Why I Became A Nurse

Regular readers may know me as the guy who looks at the intersection of social software and Healthcare. I’m on the Advisory Board for Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. I created the first Twitter chats for clinicians. I wrote about Twitter in Healthcare when most people never knew what “a” Twitter was. Yada yada yada. (This post is all about ME by the way – so much so that it’s about YOU.)

What you probably don’t know about me is that there was once a time I never really cared much about Healthcare.

As a matter of fact, I long felt that the industry was totally weird: bad customer service; an industry full of smart people doing stupid things and following arcane rules; a paradox of care and of selfish personalities; an industry (mis)-led by less-than-average-intelligence busineses funding dopey marketing campaigns. (I still feel that way, but please keep that confession on the down-low.)


Long before I became a nurse, I bought into a lot of the sad stereotypes about nursing: it was a “chick” profession; dudes who got into nursing were probably gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that!); and that nursing was a pretty straight-forward profession of good-hearted people doing work that wasn’t very sophisticated.

Now, these weren’t strong beliefs – it wasn’t something I gave much thought: mostly the product of an ignorant culture spreading ignorant memes.

I never ever thought I’d become a nurse. If you told me years ago that I’d become one, I’d be in total disbelief. Being a nurse was the last thing I’d even consider.

Before becoming a nurse I held a financially successful career in corporate enterprise. I graduated with a degree in accounting and did stuff like financial reporting and management and SAP implementation. I even helped to organize the effort to raise $2 Billion in capital for a public utility that needed to come out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And emerge from bankruptcy it did.

Reflecting on that time now, I was so young, so emboldened by curiosity, so eager to learn from the ‘elder’ business leaders. I was lucky to be thrown into the fire by gray-haired executives who took a chance on the next generation. I was the golden boy. I had a promising corporate future.

But one day I decided to just walk away from the corporate world. Oh it wasn’t just a spontaneous thing. Many things were brewing in my head about where the future would offer us.

One thing I knew, though, was that the fruits of the 21st Century weren’t going to go to the corporate professionals. The job mentality was a soul-trap.

I thought the fruits would go to those fearless envelope-pushers who kept on changing careers – those who thirsted tirelessly for knowledge and experience and freedom.

So when I walked away from it all and boarded a flight to Florida with my wife and friends, I had NO idea what I was going to do. None. Zilch.


Then the Towers fell.

The nation was in shock. A collective PTSD and Depression descended on America (it still hasn’t recovered).

911 made it clear to me that our problems as a tenuous Republic were mostly health-related. And that in the dead-center of the terror-fire were the true heros: the nurses, the doctors, the counselors, the social workers, the firefighters, the loved ones of those murdered into char and powder that blue blue blue day.

It occurred to me that our main National Security Concern was health. An unhealthy culture is a dangerous and weak culture. It will die, wallowing in its own addiction to self-destruction, breaking the hearts of those who once loved it.

Long-story-to-short: Nursing appeared on the radar and I decided to go to nursing school. I wanted hard work. I wanted work that required a re-wiring of my brain. Work that required the endurance to sacrifice self.

And I knew then, intuitively, that nursing wasn’t about just being a “caring” person. I knew it meant both cleaning up excrement while understanding the complexity of multiple systems of the human body.


Right now, I have absolutely no idea what my life would be if I never became a nurse.

But I’m glad I took the plunge, the journey to a difficult place.

I’m glad I was there when that young mother of three died and her youngest lost her mind jumping on top of her mother’s body in grief. “MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY, WAKE UP!!!!”

Glad?? Why glad? Because I was there to witness this child’s pain and to give silent comfort. The young residents and busy nurses there just didn’t know what to do – or just froze – so I tapped into my fresh nursing intuition and fearlessness. It was like stepping out of my body in order to calmly hold the kid’s spirit within to keep it from leaving to a dark place. A moment like that can make or break a life.

I wasn’t glad at the time – later that day I shut myself in the linen closet, broke down and wept myself into momentary insanity like never before nor since. But that’s life – it sucks, but together we can do small things that make big differences.

My heart breaks anytime I’m reminded that I too once held the stereotypes held against nurses.

Nurses are still treated poorly – oh, yes, they have respect and people will praise them – but deep down, there’s a systemic prejudice against nurses that may just be America’s Achilles Heel.

I left bedside nursing for several reasons.

But I never left nursing. What I do now is to keep a vow to help this marvelous but misunderstood profession.


For decades I’ve known that social networks would take over the world.

For decades I’ve known that technology would eventually infiltrate our lives – for good and ill.

I’ve always been an outsider.  Always will be. And so should you. You see things others miss.

This blog is ultimately a way for me to expand nursing’s role. Not into the turf of physicians. Nursing and medicine are different but utterly complementary disciplines.

Rather, nursing needs to expand from the bedside to the Web. What I do is my attempt to do something not quite done before. And I just hope every day I’m doing it right. A new kind of nurse in the making perhaps.

The Web has opened the doors of perception and collaboration and communication and new kinds of creativity.

It’s why I created RNchat, and then later MDchat – because I could. Because I saw that it was needed. Something never done before. I didn’t need anybody’s permission. You can do that with the Web.

It’s why I’ve connected with Healthcare marketers and HIT peeps anybody with a good brain to learn as much as I can from digital marketing agencies. Marketing is everything – especially in Healthcare.

