From Caterer to Cuddler to Caregiver: How Nursing Chose Me


In honor of Nurses Week 2017, University at Buffalo School of Nursing student Joseph Lynch shares his story of how he discovered his passion in nursing.

baby feet in blanket.

My path to nursing school has not been direct.

I began to develop qualities and hopes that led me to nursing when I worked as a chef and caterer in my early twenties, but I didn’t know then that the best use of my desire to serve and care for others would be as a professional nurse. An English professor I knew was very surprised to learn I had never been to college, and he persuaded me to “take a course in something – in anything.”

I finally relented and enrolled in Freedom and Necessity, a freshman philosophy seminar at UB. It is no exaggeration to say I soon found university education to be thrilling. My willingness to “take a course in something – in anything” became a major in philosophy, with my most passionate interests forming in ethics, epistemology and logic, the parts of philosophy I saw as most important to human life.  

I expanded to psychology, likely driven by the core desires that have led me finally to nursing.

I am fascinated by humanity, fundamentally interested in individual persons, and I wanted to learn how I could serve others.

I graduated from UB with a degree in psychology and a minor in philosophy, and then went to another university to proceed toward a PhD in clinical psychology. I left that program primarily for financial reasons, but also because I knew appreciation for study of the physical bodies and brains we humans have was a focus missing from my studies.

For financial reasons I then had to work for several years, mainly as a truck driver – the most lucrative job I could find – in order to save money to return to school. About the time I thought I had enough cash to resume my studies, both of my parents developed health problems, and I stopped working to care for them. To have been able to do that was a great blessing for which I am grateful and will remain grateful forever.

My mother peacefully left this world after nearly three difficult years, and I then resumed my studies while continuing to care for my father. I had grown in my certainty that I wanted to care for others as a profession, but I still did not realize I really was a nurse at heart. I thought I wanted to become a PA, a physician’s assistant.

I started to volunteer at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo to see if I really wanted to become a PA and care for sick people all day. I fetched drinks, blankets, and snacks for patients, and I listened attentively when they wanted to tell me their worries and desires.  

As I watched and listened to nurses caring for the people I served, I soon realized I wanted to do what nurses did.

My plan changed from preparing to become a PA to preparing to become a nurse. I caught up on some of the prerequisite courses I needed for nursing school, and I anxiously applied to the UB School of Nursing. Happily, I was accepted into the Traditional Nursing Program.

To prepare for my first labor and delivery practicum, I volunteered in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I wanted to be sure I was effective in caring for a new baby, to be sure I could reassure new parents that their baby would be safe even if the baby was born in need of intensive care. Much like my first volunteer experience led me to want to become a nurse, this new volunteer experience cuddling newborns led me to want to care for neonates.

I realized babies who were born addicted to opioids, and who were experiencing the pain of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), were the most compelling people I had ever met.

The more I cared for them the more I wanted to learn about them and care for them and other newborns. I got to spend an entire semester completing a student practicum in a NICU, and I will soon complete my undergraduate nursing studies by completing a preceptorship in a NICU.

My desire to serve others as a chef and caterer moved very indirectly forward, through the study of philosophy and psychology, and finally to the formal study of nursing. Soon my study of nursing will segue into a nursing career. 

I plan to use every speck of knowledge I learned as a chef, a caterer, a truck driver, a psychology and philosophy student, a hospital volunteer, and finally as a nursing student.

All these experiences have taught me much about human life. I hope and intend to use all the diverse experience with people – all the knowledge of human life I gained in my long indirect route to nursing – to help me serve others well as a competent compassionate nurse.