When considering the arc of a nurse's career, one can easily picture hospital rooms, patients, stethoscopes, syringes, and other ubiquitous trappings of "nurseness". This is all well and good, and I would add that there is much more to one's evolution than the usual flotsam and jetsam that make up the life of a nurse in the 21st century.
The Development of Compassion
Compassion is not necessarily something that always naturally comes with the territory, yet one would hope that most nurses connect with, develop and deepen their ability to experience compassion through the medium of their work.
As my friend Michael Ortiz Hill (Registered Nurse, initiated Medicine Man and author) is fond of saying, compassion is actually a "craft" that can be taught, learned and mastered in the course of one's career or lifetime. He contends that nurses are well-positioned to take this craft to a very deep level vis-a-vis patient care, as long as they are also able to cultivate that same profound compassion for themselves. This is no easy task, especially for the nurse whose focus is always on the outer world, not the internal world within his or her own soul and psyche.
Tasks Are Overrated
The evolution of a nurse can also be measured in tasks, in terms of both their accumulation and their mastery.
Nurses naturally (and, may I add, necessarily) amass certifications, credentials and continuing education credits, and they also master new technologies at lightning speed as healthcare itself continues to evolve. It's a constant left-brain learning process, and nurses can spend their entire careers living in that most cognitively oriented aspect of the mind and intellect.
From electronic medical records to advanced clinical technologies and skills, the earnest nurse can spend his or her days immersed in learning that is crucial to patient care and to general professional development.
The Dark Side of Ignoring the Soul
At the same time as I acknowledge the crucial nature of learning tasks in order to advance clinical knowledge and skill, I believe that there is a dark side to this focus on tasks and their learning. This negative aspect is the inherent risk that the nurse, through his or her determined focus on technology and hard skill development, will miss golden opportunities for development on the more subtle levels, including the emotional and the spiritual. This is where the soul of the nurse can be waylaid, especially when the task-oriented nature of nursing care reigns supreme over the "softer" aspects of what we are truly capable of doing--and, dare I say, who we are capable of truly being.
The author Thomas Moore states in his seminal book, "Care of the Soul", that "the great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is loss of soul." He continues, stating "when soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning."
Moore, like my friend Michael Ortiz Hill, believes that cultivating soul is one of the secrets to satisfaction and a life well-lived that is infused with meaning (both personally and professionally), and it is through the soul that a sense of the sacred in everyday life can be achieved.
How Are We Evolving?
The evolution of a nurse is not just a cut-and-dry affair. Or rather, it doesn't have to be.
Personally, my decision to eschew hospital work for community nursing was seen as a form of professional suicide by many of my nursing school colleagues. My very conscious choice to not pursue the "magical two years of Med-Surg experience" post-graduation was seen as an automatic death knell for both my clinical skills and my potential for employment.
Seventeen years later, I have never been unemployed as a nurse, and although I may lack some technical skills that my hospital-based colleagues have mastered, I am fully conscious that my decision to avoid the hospital milieu was made from a place of soul, a place of deep knowing of where I was needed and where (and who) I wanted to be. I also have no doubt that, if push came to shove, I could amass the skills I need with several months of training and guidance, so I have no qualms about my career path up until now.
Now, this is not to say, dear Reader, that I have always heeded my soul's calling in life--far from it--but in the case of choosing an arc for my career as a nurse, it has been a very conscious journey.
As for others, I encourage my nurse colleagues and my coaching clients to look deeply at their lives and their careers, and to honestly examine their desires, motivations and expectations. I also encourage them to connect with their longing, and not just the longing for money or "success" (although these are not necessarily bad in and of themselves).
Your evolution as a nurse and as a human being are inextricably intertwined, and your evolution is your own to create on a continuum that knows no end.
Nurse, Know Thyself
For you, your evolution as a nurse may be enumerated by your degrees, certifications, skills and ever-expanding knowledge base. Professionally speaking, you may see your evolution as a nurse to be the picture of where you've worked, the patient populations you've served, the colleagues you've shared space with, the flow of paychecks that have passed through your bank account, and the lengthening of your resume.
This, may I say, rather mechanistic view of your career is fairly normal and expected, and many of us function at this level for the majority of our lives, or some of us may slip in and out of this type of consciousness on a regular basis.
For those who want to go deeper, the sense of self and belonging is really the work of the soul, and your evolution as a nurse can be an adventure in self-exploration and ever-deepening self knowledge. Learning tasks and mastering hard skills are certainly admirable endeavors, yet the exploration and learning of the contours of one's own inner emotional and spiritual landscape can be the most satisfying endeavor of all.
Nurses, your evolution is your own. Make of it what you will, and I encourage you--from the depths of my own soul--to not neglect the subtler aspects of your evolutionary process.
This blog post was written to be included in the next edition of the new Scrubs Magazine Nursing Blog Carnival, which will be hosted by various nurse bloggers and published on a regular basis.
Thanks to Scrubs and Brittney Wilson, The Nerdy Nurse, for including me.
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