When I began nursing, the focus on “service” for its own sake was a virtue in itself. If you embarked on a profession that had “service” as a
core value, everyone assumed you had a good character.
When I finished nursing school I expected to “take care of” the patients; that was my primary responsibility–it was part of the social contract of healthcare.
But now it’s different. In today’s healthcare system, I wonder what the “hook” is that seduces women and men into nursing. Is it security, is it money, or the romance of the vintage image of the nurse? Is it the curiosity or the intimacy of being that close to others? Is it living on the edge of the terror, battling death?

I was raised on tales of heroes’ journeys. Our house was storied with the high value of the element of sacrifice and helping to care for others. There was no question: we were our brothers’ keepers, and our sisters’ too. Most of my friends felt that same way. When we were really young, we began food and toy drives for those less fortunate, collected money for causes, and tried to focus on being the best we could be.

There was little spoken about money and striving for it. Those of us who were more competent had to share with those who weren’t, which meant some of us always did more, in the same way as we had to share our lunch or our money once we had enough for ourselves.

So I began to ask myself this morning, “Why did heroic journeys and sacrificing for others have such appeal for all of us, why did it seem so noble, and how has that changed?

Granted, giving yourself away to give to others is not a good thing because it can disempower both you and the “other,” and basically it doesn’t serve or help. It’s true: Balance is difficult to achieve but it is valuable for growth and evolution.

Yet, some of what I question now is all the new “pathologizing” of helping others “too much.” That’s a judgment call. When does interdependence slide into “co-dependence?” When do you feel so little compassion for yourself that you can no longer feel compassion for another? When does others’ pain become your need to control their “addictive behaviors?” instead of helping them seek some relief. All these are heady concepts and if you find an easy answer, know that it’s not the truth.

So now to get to the relevance of what I’d like to know from you. Are nurses in healthcare today, just to be thrown to the lions? We all know how few rights we have, and how hard we have to fight for those we get. Doctors get more respect for their knowledge—the same knowledge– than we do, even if we’ve worked longer and have more experience. And everyone in the “system” of healthcare, which is now the “business” of healthcare, knows doctors certainly get more respect.

Some of the truths are easy to see. Sacrifice has gone out of style, money has become classy and trendy. Fear radiates from our radios and TV’s and from all our other tech gadgets, trying to convince us that there’s not enough of anything for all of us. Not enough land, housing, food, water, oil, money etc. It’s implicit in all the commercial messages of our time that “The future” will be worse than the past. Unless we have the security of money. Money: a native language for a global community.

Success is determined now, not by what you’re willing to give, but by how much money you can make. Illusion, like paper money, has replaced the truth of a gold standard––whether in society or in life.

So where do nurses belong now, if not in the Roman Forums? What motivates them without pathologizing them? Is there a bridge between service and business? And how do we get there from here? What is caring and caretaking worth? Can we revalue it?

We have to move forward to grow with the system or grow to move outside the system–to help to heal ourselves as well as others. The Challenge of Choice. How will we redefine our careers? Will we keep getting more and more education, going round and round in a revolving door, just to re-enter the same system that has devalued us, and abused us before? Or will some of us take the chance of making new models of Nursing where healing is the goal, where we give and take, and are willing to make the same autonomous decisions and accept the responsibility that other professionals do. Some of us will be slain, for sure. Taking the high ground has its price yet….what can we do if we really believe we are all connected?

Will we step out to use the power we’ve learned and earned for good rather than evil? Will we grow into people that we can admire as progressive and valuable? One day, when we are older, will we be able to say we’ve lived and spent our life well? Reminds me of a quotation by Hillel, my dad asked me to ponder as I was growing up which is one of my favorites.

“If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?
If I’m for myself only, who am I?
If not now, when?”