Saturday, June 22, 2013

Education of a Cancer Nurse

I read an excerpt today from a new book called I Wasn't Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse, by Laura DeVaney, a four-year head-and-neck cancer nurse. The excerpt is, as one 20-year nurse says in the comments, "one of the most honest portrayals of nursing I've read."

So be warned -- it's a little bit graphic. Know that before you click.

But it did remind me of how great most of the oncology nurses I know have been. They're compassionate, but realistic. That's just what I want in my cancer nurse.

I've always wondered just what makes someone go into oncology nursing. I don't think this excerpt really answers that question. I'm sure it's different for everyone, but I suspect they've been touched by cancer, and want to do their best to make it go away -- or make it go a little easier, because they know what it's like.

I had a student once who was studying nursing. She was great -- smart, articulate, worked very well with other students in the class. I thought she'd make a great oncology nurse. On the last day of class, I asked her what kind of nursing she wanted to go into.

"Well," she said, "I really hate being around sick people. So, probably dermatology. Or plastic surgery."

I was disappointed -- I'll be honest. It certainly wasn't the first time. I have lots of students who want to be nurses. A great many of them don't seem to care about anything -- studying, other people, whatever -- and I really want to tell them, "You know, I deal with a lot of nurses. I wouldn't want you to be my nurse."

That's not really fair to them. Just like it wasn't fair of me to think my student should go into oncology, rather than plastic surgery.

After all, how many people can really handle cancer? Heck, even I don't want to spend too much time in my oncologist's office.

So consider this a loving tribute to all of those oncology nurses who do so much for us. Even those who aren't so nice sometimes.

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