What is a nurse?

‘What is a nurse?’ As any experienced nurse will tell you, answering this question is not as easy as it sounds! I don’t mean this because of the recent pandemic, strikes, or very well publicised challenges the NHS is facing, it’s because a definition of ‘what is a nurse?’ is actually really hard to come by. 

There is lots of information about ‘what is nursing?’ but trying to find a definition for ‘a nurse’ is quite another thing.  However, to me personally it is clear, and being ‘a nurse’ has been my great privilege for over 30 years. 

I began my career in the 80s at a time of big hair and fabulous music: before mobile phones and the internet. When the only way you knew someone wasn’t coming to meet you was when they didn’t turn up, and when we had to look in books for answers to our questions, or just accept we didn’t know.  

I was 18, had completed my A levels, and chosen a career in nursing as people said I would be good at it. I also knew I wanted to do something that ‘mattered’ and would make a difference; sounds like a cliché, but even at 18 I was sure of that. However, at that point I really wasn’t sure, but decided to go for it in the spirit of ‘what’s the worst that can happen’? 

I started my career in October 1989. I didn’t want to move away from my home, so I secured a place on a nurse-training course in my local hospital.  I had no expectations but had a good feeling everything would be ok when I met the women on the journey with me who are my friends to this day (shout out to S89D!!).  

Over the next three years I enjoyed the experience, learning skills, meeting people, getting to know myself, and ultimately achieving my Registered General Nurse status. Oh, and I also found the time to get married! I then went on to train to be a midwife when the opportunity presented itself and I took it. I was fortunate to be able to take opportunities when they presented themselves, gaining experience in a variety of clinical settings in hospitals and the local community, in nurse education settings in universities, assisted many women to birth their babies and welcome new life into families, and have most likely cared for thousands of people along the way. My initial decision to start a career in nursing was really my golden ticket to a most privileged experience, and I honestly do not regret one moment.  

So, what is a nurse? Google will not tell you! It’s pretty easy to come up with ‘what is nursing’ but much harder to find a definition of ‘the nurse’. But I think I know. I have learned, that a ‘nurse’ is a person who can ‘see’ people. A person who uses their skills to understand people, and to help those people continue on their journey through life, wherever that may take them.  

Considering my quite diverse journey in respect of variety of experiences, this definition applies without exception. I currently have the absolute privilege of leading a new nursing education centre at Wrexham University, right back near the place that I started in 1989. 

We are bringing nursing education back closer to home for people who live in the central area of north Wales, making it an accessible career choice, just as it was for me when I started my journey.  

From day one, the enthusiasm and the motivation of our student community has taken my breath away, and quite honestly has been humbling at times. It is clear how important starting on this journey and career path is to our students, all of whom have worked hard to get to the place they want to be.  

Many have made sacrifices and all demonstrate a commitment to care that is palpable. They want to make a difference, and having the opportunity to do this in our local area is really important to them. Although all our students are following a set programme of education, as individuals they are all different. The shared experience is shaped by personal context, and it’s the job of our team to see that and guide them along the way. We, as nurses, are there to equip the nurses of the future with the skills they need, without losing sight of the people they are in the process. As nurses we can do that, and we embrace it! 

So, that is what a nurse is - we see people, we use our skills to understand people, and we help people to continue their journey, whatever, and wherever that may be.  

If you are considering a career in nursing, please think about that. It’s not about the money, although I agree, we need to be financially recompensed fairly. It’s not about being a political bargaining tool. It’s about being a person who has the professional skills to help other people. It’s a wonderful career, which will be full of opportunities, and experiences that you won’t find on the internet or in a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary. It’s a chance to be with real people on their real-life journey and make a real difference.   

To find out more about studying a Nursing degree at Wrexham University, head to our Nursing and Allied Health subject area webpage. 

Written by Alison Lester-Owen, nurse and principal lecturer in nursing at Wrexham University