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This site is for student nurses or nurses starting out. Letters to a Young Nurse are blog posts written like letters to help you find your way and make your journey as a nurse less difficult. 


Piece of Advice

What is the best piece of advice you received that has changed and impacted your life greatly? Who gave it to you? Was it freely given or solicited by you?

To answer those questions, I have to go back more than 25 years. I was a spinal cord injury nurse in Washington DC. It was my second nursing job and the "pill pass" was so arduous and took so long that I would go in an hour before the shift started just to pour my pills for the patients that day. As part of being a member of the Spinal Cord Injury Nurses Association you were awarded a free trip to their annual conference in Las Vegas. One of the keynote speakers, an older woman who had been a nurse for decades, gave a piece of advice I will never forget. She said, "Read outside of your profession. Don't just read nursing journals and nursing textbooks. Read a different topic of interest like philosophy, engineering, technology, biography, self-help, psychology, etc. You can learn so much about human nature by being interested in other subjects." That little piece of advice has kept me curious and informed. You have to be curious to be an effective nurse. You cannot be shy, and you have to ask hard questions. Why isn't the patient taking the blood pressure medication for their hypertension? Why does the patient continue to engage in destructive behavior that is killing them? Philosophy taught me to question without judgement. Psychology has taught me and continues to teach me why people do the things that they do. Engineering helped to explain machines and their role in medicine. Biography has taught me that I am not alone in my experiences and shows me that there are solutions to my problems. Books, movies, TV, podcasts, websites, magazines, emails, continue to inform me and keep me appraised of what is happening in the world around me.

Let me share other people who have given me great advice over the years. Some are authors, others are social workers, theologians, psychologists, medical intuits and a first lady of the United States.

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady from 1933-1945, making her the longest First Lady. She was a rebel and never took no for an answer. The quote that I lean on daily comes from her,

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do," has given me courage when I wasn't sure if I could do the job. Every time I wanted to walk off the job because it was too hard, those words would echo in my brain and keep me planted there. When someone told me I couldn't do it, I proved them wrong with ER's words. Thank you Eleanor.

Another woman who gives me strength is Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She wrote Women Who Run with the Wolves in 1992. She examined fairytales with a Jungian eye and helps to explain symbols in the world. She talks about "Descansos" which are crosses by the roadway. These crosses are symbols that mark someone's death. She says, "right there, right on that spot, someone's journey in life halted unexpectedly. There has been a car accident...or a fight took place there. Something happened there that altered that person's life and the lives of other persons forever." But the symbol can also signify where there were little deaths in our lives. Roads not taken, betrayals, ambushes or paths that were cut off. I have use this exercise with nursing students. Grab a piece of paper and draw a time-line of your life. When did someone important to you die? Where did the journey you thought you were going to take get sidetracked? Look at your life and the small deaths, las muertes chiquitas, and the big deaths, las muertes grandotas, and mark it with a cross. Estes says we must remember and forget them at the same time. We must bless them and release them. It is a conscious practice "...that takes pity on and gives honor to the orphaned dead of your psyche, laying them to rest at last." Every few years I stop and practice Descansos. I remember the big and little deaths, bless them and release. You will be surprised at how freeing it can be to remember and let go. The book is amazing and Clarissa is another rebel who is a little bit calm but oh so wild.

Kate Bowler is an author, podcast host and professor of Divinity at Duke University. But what makes her amazing and someone you should listen to and read is her take on medicine and being a patient. Several years ago she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. She honestly talks about how she had to face death while being a mom to her young son and a wife to her husband. She has interviewed some of the leading thinkers of our time and shares her take on illness in a world that wants her to pretend that "everything happens for a reason". That, ironically is the title of her podcast and book except the words, "for a reason" is crossed out. As a nurse her words and interviews have been invaluable to me when I wonder what I should say to someone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She has prayers and guides for anyone who has been diagnosed with a terrible diagnosis or for those caring for them. My favorite quote of hers is, "Life is a terminal disease and there is no cure for being human."

Check out her podcasts, books and prayers at

Another amazing woman, author, social worker is Brene Brown. You can find her podcasts, books and so much more information at When I was a hospice nurse driving from place to place I always had either Kate Bowler playing or Brene Brown. The best part is the podcasts are free. I have learned so much about human nature, illness, trauma, etc. from these ladies. And I cannot recommend enough Brene's book Atlas of the Heart. She explores 87 emotions that are used to define what it means to be human. There is a companion series of the same name on HBO Max that is also phenomenal.

There are so many more amazing authors out there. Who helps you make it through the day? Who are you listening to or watching that brings you joy and makes you think? Share so we can all be good medicine for each other.

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