Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest
- Matthew 20:26
As they say, nursing career is a calling and every nurse has it. Ask any nurse and you will find that he or she was drawn to nursing because of a desire to care, to serve, or to help.
For some, the calling is early in life, and for others it may be later, even as a second or third career in nursing. All life events help a nurse be better in their careers, because every new experience provides a new peek through someone else’s glasses.
Having been deeply committed to my vocation as a nurse at an early age, I began to wonder what influences contributed to that decision. Maybe it was how my mind was being stretched across the globe by my teachers. All through grade school, my teachers had the students praying for all the special needs of those we knew. They reminded us of all the soldiers in Vietnam and all the people suffering there. They taught us about a very special woman in India. Her name was Mother Teresa and she worked with those who were dying in the streets of Calcutta. We prayed for her, her sisters, and their patients.
On another occasion, I sat mesmerized as Sister Denise shared about her dearest friend who chose to work with the lepers in Africa. She put herself at risk for contracting the disease herself, since treatment was still not widely available at that time. I was fascinated by the selflessness and devotion of this mysterious woman in Africa and wondered if I could ever be that brave myself. I hoped someday I could be. I took my nursing education seriously, for each brought me one step closer to my vision. I thought, “Maybe I could have that kind of dedication working as a nurse.”
As I searched my country and society for other popular role models in the 1960’s and 1970’s, my childhood gut instincts and infantile female intuition guided me. They steered me away from the other popular, loud, abrasive, and aggressive women of that time, like Geraldine Ferraro, Betty Friedan, Billie Jean King, and Margaret Sanger to name a few. These women became role models for many of my peers of that era, but not for me. My intuition told me these women were going about seeking equality and change the wrong way. I instinctively knew they were selling out their authentic femininity and reproductive rights by masquerading as men and/or selling out their personal moral convictions. I chose to model the women of the time who continued to love, care, nurture, and teach in the authentic feminine way. Many childhood events contributed to this decision-making process as well.
The calling is confirmed.
At age 16, I spent the summer after I became a nurse aid in Brazil as an exchange student, which only further confirmed my calling. My inquisitive eyes devoured the sites all over the city and within the home where I was a welcomed guest. It was just like scenes Sister had described, as my heart was pierced with the shocking sites. A woman was sitting on a sheet on the sidewalk with several small children. Her hands were in the air as she asked for money to feed her children. Another man sat yards away from her. He was inhaling a powdered drug from an inflated brown paper bag he was holding. Dogs with mange roamed the streets. A man with elephantiasis struggled to move his heavy legs to walk. The saddest site of all was the young children rummaging around in the massive garbage heaps acres long. By far the most puzzling site was that of all the others, seemingly oblivious to these scenes I was noticing.They went about their daily lives, blinded to the needy before them.
I ask you how can God survive in a man who has enough of this world’s goods, yet closes his heart to his brother when he sees him in need.
- 1 John 3:17
At night, through the window near my bed, I could hear the children crying in the slum behind the house.They cried from hunger, disease, neglect. I thought of the needy children in my own country and realized that I did not have the resources to help them there either. All I had the ability to do was to try to make a difference day by day, one person at a time, wherever I found myself. At age sixteen, I already knew I could only help in the big picture of humanity by acting in my own local sphere of influence.
This same realization guides me even today as I “pick my battles” according to the reach of my sphere of influence. With a career in nursing, we can’t possibly solve every problem in the world or ease the suffering of every person, but we can impact those put in our path, one day at a time, and one moment at a time. This moment-to-moment nursing care process never happens coincidentally, it is ordained by a Master far greater than any of us. Oh that we could stay alert and never miss any of these opportunities to care! This is what I strive for.