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What made you decide to become a nurse?

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We asked SNT readers to share with us the moment they realised nursing was the career for them. These beautiful stories are a stark reminder of the difference an individual nurse can make.
Use the comments section below to share your own stories.

In January 2014, I had an operation to have my gall bladder removed. I weighed almost 22 stones and the fear of having an operation at my size was the wake-up call I needed to change.

During the time I spent in hospital, I watched the nurses on my ward work long hours without a break, yet when I had a conversation with one of the nurses, she simply couldn’t express her love for nursing enough. Her only reward was the knowledge that she was helping people.

This young nurse was my inspiration and helped lead me to where I am now.

By September 2014, I had lost nearly 11 stones through determination, healthy eating and exercise and had started working towards an ‘Access to Higher Education Diploma’ at college. I’ve now finished my diploma and am eagerly awaiting my first day at the UEA to start my nursing degree.

It feels like I am in a dream compared to my life a little over a year ago.

Samantha Smithers, first year, University of East Anglia


On my neonatal placement I looked after a baby born at just 26 weeks gestation.

I was there for 10 weeks and was able to see her from birth to discharge. I built such a strong rapport with the family that I really felt I made a huge positive impact.

When they left they had made me a personalised card with photos of her and wrote that I had found my calling and would make an excellent nurse.

I was so proud that I had made such a positive impact on a family during a really hard time for them.

Hannah Robinson, third year, Hertfordshire University

Before realising I wanted to become a nurse, I started a history degree. I left during my second year as I wasn’t happy and felt that I couldn’t continue.

But from the very beginning of my nursing course I could feel the difference in myself and my attitude towards my education. I was excited to go to every lecture, happy to read about it in my spare time and never once felt like I had something better to do.

In June I started my first ward placement and I knew within the first 10 minutes that I was going to love being there. Every shift I felt excited, exhilarated, stimulated and fascinated by every new thing I came across.

On my last shift I realised what it all meant to me when one of the young long term babies crawled across the floor. It was a truly joyful moment and I realised that it isn’t just about how well you can carry out your clinical skills and the medication you give, it’s about the journey the patient is on and how to give them the support they need to eventually live their life out of the hospital.

Laura-Jade Potts, second year, City University, London


When I was young one of my friends became very ill. I watched her lose her confidence, her health, her sense of being human as she underwent treatment after treatment.

She lost most of her friends as she was unable to leave the house.

Her recovery has been an inspiration and she found herself again thanks to the support she received from nurses and other health professionals.

It is truly the human spirit that prevails in times of need and sometimes all it needs is a little care, support and guidance.  I want to be able to offer this to all my patients and this is what keeps me striving to be a nurse.

Emma Duffy, second year, Glasgow Caledonian University


Before I applied for nursing, a lot of people told me that it takes a certain type of person to make a great nurse, which left me unsure when I first started whether I had made the right choice.

A few days into my first placement I had a patient who was deteriorating rapidly and was on end of life care. She called me over to her bedside and told me she was scared, she asked me to hold her hand.

I sat next to her bedside for a while just holding her hand and comforting her.

At this moment I realised I was going into nursing because it allows you to make a difference to someone’s life whether that is making them feel comfortable in their last hours or even just making someone a cup of tea.

It all makes a huge difference.

Aimee Collman, second year, University Of Surrey


Being 19 I had never experienced what it was like to care for someone as I came straight from sixth form to university. I felt like a tiny fish in the sea, scared that people relied on me for support.

I remember finding out my very first placement was palliative care and I cried to my mum “How can I do this? How can I watch people die?” She reassured me that I would fine.

As they say, mother knows best!

One particular patient had been there on my first day and in my last week she sadly passed away. I felt a huge amount of sadness but reflecting on her final weeks I knew that I had done my very best to make it comfortable for her.

 This was when I realised that not every ending is happy, death is a part of life and it is my role to make this as comfortable for the patient and family as possible.

Maya Angelou’s quote “They may forget your name but they’ll never forget how you made them feel” is a perfect way to describe how I felt that day and reassured me that nursing was my dream job.

Lauren Simpson, second year, University of Lincoln


There are always days when you question your decisions, but there are also those days that confirm you’ve found your vocation.

For me, one conversation remains at the forefront of what I do and why I care.

A lady once said to me that when working in a healthcare setting you are “not playing a game; when you care for someone you are playing with their health and wellbeing”.

The actions and choices we make for people within our care will leave a lasting mark and therefore it’s important that we treat and care for people in the way we hope someone would treat and care for us.

A nurse once told me that there is no such thing as challenging behaviour, just an unmet need.

Katie-Jane Beaven, second year, University of Surrey


After looking after a disabled mother for several years, I went on to become a patient myself.

