I was a newly minted graduate nurse ready to embark on my career. I couldn’t imagine all that would come my way, nor that my career would last forty years and would grant me: financial independence; rich interpersonal relationships with peers, colleagues, and patients; and create in me a thirst for learning, for ever expanding challenges; and would bless me with the joy of knowing I had made a difference in someone’s life.
While growing up in the ’60s, my parents had encouraged me to study hard so I could “get a good job some day.” They were first generation Canadian farmers and they wanted more for their children than the choices they’d had. My parents and I never talked about me having a career because of course, we all expected that I would get married, raise a family and live happily ever after. My work/career choices, as a young female of the times, were limited primarily to hairdressing, teaching, secretarial work and nursing. I had no interest in the first three choices and wasn’t passionate about nursing either. My mother urged me to become a nurse because “you’ll always have something to fall back on when your kids are old enough to be in school.” And so, in 1967 I enrolled in Windsor’s Metropolitan General Hospital School of Nursing and began my three year training to become a Registered Nurse.
REFLECTIONS ON A FORTY YEAR CAREER
In my hospital in 1970, all nurses were female and physicians were exclusively male. Pantsuits hadn’t yet arrived as a women’s fashion item, so nurses’ uniforms were white dresses with white hose and shoes. The dress code required that the nurse’s white cap be worn with the uniform at all times when on duty. Long-time senior nurses stood up as a display of respect when the doctor came to the nurses’ station, even though that was a behaviour no longer required. The women’s movement had not yet arrived to challenge stereotypes so the hierarchy of power in the hospital reflected that of the larger social structure; (female) nurses had second class status relative to that of (male) physicians.
My first year working as an RN was an amazing experience. I found my passion in Critical Care (ICU/CCU) nursing and seemingly overnight, I fell in love with being a nurse. There was a camaraderie among the all-RN staff in the unit; we knew we had to be there for each other. At any given moment we might have to jump in and work together to save the life of a suddenly “crashing” patient. We developed a team unity even though we all had strong personalities and in another context, may not have been personal friends. We also created strong and trusting relationships with the physicians who tended patients in the Critical Care Unit. They required us to be successful if they were to succeed. There were always physicians who were kinder, and easier to get along with than others, but I don’t remember ever being the victim of a doctor’s abuse of power. I could not have envisioned the overwhelming changes the healthcare system, and more specifically hospitals, would undergo over the course of my career. Nor could I have imagined the petty actions and infighting that would ultimately infiltrate the workplace.