In what now feels like another life, but really was only a few years ago, Physics was a big big part of my life. The decision to make a career switch was neither easy nor simple. Some of my friends who knew me back then and a lot of my friends now have asked me why and how I made the shift between such different fields, and surely, since I came from a field as “difficult” as Physics, Nursing must be a breeze for me. Most relevantly, I have been asked, and have asked myself, if the Physics I learned and taught has in any way translated itself to Nursing.
I found myself thinking about these questions these last few days, and Mary and I have had several conversations about this. Since I am rapidly (!) approaching the end of my program and about to enter the world of Health care as a professional, I think this is as good as time as any to put my answer down in writing. I won’t answer the why or the how I switched from the one to the other in this post, but I will try to answer the other two questions.
Is Nursing easy since Physics is hard? No it’s not. If anything, Nursing is harder. Physics was always to me a way of thinking, a way of looking at the world. Physics is about concepts and principles. Once you understand the principles and concepts, say of mechanics, or of gravitation, or relativity, or of matter, then the rest falls into place. You have to juggle some math, but if you stick true to the principles and the fundamental laws, it always works out. This worked for me as an undergrad and as an instructor, and I hope that I taught my students well enough that they stopped thinking of Physics as a mere subject and realized it was a way of looking at the world around them. Even when I started my doctoral program and was doing some really complex stuff, it always came down to the concepts, the principles, the laws of Physics. If you had that foundation down, then you were in good shape.
Nursing, I am finding, is more a way of being. Yes there are concepts, like maintaining sterility or asepsis, or the progression of the inflammatory process, or sepsis to shock. There is science, pathophysiology, disease processes, pharmacology. Then there are skills and techniques, like dressing a wound, applying a splint, inserting a peripheral line, reading and understanding vent settings, inserting a foley. And then there’s the human part of it, dealing with a person at their most vulnerable point in life, dealing with families in crisis, maintaining the human touch and the human connection while dealing with the basest of bodily functions, allowing people to be vulnerable to you as they deal with the indignities of disease and hospitalization and still feel dignified and respected. Keeping all these things at the forefront of your mind at the bedside, with the patient looking in your eyes. When I stand at the patients bedside I must assess, evaluate, analyze, think through the disease process to identify what is happening, and what could potentially happen, always asking myself “am I missing something, what med should I hold, what do I need to check, are the meds working, what are the side effects I need to look out for with the meds I’m giving, are there any red flags, is my patient getting better, what do I need to talk to the doctor about, is my patient getting the best care possible, what are all these monitors around my patient saying about her health, what is the patient saying to me… ad nauseum ad infinitum.” And as all these thoughts are running through my mind I must remain always in contact with my patient, maintaining the connection, maintaining that link that says I care, I’m here, I’m listening, because that link is my lifeline. Do I do this all the time? No. Sometimes I get so caught up making sure that I don’t make a med error or break sterile technique that I forget to assess everything. Sometimes I am so busy doing a physical assessment that I am not listening to my patient. But I am learning, and I hope getting better every day.
So the answer is NO, Nursing School is not a breeze for me. It’s the most intense thing I have ever done in my life, the most challenging, and so far, the most rewarding. And when I actually start making some money, it will be even more rewarding, just in an additional and very welcome way…
The second question is, has the Physics I learned and taught in any way translated itself to Nursing? The short answer is yes, in a lot of different ways. Like I mentioned, Physics, to me, is a way of looking at and thinking about the world, and that way of thinking, and the analytical skills I developed along the way, have popped up in unexpected ways to hold my hand and help me through Nursing School and patient care. But this post is getting long and I need to do some schoolwork, so I’ll come back to this subject later.
To answer some more direct questions:
Yes, I miss Physics, and the world of academia and research.
Yes, I miss the kind of mental stimulation that comes from grappling with a Physics or Math concept or problem and finally mastering it.
Yes, I regret not being able to finish what I started, to complete my doctoral program and be a physicist.
Yes, I miss Physics.
Yes, it still is and always will be a part of my life.
No, I don’t regret having invested such a big part of my life to Physics.
No, I don’t regret making the switch to Nursing.
If I knew then what I know now, would I have bypassed the whole Physics thing and gone straight to Nursing? Maybe. Maybe not. It would have saved me loads of time. But then I probably wouldn’t be the person I am now. Everything happens for a reason.