the finish line

For all the nursing graduates, the speech I gave at pinning:

The past two years have been a journey for us all. We embarked on nursing school wide eyed and naïve, unaware of how to use a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff or where to find a pulse. We hung bags of kool-aid and we spoke to dummies, we learned medical terminology, medications and diagnoses as if we were learning a second language, phonetically sounding out words you may hear at the world champion spelling bee. We saw and did things in clinical that would make you blush, we were able to achieve level of comfort and familiarity with the human body that we never thought imaginable. We complained about the work-load, the expensive books, the demands of our professors, and the clinical hours. We cried when we felt exhausted and defeated by yet another seemingly impossible exam for which we studied tirelessly. We took multiple-choice tests until we were cross-eyed, barely able to bubble in our own names, and we were as surprised at our successes as we were discouraged by our failures. We began holding ourselves and one another, to a higher standard. Like an infant learning to walk, we stumbled, we fell and we got back up again, resiliently, until we finally learned to put one foot in front of the other. With that momentum, we became nurses at last. Unlike Disney movies, this transformation did not involve a fairy godmother or a magical wand, it did not happen overnight or while we were sleeping, it was far more linear that – nor was it as easy. Like an equation, the addition and multiplication of long hours, dedication, and integrity yielded this accomplishment. At times we of course silently wondered if we would arrive at the finish line, on time or at all – but we did and here we are.

Reflecting on these years, the ups and the downs, the laughter and the tears, there is no doubt that we have all grown. The challenges we have faced and the experiences we have had will forever remain a part of us. There will come a time when we meet a wide-eyed and naïve nursing student who will remind of us of ourselves, completely and utterly clueless. First we will hang our heads in pitty, thanking God we are no longer standing on a hospital floor looking like a deer in headlights. Then, a wave of nostalgia will set over us and as promised to all of our instructors, we will smile at that student and remember, maybe not so fondly, the challenges that they may face.

Thanks to the diligence and discipline of our committed professors, we have covered a substantial amount of material during these two years. We have learned pharmacology, Pathophysiology, health assessments and interventions. We have learned patience in understanding that humans are complicated and complex. We have learned how to care for them. We have also learned through experience and theory, that health care is an evolutionary field, constantly evolving to meet the demands of a growing and diverse population. Our greatest accomplishments have stemmed from our own evolution, and as this experience has taught us, change is good. We thought the shoes were too big to fill, the books were too long to read and the information was too dense to compute, and yet, true to the character of nursing, we have adapted. We quickly learned that learning was a skill that required fine tuning and we did just that. I am confident that, as a part of the solution and advancement of nursing, we will continue to educate our patients, ourselves and one another. For anyone concerned about the future of health care, about the integrity of the nursing profession, the graduates in this room should ease those fears. We have and will continue to be challenged and tested, and we will succeed, together. And ironically, what we believed to be the finish line, the sum of equations, the light at the end of the very long tunnel, in fact is not a finish line at all, because really this is only the beginning.

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