What Type of Nursing Do You Want to Do ?
by Theresa Noyes
It ’ s the question every nursing student dreads
and gets asked about a dozen times , often before even starting the nursing program : What type of nursing do you want to do ? I had been asked this time and time again . The only answer I could give was , “ Well , definitely not geriatrics .”
With no prior healthcare experience , I had no idea what I wanted , but I felt that I knew that I did not want to work with the elderly . We all have that one area that we just cannot picture ourselves getting into , right ?
About halfway through my nursing program , I had my psychiatric nursing class . We were slated to visit several different facilities for our clinical days , one of which was a memory unit in a nursing home . To be perfectly honest , I was dreading those days . I just did not understand what learning could be done on a unit like that . I thought I had already learned how to feed and change patients in my first rotation . I arrived at the nursing home and literally just began counting the minutes until it was over .
Our first task was helping with breakfast . Most of the residents could feed themselves , but a few needed assistance . Enter nursing students ! I sat down next to a woman silently observing her plate with vague interest , and I introduced myself . She looked up at me and smiled . We sat in silence as I helped her eat her plate of eggs and pancakes . It was an unusually comfortable experience . I began , in those moments , to feel at ease on the unit .
The remainder of the day consisted of participating in different activities and keeping the residents calm and content . During a quiet moment , I met a woman named Nancy *. Nancy was this sweet , generally happy woman who only wanted to walk laps around the unit all day long . Nothing could be said to convince her to sit down and relax . So , I walked a few laps with her . She didn ’ t speak much but when she did , she talked about being a teacher and missing her students .
I managed to convince her to sit down at a table with me after about an hour of walking , and we began to look through magazines together . Midway through a copy of Architectural Digest , she suddenly stopped and looked up , staring me right in the eyes . With tears pouring down her face , she asked , “ Have you seen my husband ? Where is my husband ?” Not knowing much about her family history , but wanting to put her at ease , I said , “ He ’ s just fine . You ’ re just fine . It ’ s okay .” She stopped crying , but immediately got back up , walked away , and began walking laps again . I did not try to convince her to sit down a second time .
About 10 minutes into my 30-minute drive home from the nursing home , I began to cry so uncontrollably that I needed to pull over onto the emergency lane on the highway . I sat there , my head in my hands , and just wept . It is hard for me to articulate exactly what I was feeling , even now more than a year later . I had never known anyone with dementia so I did not fully understand how devastating it can be . I cried for Nancy and for the person who was stolen from her by this devastating disease . I cried for her family , I cried for her friends , and I cried over the guilt that I felt over never even considering getting into geriatrics — until then .
While I may start my career in nursing doing medicalsurgical nursing to gain skills and experience , my heart now lies entirely with geriatric psychiatric nursing . I cannot imagine not spending my life helping arguably the most vulnerable population in this country . We do not always know which patients will have the most impact on us until we are thrown into these situations that completely knock us off our feet .
Nancy most certainly does not remember me , but I will carry her with me throughout my entire career . My experience with her that day will color every experience I have with patients for the rest of my life . Now , when people ask me now what kind of nursing I plan on going into , my answer is clear — geriatric psychiatric nursing . Thank you , Nancy . n
* Name changed to protect identity .
Theresa Noyes is a BSN student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk , VA .