I am not a nurse.
I have no background in science and have spent little time in any hospital setting. The majority of my adult life has been spent in an office working in communications and marketing. However, with my mother being a Registered Nurse, and having watched dozens of hospital television dramas, I thought I had a general understanding of oncology nursing work.
Nothing could have been further fromthe truth.
I realized this within minutes of stepping off the elevator onto the 17th floor of Princess Margaret Hospital. It was here that I shadowed an oncology nurse while she went about her ‘typical’ day.
The nurse was an early twenty-something like myself, and already had a student nurse trailing behind her. I couldn’t believe that at such a young age, she had the confidence to teach others. My disbelief did not end there, as I watched her check on the status of patients, examine their lab work and levels, decide on medications based on those results and deliver them to patients - alone.
I thought doctors did that.
I was astounded at the level of technical knowledge this young nurse had. She delivered medication to oncology patients with the utmost confidence and ability. At the same time, she lent a sympathetic ear and a soothing voice to calm them. Although I was the same age as this young nurse, I was completely humbled in her presence. Not only did she have book smarts, but an
emotional maturity well beyond her years.
I thought about my worst case scenario; the most stressed I have ever been in my business career, and nothing compared to one day on this floor. If I make a mistake in my job, it can usually be corrected with a simple tap of the backspace key.
Nurses don’t have this privilege.
One small misread of a chart or a medication label can mean serious consequences
for their patients. This level of responsibility and stress weighed on me, and I had only been on the job for a few hours.
I left that day wondering how I ever could have believed that I understood oncology nursing. The specialized skills of oncology nurses are incredibly unique and cannot be understood unless experienced first hand. Oncology nurses should commend themselves for their incredible knowledge base, their integral role in caring for oncology patients and their ability to work under immense stress.
The next time someone tells me they are an oncology nurse, I will have a greater respect and reverence for what that really means.
**Special thanks to the 17th Floor at PMH.