When what my employer got right was painful...

When the nursing administrator called me down to her office shortly after I'd reported for work, I couldn’t imagine her intentions.

From the time I was in first grade, I dreamed of a career in medicine. Motivated by an irrational fear of being diagnosed with childhood leukemia, I told my parents that someday I’d be a doctor and discover the cure.  

As soon as I was old enough, I volunteered as a candy striper at the local hospital. Dressed in a pinafore striped in blue rather than the traditional candy striper red, the majority of my duties didn’t involve patient care, but every now and then I'd be assigned to work on a floor near the nursing staff, and my aspirations for becoming a doctor transitioned into a desire for hands-on patient care. I began to imagine the day when I would wear a crisp white nurse's uniform and the coveted starched cap worn only by RNs in those days. 

In high school, I moved one step closer to that reality when I was offered a paid position – an opportunity to trade in my blue-striped pinafore for the white uniform of a nurse’s aide on weekends in pediatrics. I adored children, especially babies, and couldn't wait to wear a white uniform, to work more closely with the nurses I admired, and to experience hands-on care like a real nurse. It felt like a dream, and mostly it was.

Within a month I was called to the nursing administrator’s office. I was being reassigned. A ward clerk – someone to work at the desk answering the phone and doing paperwork – was needed on another floor.  

I was devastated and didn’t handle it well.  I couldn’t hold back the tears and begged her to let me stay where I was.  She was kind, but firm in her response. “You need to stop crying. Report to the head nurse on the second floor and get to work.

Looking back at that moment in the nursing administrator’s office, I’m surprised that she didn’t send me home – fire me right on the spot. Ward clerks didn’t provide patient care, but they were critical positions that required maturity that I was clearly not displaying and the ability to respond quickly.  Before computers and cell phones, ward clerks were responsible for transferring doctor’s orders into pharmacy, lab and radiology requests. And in the event of an emergency, the nurses relied heavily on the ward clerk to place the calls for help and immediately notify the doctor.  

The transfer from my position as a pediatric nurse’s aide to a ward clerk on an adult wing wasn’t a demotion – though it felt like it to me. 

Over time, I realized that my reassignment had provided an opportunity for me to grow in my understanding of how hospitals functioned. Working at the desk at the hub of patient care, I was exposed to a variety of disciplines in the medical field and grew in my understanding of how they worked together. Responsible for reading doctor’s orders and transcribing them into care plans, I learned medical terminology that became a huge advantage when I attended nursing school a few years later.  

That nursing administrator got it right, I think. Over the years she had watched me volunteering at the hospital and knew that I was a hard worker. She also was aware of my hopes of becoming a nurse and wanted me to realize that goal, so she wasn’t swayed by my immature reaction to the reassignment by either letting me get my way or by firing me.  I suspect she knew how much I would ultimately gain from the experience.

Over a decade later, after graduating from nursing school and working in a variety of nursing positions – from intensive care to that of nurse practitioner in an oncology office – I assumed a nursing administration role with the same opportunities to be kind but firm when faced with similar situations. I hope I got it just as right as she did.  

She opens her mouth with wisdom, 
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
Proverbs 31:26

{This post is in response to The High Calling Share Your Story on the topic: What My Employer Gets Right}