On Becoming a Nurse

BY: Justin O’Leary, MA, BS, BSN (c)

For a long time I believed that my interest in the sciences, which eventually became an interest in medicine and healthcare, meant I wanted to become a physician. Throughout my first undergraduate degree I followed the pre-med track half-heartedly. While my classmates’ primary goals were to become physicians, my goal was to find a career in which I could help people at a level more intimate than a physician. After ruling out medical school, it was hard to determine which career was the proper fit for me. The perfect amount of freedom, responsibility, and variability within a career didn’t exist, or so I thought.

While my classmates’ primary goals were to become physicians, my goal was to find a career in which I could help people at a level more intimate than a physician.

After graduating from Binghamton University, I began to volunteer full time at the Nassau County Department of Health in the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control. Working side by side with public health nurses, I was immersed in new experiences and found myself becoming more familiar with the role of nurses in public health. Fortunately, these individuals I worked with held a plethora of knowledge, coming from various nursing backgrounds. Hearing experiences from working on the hospital floor to long-term home care I realized nursing offered me the various options I looked for within a career. As a nurse, I would have the flexibility to continually build upon my base knowledge to further enhance my abilities to provide exceptional care. Working at the Nassau County Health Department was the catalyst for my nursing epiphany. I had found a profession that would allow me to combine all of my strengths and interests to help others.

Working at the Nassau County Health Department was the catalyst for my nursing epiphany. I had found a profession that would allow me to combine all of my strengths and interests to help others.

One of my work colleagues, a man who had worked in many professions, truly motivated me to consider nursing as a career choice. As someone who had entered the field later in life after numerous other professions, this individual became of the most knowledgeable and hard working public health nurses I have met. As an immigrant, he informed me that nursing was not held in a high regard as it is here and is not considered a career for men. During his time as a medical technologist, the perceived barrier to nursing became less obvious as he was drawn to the profession and encouraged by those around him. Hearing his experiences helped shatter my own perceived barrier to entering the field. I was fortunate enough to learn from his experiences and have a role model I could relate to as I entered into the field of nursing myself.

How can nursing attract more men to the field? I’m not sure of the answer at the moment, but hopefully one day as a nurse I will have that answer.

Returning to school to earn a second bachelors degree in a predominately female-dominated profession raised mild concerns over my acceptance by my classmates and the effect on my learning and success within the program. Surprisingly, I found a larger male population within my cohort than anticipated and am also happy to report acceptance by my female colleagues. As I progressed in my nursing program I noticed that specific populations were covered and student interest groups revolved around women’s health but not specifically men’s health. This sparked a thought: if men’s health was covered more specifically in nursing curriculum, would that attract more men into the profession? Some women flock to the profession to be midwives or care for women with breast cancer but how many men flock to the profession to help others with prostate problems or testicular cancer? How can nursing attract more men to the field? I’m not sure of the answer at the moment, but hopefully one day as a nurse I will have that answer. 

As a nursing student, my primary goal is to obtain as much experience as possible in a hospital setting following graduation and licensing. I have realized while both volunteering inthe hospital and at the health department that high-quality entry level education is of the utmost importance, but nothing beats firsthand bedside experience. Hands-on-learning stays with a person and is a necessity for further developing a person’s skills and advancing within the field. It is my goal after working for a couple of years to eventually enter an advanced degree program, although at this point in my career I am unsure as to which. Having interests in various nursing specialties, my clinical experiences during nursing school will provide me with a more in depth understanding of each field.

In the advent of Ebola and other emerging infections, I am more convinced that nurses will play a vital role, as they have proven during the AIDS crises and other singular epidemics in history such as the flu pandemic of 1918.

My experience at the health department has interested me in possibly becoming an infection control practitioner in a hospital after gaining experience at the bedside. In the advent of Ebola and other emerging infections, I am more convinced that nurses will play a vital role, as they have proven during the AIDS crises and other singular epidemics in history such as the flu pandemic of 1918. I may eventually re-enter public health later in my career. A transition from helping an individual to helping a community would provide a fresh change and keep the dynamic field of nursing novel. I may be a novice nurse at the moment, but I look forward to a lifetime of learning and developing myself to be an expert in the field.

 

justinoleary

Justin O’Leary, MA, BS, BSN (c)

Justin O’Leary is in his final semester in NYU’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program (December 2014 Graduate).  After earning a Bachelor of Science in Integrative Neuroscience and a Master of Arts in Biological Sciences from Binghamton University, State University of New York, Justin spent a year at the Nassau County Department of Health in communicable disease control before entering into nursing. O’Leary is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Careers in Nursing Scholar and currently volunteers at Bellevue Hospital in the Emergency Department. Justin is a recipient of the AAMN Foundation Scholarship.  

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One thought on “On Becoming a Nurse

  1. Bill Lecher says:

    Justin – Very nicely stated. Thank you you putting your experiences, thoughts and hopes in writing and sharing with us. I look forward to following your career path over time. Bill

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