by a wide variety of authors, AJN's blog Off the Charts allows us to provide more timely—and often more personal—perspectives on professional, policy, and clinical issues. Best of the Blog will be a regular column to draw the attention of AJN readers to posts we think deserve a wider audience. To read more, please visit:

Julianna Paradisi finds inspiration where science, humanity, and art converge, creating compelling images as both a writer and a painter. She is the author of her own blog ( and also blogs frequently for and Off the Charts. Off the Charts is coordinated by Jacob Molyneux, senior editor:

Last week was Nurses Week, and on its Facebook page, AJN posted the question, “What would you do if you weren't a nurse?” [This blog post was published on May 16, 2018.]

It was not surprising to me that many nurses commented something to the effect of, “I don't know. I like being a nurse.” Others, though, posted a variety of career choices, often unrelated to nursing, many of them in creative fields.

I did not grow up wanting to be a nurse. When I was three years old, I wanted to be a horse. Once I realized it was impossible, I settled on becoming a ballerina. However, the small community where I grew up did not have a dance studio or classes, so this aspiration also fell to the wayside.

In junior high school, I decided I would become a writer. I already knew I was an artist; I'd known that before I wanted to be a horse. I've always drawn, and still do, nearly daily. I began writing and keeping journals in elementary school.

A librarian's intuition. When I was 15, our school librarian suggested I become a nurse. She felt I had a natural aptitude for the profession. As an adult chaperone on school-sponsored tours of college campuses, she made sure certain colleges with nursing programs were part of our itinerary—pushing me forward from the group and outing me to nursing professors as a potential candidate.

A typical teenager, I would have nothing to do with it. I was going to be a writer and begin as a journalist. To this goal, I started, coedited, and illustrated a high school literary “magazine,” painstakingly typing submissions onto mimeograph paper, and hand-turning the copies for publication.

The lasting importance of direct patient contact. I've written before about how I eventually ended up in nursing school. I have been a nurse for over 30 years. Despite invitations to apply for nurse management positions, requiring that I complete my BSN, I went to art school instead. I have no regrets about this decision. Through a variety of nursing opportunities, over the years I have learned something very important about myself: The further away I get from direct patient contact, the less I enjoy being a nurse.

My school librarian recognized—before I did—that for me nursing is as much a vocation as being an artist and writer.

Having more than one vocation is just fine. Despite living in a society that expects people to choose and brand themselves by a single talent, I remain an artist and writer, while working 40-plus hours a week as a nurse. Some of the attention I've achieved as an artist and writer is enhanced because I am also a nurse.

For me, the three vocations are inseparable. I experience their relationship as a juggling act. Some days, nursing requires all of my attention and energy, so art and writing become the two balls I toss into the air while finessing the third. But at other times, nursing only requires that I palm it back and forth—allowing me to focus on art making and writing.

While I can imagine someday retiring from nursing to make art and write full time, I suspect I will always be a nurse. It's in my nature. I'm grateful I've never had to choose between my vocations.

Copyright © 2019 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.