I found that the nurses on my ward really stuck with me, their compassion and understanding made everything a lot less frightening for me and I realised I wanted to offer the same. I volunteered for a year before starting my course just to make sure I was definitely following the right path and I have never looked back since.

I love every day of being student nurse.

Jade Day, second year, Anglia Ruskin University


Since the age of 18 I wanted to become a nurse, I knew there was a caring and compassionate side to my personality and many people describe me as ‘lovely’ and ‘always happy and smiling’ - which is nice!

At the age of 21 I joined the navy and became a health care assistant. During my career in the navy I diagnosed two medical emergencies. One particular patient attended the sickbay with symptoms linked to diabetes. After doing a urine test and other observations I found the patient to be hyperglycaemic and they were rushed to A&E.

I realised that if it wasn’t for my observations the patient could have gone into a diabetic coma as he did not realise he was diabetic.

It was then that I realised I wanted to go into nursing and I am so proud to start my nursing studies in September. I can’t wait to continue making a positive difference to peoples’ lives.

Joanne Clappison, first year, University of York


Since being a little girl I have always had a burning desire to help people, wanting to care just seemed to come naturally to me.

As I grew up my personality strengthened and I felt unhappy in all the jobs I undertook. From shop assistant to call centre worker, it just wasn’t enough and I felt I was being wasted.

I finally joined the nursing bank in May 2013 and it is still the best decision I’ve ever made.

It all changed for me when I met a lady of 95 while working on a palliative care ward. She had been on the ward for two weeks when I arrived, she was unable to do most daily tasks and was bed bound and unable to talk.

I would take the time to bathe her, paint her nails and tell her stories of what was going on beyond the walls of the hospital. Often she would flicker her eyes and I knew she felt better knowing there was a person by her side.

On my final day on the ward I went in to see her and told her of the beautiful day outside and how she had a chicken dinner to look forward to, I stroked her head and made her feel at ease.

She gently squeezed my hand as she passed away.

From that moment on I knew nursing was for me. It is not a job, it is a passion: a burning desire to help and make a change to those in need.

ChloeThompson, Salford University


During a shift on my surgical placement I noticed that one of our patients in the side room was looking rather down.

I gave her a smile and went in to speak to her.

She had recently undergone surgery to have a permanent tracheotomy and had lost the use of her voice.

I sat next to her and asked if she was ok and she used a white board and marker to communicate with me. I spent 10 minutes just listening to her concerns, the main one being that she felt people didn’t have the time to listen to her now she had no voice and she felt lonely in her side room.

By giving her the time to communicate I was then able to pass on her concerns to my mentor with her permission and we moved her into the main bay where staff spent more time with her to allow her to communicate.

On discharge this patient gave me the biggest hug and told me I’d made a huge difference to her and that I would make a wonderful nurse.

Moments like this confirm that nursing is for me. Something as simple as communication and giving someone your time can make all the difference.

Stephanie Morris, second year, Bangor University


When working as a health care assistant, I witnessed a distressed service user who appeared to be experiencing auditory hallucinations.

The staff nurse on duty did not acknowledge her distress and called her for medication without portraying empathy. This made me frustrated and I wanted to know why the nurse responded this way.

I sat with the service user and told her that I was there to listen and would not make judgements.

She was hearing voices, but her ‘good voices’ had disappeared making it difficult to cope with the derogatory voices. After listening, I used my sense of humour and suggested that the voice might be on holiday and suggested that she wrote to her ‘good voice’ as a distraction technique.

The service user thanked me the following day for its success, and explained that she had advanced on the idea and began to write poems about her experience.

I used the ward money to buy post cards and note pads for her so that she was able to utilise the technique throughout her recovery. 

The praise that I received and the genuine thanks made me recognise that I have the potential to be a great staff nurse because I genuinely care and want to make a difference to peoples’ lives.

Kerry Piper, second year, Birmingham City University


When a close friend (we shall call Kate*) asked me to help her with a friend (we shall call Clare*) who had depression and had become suicidal, I offered to go along and support her.

I found myself in a very urgent, critical situation, which required me to use my personal skills and caring, calm personality to bring peace and assurance to a very emotionally distressed, anxious, vulnerable young woman.

I used my communication skills to support my close friend Kate in enabling the dangerous situation to be de-escalated, and succeeded in persuading her to get professional help.

Kate said I was excellent in that late night, extremely pressured and difficult situation - literally a life and death one for Clare. To be honest, I had not felt as perturbed by the situation as I perhaps should have been. I seemed to find it quite natural.

My friend Kate began to see me as exceptionally gifted. As a youth worker, Kate encouraged me and said she thought I’d make an excellent mental health nurse. This began the exciting new journey into this right career path of mental health nursing.

