Stop telling me I’m not a nurse!

By Kylie Dougherty |

She loved being a bedside nurse, but it wasn’t for her.

Stop telling me I’m not a nurse!

The author asks nurse educators to help students think of research in a way that applies to them and to be open to considering a nursing position that is not directly at the bedside.

The future of nursing lies in research. Evidence-based practice grounded in nurse-led research will lead us to the most efficient and effective ways to care for patients.

Kylie DoughertyThese ideas were preached to me—in those or similar words—more times than I could count during my undergraduate nursing career. However, when most nursing students are asked about pursuing a career in nurse-led research, they show little or no desire to do so. In fact, many nursing schools rarely expose students to avenues of nursing that are not centered on direct patient care, and only rarely are students taught to develop a “spirit of inquiry” about why we do the things we do or how to improve processes.

Of all registered nurses in the world today, only one-tenth of 1% are PhD prepared. Nursing as a profession has called for more practitioners with advanced degrees, but we aren’t seeing the numbers increase in the magnitude that the future of healthcare will need. As a recent BSN graduate and newly registered nurse, I found myself in a unique situation. Although only 21 years old, I was interested in pursuing a PhD in nursing research.

Our profession offers a multitude of career options, yet undergraduate students are often taught that the traditional route—direct patient care—is best. We obviously need nurses who work at the bedside. They represent the vast majority of us, and without them we would cease to exist as a profession.

I loved being a bedside nurse. In fact, it was my motivation for becoming a nurse. I enjoyed working one-on-one with patients on the inpatient unit. I eventually discovered, however, that I do not need to be a bedside nurse in a hospital to have a successful and rewarding nursing career. It’s not the right path for all new nurses, and, as I found out, it was not the one for me.

Upon graduation, I received several “typical” job offers to work in great hospitals on high acuity units. However, those options did not seem to fit with the future in healthcare I had in mind. So, I turned them down and moved to Haiti to see firsthand what healthcare looked like in that country. I had always had a passion for helping achieve sustainable healthcare in underserved countries but had never had real direction on how to pursue it as a profession.

In Haiti, I continued to improve my nursing skills, but more than that, the experience afforded me a unique way to look at problems and focus on upstream conditions that led to the care I was delivering. After 2 ½ months of volunteering in Haiti, I felt stronger as a healthcare provider, and the direction I wanted to take as a nurse had become more clear.

Had it not been for faculty members and mentors who, together with my incredible family, supported this somewhat atypical path, it would have taken me far longer to articulate my desire to become a nurse researcher. If these people had not encouraged me to consider obtaining a PhD, affirmed my desires, or convinced me that I need not follow the nursing path others expected of me, I would never be where I am today, applying for graduate school and moving toward a career as a researcher and educator.   

“You young nurses are the future. We need you to be the next generation of educators.” Experienced nurses have said something along those lines to most novice nurses. However, when I tell people that I don’t plan to work in a hospital and hope to one day have my PhD, they usually respond with something like, “Oh, so you’re not going to use your degree?” or “So you don’t want to be a nurse anymore?”

For my generation of nurses to become the innovative and professional nurses of the future we’ve been asked to be, we must break the mold of what constitutes typical entry into nursing practice. We must encourage students to pursue answers to the burning healthcare questions of our day, follow their passions, and educate them to lobby for change and healthcare transformation. I implore nurse educators to help students think of research in a way that applies to them and their specific interests—to be open to considering a nursing position that is not directly at the bedside.

When I decided not to continue as a bedside nurse, I was terrified. I did not know a single nurse my age who had done anything like this. I felt like a lesser nurse, and people constantly telling me I was not using my degree did not help. If I had not received incredible support to pursue this path from faculty members at the University of Kentucky, I never would have had the courage to do it, and the nursing profession would be short one more doctorally prepared nurse (assuming I’m accepted to begin graduate school in August 2020).

So, whether you’re a nurse educator, a bedside nurse, or a nurse in another capacity, encourage students and mentees to think beyond direct patient care for their initial career. They just might end up being among those who change the system.

And finally, yes, I am a nurse and incredibly proud of what I do. RNL

Kylie Dougherty, BSN, RN, is currently working as an assistant researcher at The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio, USA. Beginning in January 2020, she will spend about 4 ½ months in Honduras, where she will work as a nurse and help run a research project for an organization while continuing her employment with OSU.

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