This social media stuff – most of it is rubbish frankly. I mean that. Still, there’s a portion of it that’s very very important.

And it’s the important stuff – like understanding how these media are influencing our lives and their proper roles – which absolutely fascinates me. This is where the nursing perspective is sorely needed.

There aren’t many people right now who bring a nursing perspective to it all. Not enough artists either. There’s too many marketers parroting and misleading each other who should reconsider their own professional trajectory. It’s a weird world some of them might be making.

Not all this social media is good – the next big wars will be fought via social media. Small packs of well-armed terrorists deployed in half a dozen cities can conduct their evil for days via Twitter (or proprietary analogues).

Technology is assaulting privacy. If you think that’s OK – that the end of privacy is *all* good – then I sincerely hope that you never have to hide yourself in a linen closet because you need to break down and weep all alone.

Dignity is next. No dignity, no civilization.

Ultimately, nursing is about protecting, preserving and promoting human dignity.


A nurse is someone who understands the human condition like nobody else.

A nurse is someone who cares for you when the administration’s insolent, half-baked and black-and-white rules threaten your care.

A nurse is someone who will probably be the last human being who touches you before you dislocate from this world.

A nurse is someone who knows the value of communication.

A nurse is someone who has the guts to tell a patient they’re wrong without hurting feelings.

A nurse is someone who knows the difference between being nice and  being good. Nice disappoints. Good disturbs.

A nurse is someone who needs to be active on the Web.

A nurse is someone who can learn marketing, public relations and how to holistically repurpose digital media in common sense ways.

A nurse is someone who will tell you things about social media you might miss or not want to face.

A nurse is someone who rescues the human being from the technology.

Curiously, now that I’ve written this post, I don’t fully know why I became a nurse.

I’m just glad I did.

To paraphrase Rainer Maria Rilke:

You must quit your job.



0 Replies to “Why I Became A Nurse”

  1. Phil,

    Your answer for why you became a nurse is almost as complex as nursing itself. 😉

    Your blog provides the perspective of someone who sees the prides & perils of both social media & nursing and who still believes & promotes the good that is available from either discipline.

    Yes – I deliberately described social media as a discipline. My Concept & Theories professor would be rolling her eyes. But as you described learning what you could from HIT and marketing folks, I realized that there are attributes to SoMe that many healthcare providers don’t understand. Hmm – maybe a question for @lisagualteri to debate with her healthcare social media class.

    I am also a little further removed from the bedside these days – most of my time spent in education. I do still like the few clinical shifts that I work – but feel that even as I teach – I am being and promoting nursing.

    1. Thanks, Beth!

      I’m glad we now have technologies that – if we use them well – can connect
      diverse and similar people.

      Think of how much nursing could benefit from these tools.

      So, it’s good to see nurses like yourself jump in.

      Keep doing what you do.


  2. This one touched my heart. It’s nice to get to know the person behind the blogs in a more intimate way.

    I’ve been an observer in the health care social media space for almost a year, trying to understand it and its long term implications. I think your point about there being too many marketing people misleading each other is especially poignant. I don’t think there are enough hours in a lifetime to take in all the webinars, blogs and articles that purport to teach you social media overnight. There are a handful of extremely brilliant minds in this space (you included) and then a lot of nonsense. All the noise about “marketing” makes it hard to keep the conversation on “communication,” which is critical to improving care.

    Would it help to change the terminology and focus on “social communication” instead of “social media”? And should doctors be encouraged to embrace new technology before they understand what they need to embrace it for? I hear a lot of health care providers focusing on liability issues and the ethics of marketing. These are important issues, but the first step is to focus on what kinds of messages or information they are failing to communicate to their patients at present and what kind of misinformation already out there should they be helping their patients avoid. There are many ways to improve responsiveness to patients’ concerns and they may have other steps to take before they embrace any technology. (I still have a young anesthesiologist’s voice in my head telling me when I handed over my 9 week old daughter for open heart surgery that “You understand she may die.” A nurse the night before had already secured my signature acknowledging the risks of the surgery in much more compassionate terms. Would I want that doctor using social media as a communications tool before he learned a better way to relate to his patients? Happily these tools didn’t exist for him 18 years ago.)

    I think the go-to health care providers are going to be those who do use technology to improve their communications. But given the fact there aren’t that many who have your compassion and insight, I’d like to hope they spend some time taking communications courses before they hire the social media “experts” to have a go at blogging, Facebook and Twitter. Maybe your blog could be required reading.

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks.

      You’ve nailed a very critical point concerning basic communication skills.

      (As far as what to call all this stuff, I’d say we just use “communication” – it’s social and it says what it does, ya know?)

      I agree entirely with you that providers must have a sound foundation in interacting with the people for whom they care.

      Pushing today’s technologies on people who don’t fully understand their properties, possibilities, limitations, etc. and who don’t have decent communication skills is dangerous.

      Yes, maybe I should get a federal law passed that makes my blog required reading. ;-D


  3. I’m a nurse student from Denmark (Europe). I don’t know how I even ended up on this page. But I am SO glad I did. This was absolutely so inspiring to me, and I couldn’t agree more with you! I will share this with my fellow students, my friends and my family. Because great thoughts are meant to be shared.

    Best regards,
    Marie Gjengedal
    Nurse student at Copenhagen Metropolitan College, DK

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