(*n.b. names were changed for reasons of confidentiality)

Leanne Dunlop, first year, City University London


I left school in 1999 with most of my GCSEs and a record of achievement (remember them?!) containing a personal statement that read “I intend to become a paediatric nurse”.

So obviously I went to college and did an NVQ in beauty therapy. 

After two years at college I applied to the University of Salford and was accepted on to the Diploma in Adult Nursing. Hmm that still wasn’t the original plan!

18 year old me listened to wise elders who told her jobs would be few and far between for children’s nurses.  Three years later, on my final 13 week placement, I was involved in a serious road traffic accident that brought my career to a swift halt.

Finding out I was expecting my first child was also a massive surprise, so I decided not to resume my studies, despite only having three weeks of my final placement to complete.

One child turned into three, and life… happened.

When I experienced mental health issues after the birth of my third child, I took stock and realised that I wanted to return to the career I felt was a vocation for me, and this time I was doing the branch I should have the first time round: CHILDREN’s NURSING!

Samantha Levein,second year, Salford University


I enjoyed first aid and helping people whilst out on duty as a security officer, but it just didn’t challenge me as much as I would have liked. 

Signing up to a health and social care course made me realise I wanted to become more involved in health care.  Not knowing anything about it I applied for a healthcare assistant job and was surprised when I got it. 

One morning I had the privilege of helping a 97 year old lady get dressed for her 98th birthday. 

I helped her sort her outfit, shower, dry and brush her hair and added a touch of make-up.

After looking in the mirror, she looked up at me and with tears in her eyes, took my hand and thanked me. 

I realised I had found the career I wanted to pursue and that night went home and applied for my nursing course.

Katie Eckert, third year, University of Derby


From starting my first shift on placement, nursing was everything I imagined and I knew that I was on the right career path. 

This was affirmed when I nursed an elderly lady who had undergone major heart surgery, resulting in discomfort and pain and a loss in self-confidence in carrying out her daily care needs.

She was dependent on me to help her wash and to go to the toilet. Assisting this lady to fulfil the tasks we take for granted and building a friendly, professional relationship made my decision to enter nursing even more tangible.

Nursing this lady through her recovery, eventually watching her confidently and independently walk out of the ward on discharge was very rewarding. 

It was increasingly poignant when she handed me a thank you card and is an experience that will continue to inspire me when I qualify as a nurse.

Laura Gunn, second year, Keele University


During my very first placement as a mental health nursing student I began to notice a feeling I would get after my shifts. It would usually happen as I was driving home, reflecting and ruminating on the previous eight hours.

My body would be tired, my eyes trying to close and my feet aching from near constant use. But there was something else quite intangible that would invariably wash over me.

It was a sense of fulfilment, I guess, that manifested itself in peculiar ways.

I would smile out of the blue, simply because I felt good, and my muscles would feel gloriously warm.

By the time I made it home after these long drives, I was so content that I wouldn’t have swapped positions with anyone in the world.

Nursing did this to me.

It was the pure joy and privilege that comes with being trusted enough to help someone in their hour of need. It was the possibility that I had done just that – helped. I knew I wanted to be a nurse long before I started my degree, but this sense of purpose and reward was a beautiful confirmation that I had chosen the right path.

Tom King, second year, Anglia Ruskin University


I’ve wanted to be a mental health nurse since I experienced an episode of depression when I was 19.

10 years later ad I am now half way through my second year. There have been occasions where I doubted my abilities and motivation. However, on a recent placement I helped a patient who was living with issues of substance use, self-harm and a recent diagnosis of personality disorder.

I developed a good therapeutic relationship with this patient and drew on personal experiences to encourage her motivation and help her change her behaviour. She appreciated this use of self and wrote positive comments in my student portfolio.

This experience reaffirmed my belief that I will be able to help people in distressing situations. It also strengthened my commitment to challenge the stigmas that exist, even within nursing, towards patients who have problems with substance use and also those with diagnoses such as personality disorder that people find difficult.

Timothy Nagle, second year, Cardiff University


While on placement on an extremely busy and somewhat understaffed ward, I met a patient who had been labelled unfairly by some members of staff as ‘difficult and demanding’.

Whilst on duty I spent a lot of time with this patient during her 10-day admission.

I assisted with personal care and did observations but more importantly I spoke to her, listened to her, reassured her when she was scared, found answers to her questions, sat with her when the doctors did rounds and kept my promises: if I said I was going to do something, I did it.

On discharge the patient pulled my mentor to one side and told her to thank me for the time I spent with her, for caring for her and treating her like an individual. 

Being told that I was a ‘natural’ by my mentor made me happy but to have a patient reaffirm this made me nearly burst with pride, I knew there and then I’d made the right decision and it’ll be a day I will always remember throughout my whole career as a nurse.

Danielle Kirk, second year, Middlesex University


What was your defining moment in nursing? Use the comments section below to share


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