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When Does One Become a Nurse?

Is it when you pass the NCLEX? When you graduate from nursing school? When you get that first license? Or when you start your first job? When do you become a nurse?

So technically it is when you graduate. When you pass NCLEX and get licensed - that is when you can officially PRACTICE as a nurse. But I daresay that all of us "become a nurse" somewhere along the line when we are actually in nursing school. You will know that moment when you suddenly think of how to protect, promote, and optimize the health of another and then find that you cannot stop doing it anywhere you go!

The actual definition of nursing from the American Nurses Association is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations (ANA).

It's odd to be a nurse - because you constantly put your patients above your own needs during your shift or workday. Although we come to know our patients and care for them - they typically are not our family members or those we have a relationship with outside of work. But once you become a nurse, family members will ask you for advice. They will start to look to you for leadership and knowledge in new ways. You have the wisdom of how our complex healthcare system works.

This hit home for me this week as I traveled to visit an aunt in hospice care. She is losing her fight with cancer. While driving to visit her, my father looked to me for advice on what to say to his younger sister. I said - "Tell her she did well. She lived well. Thank her for being there for you in all the ways that she was." I knew this from many conversations with my patients as they had sincere and raw moments with me about their regrets and what they wanted to hear in their final days.

Although I tried to remain her niece and a visitor while I was there with her, I couldn't help but slip into a little bit of a nurse advocate role. I held a basin for her while she vomited. I suggested a PRN med that might help with the pain. When asked I explained some of the medicine interactions and disease challenges and how I could see that they were affecting her. I talked to my family about what hospice is and what a resource it can be.

In short, it was impossible for me to STOP being a nurse. Although you will pass the NCLEX and get paid for being a job as a nurse - you also BECOME a nurse. It becomes part of who you are and how you interact with the world and how you interact with friends and family. You are a nurse. It is part of your identity. It is part of your story. It is part of you. Enjoy every minute.

The possibilities are endless of what your job might be as a nurse after you pass this test. So work hard - study well - and get started on a wonderful journey in the profession. Here is a great video from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on many of the possibilities.

And here are a good list of characteristics that nurses should have. It is good to work on the ones that you might not feel strong in.

  1. Be Willing To Advocate for Others
  2. Be Sincere in your Caring
  3. Demonstrate Empathy
  4. Be Detail-Oriented
  5. Be Adaptable and Flexible
  6. Have Physical Endurance
  7. Be able to lift more than 20lbs
  8. Have Quick Memory Recall
  9. Have Great Judgement
  10. Do not be indecisive
  11. Be Hard-Working
  12. Have Great Communication Skills
  13. Be Willing to Learn
  14. Be Honest and Trustworthy
  15. Be able to set Boundaries with Others


What is Nursing & What do nurses do?: ANA Enterprise. ANA. (n.d.). https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/workforce/what-is-nursing