Nancy Roman

My Shortest Career

I’ve written before that I thought I could have been be a good doctor – even though my short-lived career in Nursing didn’t exactly go well. (“I Coulda Been Somebody”)

I wrote back then that the hospital work was okay, but that the academic side was drudgery.

That was not exactly true.

I am a great classroom student (when I can stay awake.) In nurses’ training, I excelled in Anatomy and Pharmacology, and most of the other science-related classes where you learn something concrete – something that makes sense.

What I couldn’t connect with was: Sick People.

Not that I don’t have sympathy for people’s suffering. Hospitalization is a very scary thing. I empathize with the seriously ill and with their families. And I even sympathize with folks who feel only temporarily terrible and are bored out of their minds at the same time.

What I couldn’t do was pretend that I could help them in any way.

I’m sure that comes with time. I realize now that just offering someone a glass of water and a pat on the hand at the right moment can make a huge difference. But back then, in my utter self-absorbed immaturity, I had imagined that I would be saving lives, not holding the emesis basin while somebody threw up. I just didn’t know that it was the same thing.

I remember the exact moment when I realized that I wasn’t going to be a nurse.

I was five months into Nurses’ Training. Instead of going into a degree program at a college, I had opted for the nurses’ training program affiliated with a major area hospital. (I’m not sure you can even do that anymore, but back then, it was still quite common for the hospitals to have their own nursing schools, offering diplomas rather than degrees.) I wanted to be like my mother, and that is how my mother got her training. I was also wise enough (amazingly) to want to get right into the hospital and see if I even liked the work, instead of pursuing the academic side that the degree program stressed for the first two years. And while I am proud of that tiny spark of wisdom, I admit that I idiotically couldn’t wait to wear that little hat.

(Here’s a funny little aside. I decided to go into Nursing because I wanted to be like my Mom. But she didn’t encourage it. She honestly didn’t think I would like it. And one of my very best friends in high school wrote in my yearbook, “Ten to one you’ll be some famous celebrity, not a nurse.” I haven’t got the fame yet, but she got the non-nurse part right!)

So anyway, there I was in my little uniform, white stockings, and the adorable cap, trying to be a nurse. It felt like I was trying to be a unicyclist. I had no balance. My best friend in school had just been asked to leave – she had been caught crawling into bed with one of her cutest patients. I was horrified and envious at the same time –  my youngest patients hovered around 83.

That particular day, I had walked into the 4-bed room to make up the bed of a recently discharged patient. (Yeah, nurses still did that. Especially student nurses.) The privacy curtain around the opposite bed was completely drawn. And from behind the curtain came a voice – a very authoritarian voice:

“Is that a nurse who just walked in?”

And I froze. I was unable to speak.

“Are you a nurse?” The voice seemed extraordinarily loud for a hospital.

I finally answered:

“Sort of.”

And there was a bellowing laugh.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“I’m a student. First year.”

Again the laugh.

“All I want is your goddamn bandage scissors. They should be nice and sharp, seeing as you’ve never used them.”

So I opened the curtain a crack, and handed the doctor my scissors. My mother bought them for me as a high school graduation gift, and had engraved my name across the blade, just like her nursing shears had her name engraved across the blade.

“Do you want me to help?” I asked, trying to sound like a real nurse.

“Absolutely not,” the doctor answered.

And he clipped the bandage he was changing, and handed me back my scissors.

And I slunk away.

And quit nursing school the following week.

I had wanted to be just like my mother. But that didn’t mean I had to be a nurse.

I could be just like her if I was kind and honest and cheerful.

And I’ve tried to be ever since.

I still have the scissors.



Nursing Scissors engraved with my maiden name. 1969. .


  1. A fantastic story. I went into teaching and I’m lucky enough to love what I do. I don’t think I would have ever made it as a nurse. A very demanding profession. My hat goes off to each and every one of them 😊


    • For most of her career, my mother was an obstetric and newborn nurse. The new mothers loved her, because she believed that baby was going to get most of the attention, and the mother was the one who needed special pampering. She was, and still is, my role model for kindness.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I wanted to be a candy striper so I could wear the pink striped outfit. Funny what things encourage you. I didn’t make it either. Sick people weren’t my thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My oldest sister was a candy-striper… I must have been about ten at the time. I ADORED her pink striped outfit!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wonder why they did away with them. Being a “gray lady” just isn’t the same.


        • What? No candy stripers? My daughter was one in high school – it was difficult to get into the program as so many wanted in – mainly to pad their college resumes the organization said. She loved it and went on to become a surgeon ( and encountered a few aging annoying docs like you did.) Medicine is a tough calling and not for everyone – but there certainly is a perfect slot for each person somewhere. Good to get out when it doesn’t click and do something else.
          That you have thos scissors is wonderful. They represent more than being a nurse – mostly a mom’s solid support and faith in you no matter what.
          (and Gray Ladies are so not the same)

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh how wonderful that you’ve kept those scissors all this time. 💜 My mom retired last year after 45 years of nursing, on a whim, because she got tired of them changing her computer software. She was always so good at her job. Going in on off days to hold the hands of those fading away. She doesn’t miss it though. She still has her little hat too.


