What Does it Mean to be a Nurse?

A Commencement Address by Diana Soto

So, what does it mean to be a nurse?

This is the question that I have been asking myself lately. I have often wondered to myself after all this training if I really know what it means to be a nurse. This thought bothered me because here I am in the fourth block of nursing school, at the end of this journey and I still didn’t know exactly what it means. Until, an experience I had on my last clinical two weeks ago…

It was my last clinical day of nursing school. On that morning as I arrived at the hospital my clinical instructor told our clinical group that there had been a change in our assignments for the day. She asked if I would be willing to go to the Pediatric Burn Unit. Our clinical instructors usually don’t ask if we want an assignment, but she asked because the burn unit is one that very few are able or willing to take.  Since I had worked in every other unit of the hospital, I said I was willing to try it at least.

In the burn unit, the nurses were very gracious and supportive of a student being there. They were really trying to help me have a good learning experience. One nurse asked me if I would like to observe the dressing changes of one of her patients. I said, “sure! “She then told me that in the room where they change the dressings it was 85 degrees because the patient had very little ability to moderate body temperature.  I would have to be covered (on top of my scrubs) with protective gear- which consists of a gown, gloves, shoe coverings, head/hair coverings, and face mask. She said that if at any time I started to feel too hot or dizzy, that it was okay if I walked out of the room. She went on to stress that If what I was seeing was too much for me, “no one would think any less of you if you had to walk out”. So, by now I was a little nervous at what I was about to experience, but I went into the room and stood off to the corner so as not to get in anyone’s way.

As I stood there, I really started to feel the heat and the mask on my face was really bothering me. I started to wonder how long this would take, as I was getting uncomfortable and hot.

Once they started to remove the child’s dressing, I could see the extent of her injuries… and she started crying out in pain. On top of that, she was cold- her whole body was shaking. From then on, all I could think about was her! What could I, a student, do to help take away her pain? The only thing I could think to do was walk up to the head of her bed and start playing with her hair- I called her by name and told her “I was so proud of her”, that “she was so strong” and was “doing such a good job”. I asked her if she wanted a head massage and she said yes (her voice so faint) So I gave her a head massage. And for only a few seconds she closed her eyes and her body was able to relax. Every time she would cry out in pain I would tell her to focus on how good her head felt- I would call her by name and tell her to inhale deeply and slowly exhale. I gave her a massage for 45 minutes, but it felt to me like only a few minutes. I no longer felt the heat or was bothered the mask on my face. I remember looking at the two nurses (one on each side of her) and the two burn techs caring for her wounds.

It was in that moment that I understood what it means to be a nurse! We were all caring for her… mind, body, and spirit.

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