Seeing Potential: The Joys of Teaching Nursing

By Ruth Smillie, MSN, RN, associate professor of nursing at Saint Josephs College, Standish, Maine.

"Buck Up," by zenera / via Flickr.

by zenera / via Flickr.

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?

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2016-11-21T13:02:34+00:00 May 6th, 2015|career, Nursing, nursing perspective, students|10 Comments

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  1. Amelia Ross November 7, 2016 at 8:51 pm

    Ruth, thank you so much for this insight into nursing education. As a student, I see a different side of learning and education. It must be so interesting to watch a student go from knowing nothing on the first day and learning so much by the end of the semester. I agree that being a nurse educator has a parallel to parenting, especially regarding the potential that a new mom feels for her child as well as a teacher feels for her students. It is so important to love your job, especially as a nurse or nurse educator, and if you are only working for a pay check then you will simply never be happy. Thank you for your input.

  2. Adelle Taylor August 22, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Thank you for so eloquently putting into words exactly what I feel when I walk into the classroom.

  3. Abigale Pelletier March 1, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    Ahh this brings me back to school. My heart just fluttered a bit. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be a part of your amazing class. Wonderfully written Ruth <3

  4. Dr Margie February 18, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    I thought the $ was more than the clinical setting? It is in Australia. But as you point out, we don’t do this for $!

  5. Mary Anne Rizzolo, EdD, RN, ANEF, FAAN May 15, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Bravo Ruth! Your post touched my heart and made my day! Your last line says it all. No matter what career path you follow in nursing, pick the one that touches lives and feeds your soul. I have been blessed with a rich and varied career in nursing and would not change any piece of it.

  6. Roberta May 7, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Dearest Ruth,
    Being a co-worker of yours (not a nurse), I was so blessed to read this. You are incredible! (I already knew this) However, this inside look of being a nurse educator has made me even more convinced that this is where I belong, supporting all the nurse educator’s.
    Guess who!

  7. Lois Roelofs May 7, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Ruth, I’m so glad you found this joy! I loved my forty-year nursing career, twenty-some of those years teaching, and then had to write about it. Stories will emanate for you forever! Lois Roelofs

  8. Margarita Valdes May 6, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    This is what teaching is all about. Thank you for sharing; inspirational way to end the day by reading this article

  9. JAN Lloyd May 6, 2015 at 4:45 pm


    Date: Wed, 6 May 2015 17:44:51 +0000 To:

  10. Angelina May 6, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    The love of nursing and improved patient care/outcomes is what has fueled my desire to be an educator! I will complete my MSN Education in May 2016. I am ecstatic about the opportunity to pour into the lives of nurses and future nurses. Nursing is a calling and nursing education is a calling fueled by an even higher degree of selflessness.

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