    • My mother had a beautiful cap that she starched till is was stiff as a board. It was gorgeous. And a fabulous navy blue cape. Once in a while she let me both the cape and the cap on Halloween. Hey, maybe that’s why I wanted to be nurse!

      Liked by 1 person

    • And I still use the scissors. All the time!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I like your conclusion that you could be like your mother by being kind, honest, and cheerful. I’m quite certain you’ve succeeded at doing that; just think of how many people you’ve helped in that manner!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t have had better role models for living a life of integrity and happiness than both of my parents.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. At least you tried and found out early enough to switch gears. Anyway, being like your mom in other ways is a fantastic aspiration. 🙂
    A school friend went into nursing. I figured she’d never last. She just retired. I knew I couldn’t be one.


    • I actually considered going back and trying again, after I spent five years in college and couldn’t find a job after I graduated. I’m glad I didn’t go back to nursing — for the sake of the patients! I did work in health care for ten years though – but on the administrative/financial side.


  6. Ray G

    Being even older than you are (the horror!) I am somewhat fascinated by the existence of male nurses. Don’t quite know what to make of them, or how to respond, in the event.
    As far as fame goes, how many authors began in their later years? You seem to be a little more successful in that regard.


    • Thanks. But not what I would call Fame. But definitely a feeling of success – and it feels great!


  7. It sounds like you were meant for greater things. Maybe the scissors are to remind you that when it’s time, it’s okay to cut ties! Great story!


  8. Christine

    Mom still has her engraved scissors too. They are in a kitchen drawer and I used them this week to open a package of something. While Dad was in the nursing home, she thought she lost them, and was pretty sad about it. After all, they managed not to get lost with four kids and lots of grandkids in the house. Quite a while after she missed them, I was cleaning out my car (which I don’t to very often) and found them under the back seat. They must have fallen out of a bag she was carrying to the nursing home. She was really thrilled to get them back.


    • I’ve had mine more than forty years… she’s had hers more than 70! Built To Last!


  9. Sue Marquis Bishop

    Loved reading your post today. Brought back my own memories of student nurse days. Nursing is rewarding but hard work but I liked satisfaction of clinical work for few short years. Then went on to masters and PhD and taught nursing and did research. One thing for sure. It has so many different options for careers.


    • That’s true. Nursing doesn’t have to be just hospital nursing, and it sounds like your career was extremely fulfilling. I think my main problem with nursing was just immaturity – I just needed more time to figure out where I belonged in the world.


  10. Hety

    Your scissors will come in very handy when you need to cut a bandage from your dog’s foot. It will happen, believe me. At some point in their life they will have a paw bandage. Your story is great!


    • I use those scissors all the time for everything. But rather ridiculously – they are great toenail scissors!


  11. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.


  12. Dana

    Administrative is definitely less messy! I have too much of a weak stomach to do any of the front lines jobs!


    • I’m not very squeamish, but of all the tasks I experienced in my short nursing career, the one that really grossed me out was brushing someone else’s teeth. I could never work in dentistry!


  13. Love this post! It brought back memories of my own short-lived nursing career. I didn’t get as far as you – I became a JANGO (the equivalent of a Candy Striper in a military hospital) one summer in high school (at MY mother’s suggestion). The day that killed it for me was the day I was asked to carry some urine specimens to the lab. The outside of the vials were a little wet and I was completely grossed out. My mother then made another suggestion- find another field to pursue.


    • Having pets cured me of any disgust with bodily functions. Once you’ve taken cat poop out of the dog’s mouth, you’re cured.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I was a candy striper and loved it. So, I decided I wanted to go to nursing school. That lasted until I took chemistry my senior year of high school and they introduced the metric system and I barely eeked out a passing grade… gave up on nursing, worked in the record room instead! Great story… DAF


  15. Jas

    I know that guy was sick and all, but he was kind of a dick. I applaud you for the smooth way you handled that situation. I read that and all I could think was…

    “All I want is your goddamn bandage scissors…”
    “Trick, what the HELL did you just say to me?”
    “They should be nice and sharp since you’ve never used them before…”
    “Alright. Then why don’t you try to rip open whatever you’re having trouble with using your fingers? Let me know how that goes.”


    • Haha. Oh, but nurses were NEVER allowed to speak to doctors that way…. (at least back then).


  16. What a story, girlfriend. And how true it rings. It only takes one person to crush someone’s hopes and dreams; maybe Dr. A$$ was just what you needed to know nursing was not for you. I hear you about helping people, too. Two of my very best friends are nurses and going to school for nursing; I’m afraid I’d be crying all the time. I’m a sad sack. I can’t tell you how much of a godsend nurses were for me when I was in the hospital these past few times. But I just don’t think I could do it. But it shows you still love and respect the field. That’s important. Even with Dr. A$$.


    • Nurses are fabulous. My mother was one of the best in history. But I’m glad now that I went a different way.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: