I became a registered nurse (RN) in the seventies. Like most teenagers nearing their senior year of high school, I had considered what I wanted to do with my life. As most of us realize, our families have a huge impact on what we make of ourselves. My career choice was due to my family, especially my mother.
My mother has always been my hero. She has been an RN for over 50 years. My mother always had kind words about her nursing career and of others. Growing up, my mother was able to work extra shifts to accommodate my sisters’ and my additional needs, special dances, college, etc. My mother loved her job and excelled in it. She treated everyone with dignity and respect. People would always acknowledge her in public with a smile and kind words.
My mother and father encouraged me to become a nurse. I understood that it was a way to help others – a way to be respectful of their individuality. My oldest sister was finishing nursing school while my other sister was in pharmacy school and I was just about to begin nursing school – all three sisters were studying for careers in the medical field.
My maternal grandmother was a teacher. My grandma was awesome! She taught school while running the household farm and taking care of nine children. I admired her greatly and I hoped that I could also teach while in the nursing profession. People often emulate the ones they love, as I did.
I wasn’t crazy about adult medicine. I had a queasy stomach, plus I was hoping to work in a “happy place.” I wasn’t sure where that “happy place” was until I worked in obstetrics (mother/baby, labor and delivery, nursery) during my senior year of nursing school. I was in awe every time I attended a delivery. I realized that I could share in the joy (mainly) and sorrow these mothers were feeling. I wanted to help make their transition to being a mother much easier. I felt that I had found my niche.
During my nursing career as an RN, I began to realize that I was able to effectively assist mothers nurse their babies. Being able to breastfeed effectively had a huge impact on the health of their babies and their state of mind. I pursued additional lactation education to be the best I could be in my area of expertise. I was helping others in a way that made sense to me and while in this world, I feel it is important to make a difference.
Nursing has changed a great deal since my mother and I attended nursing school and began working as RNs. The 1970’s were very different than today. As student nurses, we lived in dorms connected to the hospital. Boys were not allowed past the first floor living room, which is very different from current coed dorms. Our school uniforms were light blue with a white pinafore, white nylons, white shoes and of course, our nurse’s cap. It was difficult to avoid getting runs in our nylons and to keep our caps from falling off as they were quite large and could easily get knocked off just by turning our head in the elevator and catching the tip. During our senior year, we were team leaders and would be in charge of up to 20 adult patients; there was an RN caring for the other team on the unit.
My mother’s experience was very different than mine. During her junior year of nursing school in the Midwest, the nursing students were in charge of up to 49 patients in a 200-bed hospital. They were responsible for all of these patients, along with a nurse’s aid, who received on-the-job training. There was one RN supervisor in the hospital on the night shift. She was stationed in a front office answering the switchboard and mixing medications. If a patient needed morphine, the RN supervisor would crush the tablet, mix it and put it in a syringe for the student to administer.
Students also worked in central supply for six-week intervals, sterilizing supplies and sharpening needles with a whet stone. To verify that a needle was adequately sharpened, a cotton ball would be swiped across the needle tip. If cotton stuck to the needle, it needed further sharpening. Once adequately sharpened, the needles would be sterilized.
Nurses were so busy with all of the patients that the aids often hung the IV’s, after being verified by the RN. The aids also removed IV’s, NG’s and catheters. There was no other help. As time progressed, an RN would care for 25-30 patients. Eventually, the floor was split in two so the nurse only had up to 15 patients. Often, there was an LVN working as the med nurse while the RN managed everything else. She was a Jack-of-all-trades, handling all jobs within the hospital that affected the patients.
The nursing profession consists of people who care about improving the quality of life for others, whether we became nurses in the 50’s, the 70’s or in 2011. Our patients and their families show us their appreciation with a nod, a hug, a smile, or a thank you. This energizes us for another day.