We hear about nurses following their ‘passion’ or ‘calling’ as their motivation for entering nursing. Does this apply to everyone? David Whiteley would disagree. In this piece David reflects on how he sort of fell into nursing when looking for a career and how he was presently surprised when he got there. Will he find the same on his journey with teaching?
I never wanted to be a nurse; I can say that with certainty. I didn’t have dreams about tending the sick and needy growing up, and it certainly wasn’t a calling or a vocation. To be honest, that sort of language irritates me. In my formative years during the 1980s and early 1990s, nurses were Megan Roach from Casualty and Gladys Emmanuel in Open All Hours: maternal, behatted and fearsome in equal measure. And female. Nurses were always very, very female.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that nursing as an option even crossed my mind. I found myself temping in the soul-destroying world of credit–control, and decided it was time to give myself a shake and try something new. I applied for nursing at the University of Dundee to escape my insufferable job, not because nursing was my idyllic dream gig. I was as surprised as my credit-controlling boss was when they said they’d be happy to have me.
I arrived to start my nursing degree in January 2003. It still didn’t feel real. The first three months were based in the university, and having done a previous degree I was in my comfort zone. Essays you say? Sure thing. Exams? Not a problem. Placements? Sorry, what? I clearly realised that on a nursing course, physically caring for unwell people may be a feature at some point, but I’d decided to ignore this minor detail. As my first placement approached, the three months I was due to spend in a care of the elderly ward loomed before me like a stretch in HMP Belmarsh. Why had I signed up for this?
The fact I’m writing this blog should give you a hint that my fears were unfounded. My first placement was an incredibly positive experience, and I found that I was actually enjoying the work. The patients were brilliant. I still remember one elderly woman asking me to fetch her simmet in a thick Dundonian accent one morning, and nearly falling off the commode laughing when I arrived triumphantly with a Zimmer frame rather than the vest she was after. Dundee: it’s another language. I enjoyed the placement, and the rest of my training immensely. Every new experience continued to challenge me (and still does), but I knew that I was learning, developing and improving, and by the end I felt like a real-life proper nurse. Maybe not the finished article, but definitely getting there.
Since qualifying, my career in nursing has offered far more scope and variety than Megan and Gladys would’ve had me believe. Nursing is a broad church, and I found my niche working with people living with a blood-borne virus. Prior to nursing, I’d be the first to scoff at people who found their jobs ‘rewarding’, but it turned out I often did. I’m a reformed cynic. Mostly. Nursing offers varied opportunities, and I now find myself enjoying and developing in my unexpected role as a nursing lecturer and researcher. I never wanted to be a lecturer; I can say that with certainty…
Dave Whiteley, 24th January 2020.
David Whitelely is a Registered Nurse and lecture in the School of Health and Social Care at Edinburgh Napier University. David completed is PhD in 2014 in fields related to infectious diseases, sexual health and blood-borne viruses. Presently, David is leading research to evaluate hepatitis C treatment in Scotalnd by primary care providers.