Have you ever wondered how far you could move from the bedside in your career pursuits and still call yourself a nurse? Have you ever questioned whether your colleagues who work in nontraditional areas, such as quality assurance, are still working as nurses? Is your identity as a nurse tied up in the traditional realm of hospitals and direct patient care?
If you’ve had these thoughts, you’re not alone. Every nurse has. These are the same thoughts I had when I made the transition from the hospital to nontraditional work areas.
Early in my career, I worked for a medical weight control company, for a company that does medical exams for insurance companies, an HMO, an education company that prepared nurses to take state boards, and as a hospital quality and utilization review coordinator, among other things. In each position, I was working as a nurse. I was using my nursing knowledge and skills to impact healthcare in a different way.
Although I never questioned that I was still a nurse, my family and friends were confused as to what I was doing. They would introduce me by saying “This is Donna. She used to be a nurse.”
Usually I would bristle and remind my family that I’m still a nurse, just working in a nontraditional area. I also got tired of hearing from others, “So, why did you leave nursing?” I was tempted to wear my license around my neck to prove to the world that I was still a nurse.
As I matured, I began to realize that each time someone asked me why I left nursing, I could seize a golden opportunity. I could enlighten them about all the ways and places that nurses work today.
I also realized that the average person, including the average nurse, thinks nurses only work in hospitals, schools, and physician’s offices, delivering direct patient care. What a limiting view, accounting for only a part of what nurses are doing.
Today, when people ask me why I left nursing, I tell them that, as a nurse entrepreneur, I’m every bit as much a nurse today as I was when I worked in the emergency department. I tell them that nurses are versatile and multi-talented. I say that nurses are healers and teachers and nurturers, and that I still do all of those things in my professional life.
Making an impact
As a nurse, you can have a positive impact in many ways and places. You’re vital at the bedside but just as vital in every other aspect of the healthcare arena. There are many different types of healing—physical, emotional, and spiritual. As a nurse, you can engage on each level.
Whether working with computers in nursing, doing forensic investigations for the FBI, as a pharmaceutical sales representative, or a quality assurance coordinator, each nurse brings something special, something compassionate, some healing touch to someone, somewhere. You also possess a body of medical knowledge which you can use, just as with your clinical skills, to make an impact in people’s lives.
Nursing isn’t about where you work; it’s about who you are. Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons. But more important, don’t be afraid to expand your vision of who you are as a nurse and about what nurses do. You owe it to yourself and to your profession.