While attending a recent educational event, I had a brief chat with a physician sitting next to me. She asked me the age-old question: “Why didn't you go to medical school?” My preprogrammed, automatic response was, “Because I wanted to be a nurse.” She looked at me quizzically, as if not quite grasping why someone would willingly elect that career path. I explained that although our professions are certainly complementary and share many commonalities, I wanted the type of work and career opportunities that the nursing profession offers. No doubt I could have gone to medical school; it was a matter of personal choice and deliberate planning to pursue nursing. I have no regrets.
Our conversation was interrupted by a group of conference participants who joined us at our table, but I was left feeling unsettled. Over the years, I have had patients, family, other healthcare professionals, and members of the public ask me the same question. Why is this question still being asked? Why does the belief persist that nursing is a second-rate career choice in healthcare?
The sentiment is indeed historic. I just read Wolters Kluwer's Commemorative Edition of Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not by Florence Nightingale.1 This is a wonderful compilation of selected passages from Nightingale's original book as well as commentary on her history and impact written by contemporary nurse authors. I was struck by a passage noting 9 years of “bitter struggle” with her family, who opposed her pursuit of a nursing career because it was not fitting for a lady of her time to become a nurse. I recall that my own mother was not particularly happy with my career choice when I initially entered nursing school. Fortunately, she came to accept that I had found my calling, but she never really understood why.
Nursing has progressed light-years from the time Nightingale began her career in 1853, but it is clear we still have much work to do. Nursing has certainly earned the distinction of being the most-trusted profession.2 Our collective challenge now is to raise that bar to make nursing one of the most respected professions as well.
Until next time,
LINDA LASKOWSKI-JONES, MS, APRN, ACNS-BC, CEN, NEA-BC, FAWM, FAAN
1. Nightingale F. Commemorative Edition of Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not
. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2019.