By Ruth Smillie, MSN, RN, associate professor of nursing at Saint Josephs College, Standish, Maine.
The day I come to class pregnant is one of my favorites. I really hate to be pregnant; I’m 55, grey haired, and way too old to be pregnant. My students are obviously surprised when I waddle in swaybacked with my sudden eight-month pregnancy. They snicker and smile, and then the magic begins.
As each one brings up the “change” they were assigned, I acquire the mask of pregnancy: larger breasts (made from paper bowls), kidney stones and gallstones (collected from outside), more blood volume (once, in a soda bottle), varicose veins (pipe cleaners or string), and so on—all carefully attached to me by duct tape.
I look and feel ridiculous and we all laugh a lot, but that’s not the point. The point is that they remember the changes of pregnancy. Embarrassing as it is, I would do it every day if it helped them learn. I love to teach nursing and it has been an amazing experience.
Students have no idea how incredible they are. Most of mine are just out of high school, young and unaware of their potential. But they have it, and I can see and feel it. I love watching students help change a newborn’s diaper when they are as nervous as a new dad fumbling with the wipes.
Chatting and gently holding those brand-new legs, connecting with the family, becoming a nurse—not any nurse, an amazing nurse, right there before my eyes. These are the moments I get to be a part of; while they are caught up in their inexperience, I can begin to sense what they will become: nurses who will connect with families, talk to patients, care about people. These are nurses who I’ll be proud to have known long before they realized who they would become.
Nursing education isn’t known for its stellar paycheck. In fact I could make more working at the hospital, lots more. Others are quick to point out that we get summers and holidays off. Great perks: time to write, research, and develop new classes and improve old ones. Now snow days, those are cool, if only it didn’t put us behind in the classroom!
Sometimes I long for the job I can come home from and forget about. But then, I don’t think any nurse has that luxury anyway. I think we can all agree that if you are a nurse just for the paycheck, you will never be happy, whatever its size.
I love this job; it’s a bit like parenting. When I look into the face of a new mother, I understand what she sees: potential. She knows if she does her job well she can help foster that potential into something wonderful. That’s how I feel the first day of class and clinical. If I do this well, give respect, understanding, show caring yet have high expectations, I will foster the potential to become an amazing nurse.
Forget the paycheck—this is an epic opportunity to touch lives, and isn’t that what nursing is?