20/20: Discovering My Whole Self Through Nursing


In honor of Nurses Week 2017, DNP student Jessica Reading shares her story of self-discovery during her journey through nursing school and her career.


Throughout my academic career, I’ve been asked one question numerous times:  “Why did you choose nursing?” Full disclosure: with each time I’ve been asked, I’ve found my answer has been different. 

Unlike many of my passionate nurse colleagues, my path to nursing did not start with a little girl who always knew she’d grow up to be a nurse.

It didn’t start with a teenager who decided to be a nurse because she came from a family of nurses. It didn’t start with a young woman in a life-changing circumstance who became forever grateful for her inspirational bedside nurse.

The truth is my initial decision to pursue the path of nursing came about because I had no clue what I wanted to be or who I was. Despite having a bachelor’s degree in business administration, I found it difficult to find a job I could tolerate. I learned quickly that the business world is no place for niceties and that personal success was often at the expense of another. I was asked to do things that morally I felt to be wrong. And that bothered me.

But it was “just business.”

I always had an interest in science; human anatomy, microbiology and chemistry were some of my all-time favorite courses. So I took a chance and applied for UB’s Accelerated BS in nursing. I felt so lost and so used to hearing “no” that I never really thought I’d get in. The biggest surprise of my life was getting my acceptance letter in the mail. 

That day, my entire life changed.

I felt a sense of direction and purpose that I’d never experienced before. There was finally a vision of who I would become. I still have that letter.

A year later, I completed the program and shortly thereafter accepted a night position on a step-down unit. The first few months were horrible, each shift a reminder of my inexperience and unpreparedness. I kept at it, and did the one thing I knew I could excel at — continue my education. I started the Family Nurse Practitioner Program (DNP) as a part-time student. It was a perfect distraction from my lack of expertise in the workplace.

It was the affirmation I needed to reassure myself that I am a good nurse.

As time passed, my insecurities grew smaller and smaller — I began to feel more confident and didn’t need to ask as many questions. At that time, I transitioned to a position in the ICU — and the cycle started over again.

Two years have passed, and I can say that I finally feel comfortable enough in my role that I no longer worry I’m going to kill my patient every day. I’ve found the strength to question orders that I’m not comfortable implementing and may even offer alternative suggestions. I’ve developed a sense of “what is right” and have become fearless in defending that notion.  I’ve had the privilege of celebrating life and helping patients and their families accept the transition into death. I had to learn to be strong for my patients, even if I was faking it.

I also learned that it was okay to cry.

I had never anticipated being asked, “Well, what do you think?” or “Please tell me what to do” so many times. How could I provide guidance if I’d never really thought about it? 

My actions mattered. My support mattered. My every word mattered.

I’d never expected to form such a connection with patients and their families. Dealing with life and death every day made me realize my own values, beliefs and moral compass. Every day it made me appreciate the small things: a cup of coffee, the wag of my dog’s tail, a breath of fresh air, a warm embrace. Becoming a nurse was like finally opening my eyes to my own identity. Becoming a nurse made me feel human. Choosing nursing as a career meant making a commitment to staying true to myself.

I found myself in nursing.