On Being an Academic Nurse

When I began my PhD I felt the need to be cautious about telling people that I was doing it. Luckily I worked with super supportive colleagues and they never made me feel like I was weird or not a “real” nurse because of my interest in research. In fact, many of them were more than willing to share their experience, wisdom, and insights with me when we worked together. I may not have 20 years of nursing experience but I am a hard worker and a caring nurse who is willing to help others and pull my share. I absolutely loved my time working in geriatric rehab as a staff nurse. There were times when I considered quitting the PhD and staying on there instead. I didn’t leave direct care nursing because I didn’t like it. I didn’t leave because I’m afraid of hard work. Or shift work. Or working holidays.

I’m not quite sure what people think academic nurses do but I honestly cannot remember the last time I took an entire 24 hours off from work. I think it was in May? In addition to teaching, research, and service requirements of most faculty, nursing faculty at many schools (mine included) also teach clinical nursing courses. This term I’m teaching second year students in the hospital which means not only 2-3 full shifts in the hospital every week but tons and tons of prep, organizing, evaluation, and follow-up with students. This is not like a lab where they are practicing on mannequins; they are working with real-life patients who are sick. They are interacting with nurses and physicians. Expectations and anxiety are high. I feel like a mother hen trying to protect them while at the same time give them learning opportunities and reasonable autonomy. Teaching clinical is rewarding in many ways but it is one of the most stressful things I have ever done.

I am also a course assistant for the nursing research course and need to prepare to teach a new-to-me course next semester. On top of this I have also been trying to establish my program of research, attend the meetings I need to go to, and get to a stack of article revisions and new submissions. I took a day trip to Ottawa for a conference between clinical days and it was awesome but also exhausting. Somehow I have managed to still spend quality time with my son, work out at least 3 times/week (although Thursday’s “workout” mostly involved staring blankly at the barbell trying to convince myself that it was workout time), and always have some (mostly) healthy food and clean laundry. It’s the small wins, right?

This is not the life I envisioned 11 months ago when I accepted this job. After working and going to school for a million years I thought it would finally be different. I thought I’d have time to have a life but the reality is that I am working constantly. I thought I’d love being closer to home but it’s not really close enough that I can see my family and friends very often. It’s not super helpful when I want to go do something either (“Hey, dad, can you drive 5 hours and babysit while I go to a movie?”).

It’s not all bad of course; I really love a lot of things about my job. I’m just not sure that I want my life to be my job. I realize that the transition to new job in a new province and a new city is a huge adjustment and that it will get easier as time goes on. My first term has been full of many wonderful things and a couple of not-so-awesome things. Highlights include the joy of seeing nursing students grow and learn, interacting with patients and their families and the staff on the unit, and being part of some inspiring research projects. The best thing of all has been looking at the stars with my son on those early mornings before clinical. In the quiet darkness before sunrise we get to share the awe and peace of the night sky together before the busyness of the day begins. These are the moments I cherish most.

 

 

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