Why be a nurse?
My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. on a Sunday. I wake up rather hesitantly. Some days I wake up earlier than 5 a.m., other days at past 6 a.m., yet somehow I manage to be ready by 7 a.m.
I work during weekdays, too, sometimes from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or much later. Other times, it’s from 3 p.m. to past 12 a.m. The trickiest work schedule of all is the graveyard shift (11 p.m.-7 a.m. the next day).
This is known as the shifting schedule among health care professionals. You reach a point when you are no longer able to know the difference between a weekend and a weekday, and it happens A LOT. Living life as a nurse in the hospital setting was something I never saw or imagined myself doing way back as a child. And yet here I am, in need of more sleep.
“Why did you choose to still work as a nurse when your family already has a good business that you can earn from? Pwede ka na mag-resign!” I have heard these statements quite too often from relatives, family friends, coworkers and supervisors. I just give myself a mental pat on the shoulder and reply, “I simply enjoy being a nurse. It’s also fulfilling to practice something I’ve worked hard and studied hard for.”
In my head, I add, “Since I still work at the home office on my off days, I’m still part of the family business. And then there’s my creative side—as seen on my IG account (@liveandletliph) for my brush-lettering pieces and other artistic pursuits. At times I feel like I’m living two lives. It gets challenging but, hey, it’s always fun!”
Eleven years ago, in 2007, while on my last year in high school, I chose to pursue nursing simply because it was a course I believed was more acceptable to my mother over mass communication, and also because San Pedro College (where I earned my BSN degree) was the nearest in terms of transportation. I was part of a generation of kids convinced that nursing was a golden ticket to working abroad, with high demand for registered nurses in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Middle East. Most of my batch mates were forced into choosing nursing by their families.
While most of us survived nursing school, there were some who weren’t able get through the first year and ended up shifting to other courses like psychology, physical therapy or accounting. My whole college life was a love-hate relationship with the nursing curriculum, as well as the related learning experience (hospital duty hours). I struggled the same way my batch mates did: battling sleepless nights, practicing for return demonstrations of various nursing procedures and taking on surprise quizzes and the dreaded exam hell week every semester. I reached a point in my second year when I wanted to quit, but thanks to my mom’s advice—“Finish what you started”—I persevered until the end of my fourth year.
Preparing for (and passing) the required Nurse Licensure Examination in 2011 was another big hurdle for me. Getting to work as a newly registered nurse was another. I started as an auxiliary nurse (aka trainee) deployed by the Davao City government to the Southern Philippines Medical Center (formerly known as the Davao Medical Center) on Dec. 18, 2012, under a contract that lasted for just a year. Within that period, I was exposed to the orthopedic ward, the internal medicine ward, the pediatric annex ward and, lastly, the ambulatory surgery unit of the outpatient department.
The usual practice following the end of a trainee contract was to apply as a contractual nurse and eventually become a regular employee. This, however, was not the case for me. Mom took me in as her assistant and taught me the how-tos of our family business—which wasn’t quite new to me, since I had already experienced doing business work for her like legal documentation, basic accounting and checkbook balancing as a college student during my free time. Thus, from performing nursing care, I switched to doing office work, attending client meetings and making sales.
Though I enjoyed longer sleeping hours, monthly commissions and surprise freebies like foot massages and trips to the salon, I still missed working in the hospital terribly. This went on for four years, until I decided to finally apply as a contractual nurse in the same hospital where I had my hospital training in June 2016, shortly after arriving from a “working vacation” in Germany.
Getting back to my nursing practice has given me a renewed purpose in life. It is also an ongoing journey filled with memories of certain patients I’ll carry forever in my mind and heart. Though nursing is most of the time a thankless job, it’s very heartwarming to hear even just a sincere “thank you” from patients. I’ve also encountered a few patients who looked for me before they were discharged from the ward. Just recently, I discharged a patient who kept on saying thanks and, to my surprise, reached for my hands and shook them warmly. Though I ended up getting teary-eyed during that encounter, I did my best to maintain my composure.
I find it sad that people who know little about what a nurse actually does are quick to say that nursing is a “dirty” and “degrading job”; that we nurses just follow the doctors’ orders and that it’s just purely physical work (“Katawan lang ang kapital; hindi kailangan maging matalino ang isang nurse!”).
Being a nurse means working with not just your hands (and feet), but also with your mind and heart. We do what we do using combined knowledge about nursing fundamentals, basic human anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, psychology and the scientific method through the nursing process (assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation) when it comes to developing nursing care plans. More often than not, we also take on the role of educators when the need arises, to give health-based information to our patients as well as their families.
We deal with human life. We get to witness the beginning of life in the delivery room, as well as the end of it, whether in the ER, ICU or on a ward bed. For as long as there is a need to care for people who are suffering, nurses are here to stay.
So here I am again with my morning battle, a nurse fighting against the urge to go back to sleep, taking a few more minutes to enjoy being in bed. I get up a bit later with sleepy eyes. “Know that you are needed,” I say to myself. That’s the best “why” there is.
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Johanna Zehender, 28, is a registered nurse at Southern Philippines Medical Center.
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