A letter to the nurse I used to be

By Kendra L. Ford |

P.S. Never let the bullies win!

A letter to the nurse I used to be

The recipient of this letter doesn’t know the sender—yet—but give her a few years and she’ll come to greatly value the wisdom and heartfelt advice she has so generously shared.

You may not know me, but I know you. You are the new nurse I used to be. If I could go back in time, sit down with you, and tell you how amazing you are for getting through nursing school, despite some educational setbacks, I absolutely would. I would tell you that sticking with the nursing program was the best choice you could have made from what seemed to you less than desirable options at that time in your life. You really didn’t know what path in nursing was right for you, so you went along with suggestions of those who were wiser and older and tried to find your niche.

Your first job as a brand-new nurse on a med-surg floor was predictable to a point, only because of what you learned in clinical while under the guidance of a nursing instructor. You didn’t realize that people would literally die on your shift, even when you desperately wanted them to live. I know how you tried to be the best you could possibly be in that new nurse role. Yet, at the end of most shifts, you returned home not only tired but defeated in some way because sometimes you just couldn’t do enough to make people happy or well enough to return home.

IVs in babies
When your manager asked if you’d like to cross-train in IV therapy, you jumped at the opportunity to try something different, something to get you off the med-surg floor periodically, the floor that everyone said you must endure to be a good nurse. So you were trained on IV therapy and learned to make the rounds, answer pages, and even try to put IVs in babies—something they simply can’t teach you in school. Being part of a Code Blue team was terrifying, yet you persevered and managed to get the line in despite the pressure and organized chaos that surrounded you. Being the introvert that you are, this sort of work mentally depleted you more than you realized. Yet you didn’t quit.

When relationship problems dictated that you work first shift rather than second shift, you applied for a position that was like your preceptorship in nursing school. And while you were good at what you did in progressive cardiac, it just didn’t fill your cup. So once again you decided to pursue a different angle—veterinary medicine—because you love animals sometimes more than people. (Animals never let you down.) Although you loved the work, your manager, who was toxic, made you question your career change and ask, “What should I do now?”

So you tried a few other nursing positions that were in ambulatory care settings with good hours and decent pay, and you thought you could do that work for a long time. That is, until they downsized and said you could only work part time, but all your household bills dictated that you work full time to make ends meet. So you began yet another job search. And then you found an ad in the newspaper. A research nurse position was available at a hospital not too far away.

Making do
And just like that, you found yourself in a brand-new role as a research nurse, ready to learn from the physician who took a chance on you. I remember how you really thrived in that position. You found meaning, purpose, and even joy in the relationships you built with patients and colleagues. And yet that job, too, was not long-lasting. The beloved physician you worked for decided to relocate, and your job was radically changed. Gone was your cheerleader and avid supporter. Yet you stayed and tried to make do with the changes that happened in the fallout, while your superior endlessly bullied you and tried to turn you into a chemotherapy nurse—sorry, not interested. Another notice given and another chapter closed.

Your résumé at age 28 was extensive, varied, and of interest to the many people with whom you interviewed. You took other research roles—several of them, all dependent on location and commute. But your personal life changed when motherhood knocked on your door. In the workplace, bullying was happening—again—and pregnancy hormones had your emotions all over the place. So you decided it was in your best interest to leave that toxic environment and finish your pregnancy term by getting ready for baby at home. This turned out to be a decision you’d never regret, one you felt deeply about. It made a strong start in the lives of both of your sons.

In the interest of money and because of the recession, after four years you decided to go back to work part time and find an interesting job in research, this time with a corporation that used healthy volunteers. You even decided to go back to school and pursue your master’s degree in nursing. You applied to numerous schools with the idea that being a research nurse practitioner would give you more job opportunities and more money. Then the rejection letters trickled in one by one. You realized that maybe the nurse practitioner route was not the right one for you.

You discovered a school that was willing to take you on, despite your C average in undergraduate nursing. Despite having preschool-aged kids, you dove into your school work and spent endless hours on homework. Your research job energized you—filled your cup—and you continued in that role for about four years, until they pushed you to your limit. The nepotism in the workplace was so bad that the only way to escape was to quit. And so, you did. But as this letter has pointed out, it was not the end. It was merely closing a chapter that needed to be closed. And so, you moved on again.

What’s Sigma?
You took some side jobs and interviewed around the country, hoping to find a new start somewhere with excellent pay. You finished your Master of Science in Nursing degree, with a GPA high enough to qualify for Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma). It was the first time you had ever heard of this organization. You marveled at how far you had come. You have indeed come very far!

While I’ve left parts of your story untold, my purpose for writing this is abundantly clear. Despite significant obstacles in school, work, and yes, even in your personal life, courage and resilience will carry you forward. Life will continue to throw big stones at you, and yes, bullies still exist. You must never give up, never settle for less. Nurses are more amazing than they know and have blessed countless patients, colleagues, and friends throughout their nursing journey. Be proud of where you started. Own it, continue to press on.

P.S. Never let the bullies win! RNL

Kendra L. Ford, MSN, RN, CCRC, is a clinical assistant professor at The University of Kansas School of Nursing in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

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