From Bedside Nurse To Writer: I Felt Guilty, But Glad To Leave
Seven years ago, I hung up my nursing badge for my last night shift. And honestly, I haven’t looked back since (aside, of course, from the random nightmares that I still get that I’m late clocking in).
My journey to becoming a nurse was a complicated one. I initially enrolled in a BSN program with the intent to become a certified nurse-midwife (CNM). I was obsessed with the magic of pregnancy and birth and dreamed of a career in women’s health.
But near the end of nursing school, after near-daily panic attacks over feeling like a fraud every day in class, I changed my mind. I decided to pursue my first love of writing–a major that every adult in my life had steered me away from. I talked to the dean of nursing who really encouraged me to follow my passion, enrolled in my first English classes, and started on a course to double major in health sciences (so I didn’t lose my nursing credits) and writing. The instant I sat in my first editing class, I felt a sense of being home that I hadn’t felt anywhere in nursing school.
And then, I found out that I was pregnant.
Nursing as a Practical Path
What happened next was not an easy decision, but it felt like a necessary one. With a due date looming, I decided I couldn’t take the risk of switching my major with such little time left before the baby would be born.
I technically only had one year of nursing school left, so I decided to focus on simply finishing my BSN before my baby’s due date. I told myself finishing the degree was a smart choice for both of our futures. It was a great degree to have, I would always have a job, and I could work a flexible schedule while I adjusted to motherhood as a young, new mom.
So, with a lot of sadness, I dropped all of my English classes, switched back into nursing, and scouted out all the nearest trash cans in the nursing complex to catch my bouts of vicious morning sickness on the way to class.
I put my head down that final year and I did it but not without struggles. I officially graduated with my BSN and with honors on May 10 and my daughter was born exactly one week later. I actually secured an interview while I was still in the hospital–the nurse manager even came down to my hospital room to offer me a job.
The practical decision I had made to put my dreams of being a writer on hold to finish my nursing degree turned out to be a smart one. After my boyfriend and I got married, he still had to finish his own degree, so I solely supported our new family of three by working night shift for the first two years of our marriage.
From Nurse To Writer
That time in our lives was a hard one: as a new 22-year-old mom who didn’t want to send my baby to a sitter, I worked night shift and then cared for my daughter during the day. I regularly went 24, 36, and even some weeks, 72 hours straight without sleeping.
I developed postpartum depression and struggled to feel like “myself” again. And then, one day, on a whim, I submitted a “letter to the editor” comment to Glamour magazine in response to a query they had posed. Much to my surprise, the magazine published it. The day the magazine came to my house and I gazed down at my words in print, something shifted inside of me. I felt elation, excitement, and a feeling of pride that I had never felt as a nurse. I remember sitting at my desk, holding the glossy pages in my hand, looking at my daughter playing on the floor next to me, and in that very moment I realized something that would change my life.
I had to make this happen. For both of us.
That day started me on a path towards somehow making my dreams come true. Like I had been taught as a millennial mom, I wanted to find a way to have it all. I wanted to use the nursing degree and experience I had fought tooth and nail for, to chase my dreams of becoming a writer, and to be the best mom possible.
So I went after it. Slowly, I started eking out a way to make it as a writer. It took me five more years and three more babies to get there, but eventually, I did it. I started getting more jobs as a writer and kept careful track of my profits to compare them to my paycheck as a nurse. I kept working as a nurse, moving from step-down critical care to transitional care to eventually, my true love of OB.
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I Felt Guilty For Leaving
Through it all, I tried to embrace learning all I could and being a good nurse, but I struggled with feeling like I wasn’t being true to myself each and every time I donned my scrubs and threw on my stethoscope. I cried before my shifts and fought constantly against guilt.
- Why would I want to quit nursing when so many people would be grateful to just have a job?
- Nursing is a great job and some people would kill to have the chance to work in OB! Who am I to think I deserve more than this?
- What about all the patients that need help?
- What about my coworkers?
- How could I just walk away?
- How selfish could I be to think I deserved to make money sitting on my butt writing?! Nursing is “real” work and I would be self-indulgent to do anything else.
I probably could have quit several years before I actually worked up the courage to do it, but the guilt was incredibly hard to overcome as a nurse. Once you’re immersed in the bedside world, there can be a culture of nursing that makes you feel like the entire world lives within those hospital walls. And that can be a very hard thing to overcome.
I felt guilt for everything: for leaving my patients, for leaving my coworkers, for leaving what was, and still is, very valuable and necessary work as an OB nurse, for "giving up" on what I had worked so hard for.
The truth is, the guilt I felt was almost overwhelming, to the point it clouded my judgment for a long time.
I Still Use My Nursing Skills
The month I finally replaced my income as a nurse with the money I was making as a writer is the same month I finally put in my resignation. It took really seeing numbers on paper for me to overcome the crippling guilt I had over quitting. But I was pregnant with my fourth baby, so I would soon have four kids aged six and under and I was determined to continue working from home so I could care for them too.
The day I finally left bedside nursing, it was as if my blinders fell off and I could clearly see again––that guilt did nothing for me and I was a much happier, fulfilled person for pursuing my dreams outside of bedside nursing.
Being able to step back, I was finally able to see the bigger picture. Leaving bedside nursing didn’t mean I wasn’t a good nurse. It meant I was just using my nursing education in a different way. To this day, I still use my degree as a nurse and all of the experience I gained every single day as a writer. I’m now a full-time writer and editor who produces medical content for readers as well as companies.
Just like I used to educate new parents on how to give their babies a bath, I am now able to educate parents on an even broader scale when I write an article about taking care of their baby’s diaper rash. Just like I was able to inform my patient on the side effects of the new medication they had been prescribed, I am able to accurately investigate studies and uncover vital medical information for my articles on medical conditions. And just like I learned–all those years ago–how to professionally speak to a doctor at 3 AM when I had to call with my patient’s update, I interview doctors every week for articles.
There was a long time I struggled with embracing my identity as a nurse. I didn’t “feel” like a nurse in so many ways because I wasn’t happy at the bedside. But now, I am incredibly proud to have those credentials next to my name.
Nurses Are Needed In Many Ways
I firmly believe that, especially now, with a dire nursing shortage, that there is a need for all types of nurses in healthcare. There’s a place for all of us at this table, whether it’s in bedside nursing, in education, or as a nurse who spends her days writing medical content at a local coffee shop. Nursing is about embracing and helping people, employing critical thinking skills, and walking alongside people during their health journey. There are many ways we can do that as nurses that don’t always involve clocking in for a night shift.
Will I go back to bedside nursing someday? I’m honestly not sure. I have enjoyed using my nursing license in some hands-on ways recently and to my surprise, did find I enjoyed it––I worked, for instance, as a volunteer COVID-19 vaccine nurse at our local public health department. Someday, during my golden years I fully plan on signing up to be a NICU baby cuddler. And when I peruse those travel nursing jobs and the sky-high pay rates they’re commanding right now, I definitely get tempted. I’m older, wiser, and past the pregnancy stage, so it is a possibility I may go back someday.
But no matter what the future holds for me as a nurse, one thing is for certain: I’m more proud than ever to be part of the nursing industry.
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