Doing the Hard Things

British nurse in nurses' station.
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The year? 1999. The circumstances? Well, I wasn’t partying like it was 1999. I was nursing.

That was the year I graduated from a grueling 4-year nursing program, took my licensing boards, and became a Registered Nurse. A lot of time and a lot of lessons have passed me by since that year, but I will never forget one of the most important lessons I learned in 1999.

I jumped into nursing with gusto, wanting to save the world, save the patients, be a heroine. My naivety at that time was laughable…borderline ludicrous. It showed. I wanted to be involved in the big stuff…traumas, heart attacks, anaphylactic reactions, etc., so I obtained a job in a busy primary trauma center’s emergency room immediately after obtaining my license. In my pursuit of glory, I treated the mundane aspects of patient care with annoyance and disdain. Things like cleaning up soiled sheets, emptying the buckets of vomit, and giving the homeless woman a shower were too beneath me…after all, these things didn’t save lives, did they? I avoided doing those things, and complained when I had no choice but to do them.

One crazy night shift, I worked with one of the nurses from the Float Pool in our hospital. She was Filipina, short, middle-aged. I don’t know her story, or her nursing experiences. All I know is that she gave me a word of warning that night, after I had neglected to clean up one of my patients in a timely manner.

She said, “Do the hard things, and you will be a success. Avoid those unpleasant, but necessary tasks, and you will not go far at all as a nurse.”

This advice has served me well in the 13 years since I heard it. No longer do I consider the mundane tasks of everyday nursing to be irrelevant to my professional success. Instead, I see those tasks as some of the most important ones for the patients’ comfort…and by correlation, their health.

Doing the hard things, including bearing the brunt of both the physician and patient irritations and complaints, do not lessen me as a nurse. Rather, they give me the opportunity to be thankful that I am healthy and strong enough to function as I do, and hopefully, ease someone else’s suffering for a few moments.

Jessica Ellis

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