I love being a nurse. I feel pride when asked what I do for a living and responding, “I am a nurse.” So it was quite a shock when, after transitioning to the role of faculty member, I felt defensive when asked that question and answered, “I am a nurse educator.”
As a young girl, I knew I was going to be either a nurse or a teacher. So, when around my junior year in college I had the epiphany that I could do both as a nurse educator, I knew that was where my career path would take me.
Defending my graduate education choice began fairly early. When I told friends and family I was going back to school to get my master’s degree, the response was often “To become a nurse practitioner?” or “Why don’t you want to be a nurse practitioner?” They reasoned that, as a nurse practitioner, I would have much more financial stability than as a nurse educator. No offense to my NP colleagues out there, but I did not feel that was my calling. Perhaps in a few years, I will decide I want to be an NP but, for now, my calling is nursing education.
After completing my Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in nursing education, I was excited to transition into the world of academia. I was fortunate to land a full-time faculty job at my alma mater, Maryville University of St. Louis. (I received both my BSN and my MSN at this institution.) I felt prepared for the challenges ahead. I knew there is always a learning curve when one switches jobs or moves to a new role, but I was not prepared for the continuing need to defend my decision. When someone would ask me what I do for a living and I responded, “I am a nurse educator,” the next question was often “Don’t you miss taking care of people?” or “Don’t you still want to be a nurse?”
That is when I had my second epiphany: I did not need to defend my decision. Rather, I needed to educate the public on what a nurse really is. It is commonly thought that to be a nurse, you have to be at the bedside, wearing freshly pressed scrubs with monogrammed stethoscope in hand ready to take on whatever the next 12 hours throws your way. Society does not understand the vast array of specialties that one can pursue in nursing and the diversity of practice settings available, education being just one of them.
Now when I get the follow-up questions about missing nursing or not being a nurse, I take them as opportunities to educate people. What else would an educator do? I explain that I am still a nurse, that I did not exchange my nursing license for my graduate degree, and that I am still taking care of people, just in a different way. I may not be caring for them physically by taking vital signs, doing assessments, and dispensing medications, but rather, I am caring for people educationally. I am training the next generation of nurses to do all those things well. Is that not a great honor? I still feel as though I am using my nursing skills, because I educate students on their nursing skills in the classroom, show them how to do nursing procedures in the lab, and observe as they perform them in simulation or clinical settings.
Recently, I received some very nice compliments from some of my students. They told me they actually enjoyed coming to class, felt they had learned so much during the semester, and could tell I was passionate about nursing. This is why I love doing what I do! Influencing the next generation of nurses and helping them become the best nurses they can be make it all worthwhile.
Elizabeth R. Stuesse, MSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM, is clinical assistant professor of nursing at Catherine McAuley School of Nursing, Myrtle E. and Earl E. Walker College of Health Professions, Maryville University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.