I have been a nurse for nearly 40 years. Most of my experience has been working in the city of Detroit in hospitals, home health, and hospice care.
I believed initially that my career path would lead me to academics and research, but my first job – in a hospital burn unit – set me on a different path.
One of my first patients was a soft-spoken man named Frankie who had been set on fire by a group of other men because he dressed as a woman. The horror of what was done to him and his ability to maintain his dignity through all the painful treatment still brings me to tears all these years later. Working with Frankie (and other patients in the burn unit) helped me to discover that nursing, for me, is more than a profession, it is my life calling.
I eventually became an oncology nurse specialist and then an advanced practice nurse, after earning my master’s degree, but the sense of mission never left me. I joined an organization that was unique at the time for offering special services to cancer patients in their homes and I chose to continue working in the city, where I encountered other people who were also on a mission of service to others.
I was blessed to meet the owner of a small car wash who allowed a homeless person to reside in the building temporarily so our agency could safely give him chemotherapy. I also met a group of nurse practitioners who worked in a sports injury clinic by day and then took a van out at night to offer free health care services to women working as prostitutes.
In all my years as a nurse, I have received more from every patient, family member and caregiver I have been with than they received from me.
Working with people in their own homes, on the streets, and in shelters has given me a perspective that impacts every part of my life. I have come to the realization that all spaces are sacred to those who occupy them. And because all of us are sacred beings, I recognize that nursing requires a servant’s heart.
Currently, I serve as a clinical manager for a busy home health agency. I rarely visit patients anymore, but I am still ministering — to the nursing, therapy and home health aide staff who provide the services. I try to be more of a mentor than a manager. I respect their input and I try to be as thankful as possible for the various gifts they bring to our agency and our clients.
Health care regulations are constantly changing and access for all to quality healthcare is still an issue in our country. It can be frustrating, heartbreaking, and overwhelming to be a health care provider.
Focusing on the needs of the person you are trying to help whether it is your patient, or a co-worker can be difficult in many circumstances, but joining together with them to do what is most needed in that moment is one more barrier down and one more step toward healing ourselves.
I expected to be challenged in my nursing career, and I have. But I didn’t anticipate it would become my life purpose.