Two score and 3 years ago (hmm, that would be 43), I graduated from my pre-licensure associate degree nursing program. I was 20-years-old and full of excitement about starting my career. Now, looking in the rear-view mirror at the other end of my nursing journey, I can say that while I am older, wider, wiser and experienced, it has been the correct path.
At age 20, I wanted to join the pediatric nursing staff. However, I was placed on a 50-bed, primarily male and geriatric unit because, as the director of nursing stated, “How would I justify the presence of a male nurse to the parents of young females?”
Of course, in my naiveté I responded that she could respond the same way she would to explain female nurses for young male patients. It wasn’t accepted. A bit earlier, I remember being called aside by my orthopedic nursing instructor and told apologetically that I was not welcome in the nurses’ lounge according to the Head Nurse. I was to use the orderly lounge two floors down in the hospital.
If only I were as savvy then as I am today about sexism and discrimination!
Of course, the other side of the coin was always this question from patients: “Are you my doctor?”
When I responded that I was the RN, the next question(s) invariably were, “When are you starting medical school?” or “Weren’t you smart enough to go to medical school?” Of course, there were also the frequent under the breath, but loud enough for me to hear, comments as I left some of the men’s rooms —“queer,” “faggot.”
I would never have envisioned that 43 years later I would have been an advanced practice nurse (NP certificate in 1979), an occupational health nurse, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator for more than 30 years, nurse manager, director and associate vice president and served patients in areas of chronic, catastrophic illness (e.g. cancer, AIDS), addictions, general nursing and mental health. I also have my own practice that focuses on psychotherapy, medication management, counseling and educational programs.
Nor would I have envisioned being founding president of the Academy of Doctors of Nursing Practice in New Jersey, a member of the Hudson County Mental Health Board and an NJ Disaster Response Crisis Counselor, sitting on a national nursing specialty organization board and now serving as the president of a state nursing association under the American Nurses Association.
Nursing today is quite different from my initial years, and our profession has definitely become more inclusive and welcoming. As an educator, mentor and president of the New Jersey State Nurses Association, I plan to keep raising awareness and pushing the boundaries.
It has been some journey so far, and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings. I look forward to sharing it with you.