Lady So and So in nursing schoolSo-and-So I decided this one time three years ago to go to nursing school. Because my first degree was in art and communications, I had no science prerequisites, and so it took me three whole years to finish. These years have been the most trying I have been through so far. There have been so many things going on outside of nursing school that have been so trying, in addition to the difficulty of school itself. My toddlers have grown into children, we moved, our extended family has dealt with cancer and marriages, and we had another baby (because there just wasn’t enough other things going on). It was three years of early mornings, long days, late nights and a general feeling of being inept. But I did it. My family did it with me. And at our pinning ceremony, my class asked me to speak. Here is what I said:


I’m Laura Bethea, and I am a nursing school fossil at 31 years old.

I have a wonderful husband and 2.85 children and I decided at 28, after 6 years in the art and advertising world that I would become a nurse. ‘Cause ya know, that’s easy.

I had no idea what I signed up for when I decided to go to nursing school. It’s called “school” but I think that is a misnomer. It’s more like being kidnapped and lightly tortured. Sometimes it is hard to tell the experiences apart.

There’s the disorientation phase:
What do you mean all of the answers are correct but one is most correct?
You want me to put this tube where?
Do my family and friends know I am still alive or have they given up on me?

There there’s the light torture- sensory depravation, that thing where they tape your eyes open and make you watch procedure videos over and over, or spend hours and hours of reading and memorizing to still fail the test.

Next, there’s Stockholm syndrome- at some point, the torture becomes bearable and we start to empathize with those who are torturing us.

And lastly, Indoctrination- we become one of those who do the torturing.

So I know you you are all asking, “Why on earth would someone sign up for this?”
Here’s an even better question- why on earth did I pay thousands of dollars to go through this?

It’s a good question.  I asked myself this many a time over the course of school, and I got a mental picture one day as my answer. I’ll share it with you.

There are so many things about life that are in our control, but as we all know, our future, and particularly our health is not something we really have power over. Accidents happen. Unexplained things happen. The body doesn’t last forever. So in these moments of uncertainty, imagine that uncertainty like a giant grand canyon of blackness. You can’t see down into it. It’s dark and kinda scary. You, as the person who is experiencing this uncertainty, are forced to shuffle up to the edge and peer over. And here is where a nurse comes in. A nurse is the one who shuffles with you to the edge, and shines a little light on the situation. It won’t be enough to illuminate the entire canyon, but enough to put you at ease, and to let you know that someone is here for you. Show you the here and now, and the things that are closest to you.  So when you are faced with the darkness of the unknown of your health and your own mortality, a nurse will be by your side, using his or her skills and knowledge and heart to brighten your way.

We love and need doctors, but they will come and tell you how you got to the edge and how far down they think the hole is and how to stay out of the hole. Theirs is the science of the body.

A nurse is unique in that our job is not the science of the body, but the art of the body. Although we know a lot of science and can do a lot of technical skills and therapeutic communication and assessment and pharmacology and Sengstaken-Blakemore tubes (God love ’em), our real job is to shine light into the darkness. The reason nursing school is so very much like torture is because it is not just school- is it training in keeping our lights strong. And so yes, we paid for this, but its value is priceless.

But surely, we have all wondered over the course of these past two years, there must be a less painful way to learn these things. We have seen things we can’t unsee, heard things we can’t unhear, and smelled things we can’t unsmell. We have seen life come into the world, and life go out of the world and every phase in between. We’ve counseled families, held hands with strangers, and been stretched out of our comfort zone every time we walked through the hospital doors. We’ve made mistakes, and done everything right and learned the hard way just about every single time. Was this the only way it could be done?

Yeah, I think so.

And here’s why: If a tiny spark can grow into a flame in the middle of this chaos, then it stands to reason that it will stay bright in the midst of anything the unknown can throw our way.

One of My favorite lines in all of music is from a band called Sleeping at Last. The song is called Emphasis and it says this:

“The smartest thing I’ve ever learned is that I don’t have to have all the answers, just a little light to call my own. Though it pales in comparison to the overarching shadows, a speck of light can reignite the sun and swallow darkness whole.”

We don’t have to have all the answers to be a nurse (which is good news, because as any nursing school test will tell you, all the answers are correct anyway). But we do have to have a little light to call our own. The unkown, the world, human experience is too dark without it. And that is what this has all been- an elaborate exercise in growing the light. It started small, and has gotten brighter with each milestone we crossed. And now that we are here at the end of our training, we are being sent out into the world to try and reignite the sun and swallow darkness whole.

So on behalf of UNA College of Nursing class of Fall 2015, I’d like to welcome you to the edge of our own canyons. Our futures after this place are a bit uncertain, but we have been well trained at keeping our lights illuminated in the face of chaos.

To the incredible men and women who represent the faculty and staff, you are our spark. You protected us and fanned us until the time was right, and then exposed us to the elements so that we could get oxygen and grow. Thank you for your guidance, patience and your wisdom and your “light torture”. We’d still be wet wood without you.

To our family and friends and loved ones who are with us tonight, thank you for being by our side and sustaining us when things got dim. Your encouragement and sacrifice are the main part of the fuel that has kept us burning bright.

To my fellow classmates, it is no accident that we were together for this experience. Thank you for inspiring a fossil like me to keep going, and to be a better nurse and human being. Thanks for laughing and crying and feeling all the feels with me. You have been the ones to shuffle beside me and light my way when I faced uncertainty, and I know you will do the same for all the lives you touch.



There is so much more that could be written about my experiences, that will have to wait for another day. Thanks for reading.

To learn more about swallowing darkness whole, check out “Emphasis” by Sleeping at Last here.