Every year May 12th is recognized as International Nurses Day. Chosen because it is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, the day marks the contributions that nurses make to our society. The power and importance of nursing has been especially strongly felt in recent months, with nurses playing an essential role in the fight against coronavirus.

We recently spoke with Colin Surgeoner, an oncology nurse in Ontario, Canada, to learn more about the field of nursing and what it’s like working on the front lines.

How long have you worked as a nurse?

I graduated nursing school from Trent University in December 2015 and immediately went to work on an inpatient oncology ward – a little over four years of nursing.

What drew you to nursing?

Nursing represents a second career for me. In another lifetime I worked in sales management and marketing for a big Canadian retailer; my bills were paid on time and I was never hungry, but that’s about where it ended. I didn’t clock out feeling fulfilled, feeling like I was making meaningful change in the world around me. I didn’t feel challenged. I felt I had more to give. I saw nursing as a way to use my critical thinking skills, and give back to my fellow man – to work directly for my friends, neighbours and community, to be that pillar of support we all need from time to time.

Nursing also has such a wide scope that no two days are the same. In my four short years of nursing I have worked inpatient oncology, Cardiovascular ICU, Emergency Medicine, Trauma ICU and more recently Brachytherapy Procedure unit. Nursing offers the unique ability to chase your interests without having to change your career, even when you are constantly challenged by the paradox of choice. I am honoured to work at a hospital affiliated with Queen’s University Medical School, and the nature of a teaching hospital is I am learning every single day. The nurses at KGH work as an integral part of a multidisciplinary team who have all earned their seat at the table, and who are encouraged to grow and constantly expand their body of knowledge.

What is the most difficult part of nursing during a pandemic?

Nursing during a pandemic has changed my professional identity. In 2019 I found myself being the rock – the ever present, never breaking pillar of support for all who may be in need. When the sick needed medicine, I was there. When the weak needed steadying, I was there. When the dying needed a hand to hold, I was there.

I don’t have the answers anymore. Patients are scared. I am scared. Though this is a transition I have experienced personally, my professional expectation is that I remain that aforementioned pillar – that I continue to give the answers and be that strength, even when my own foundation shows a few more cracks than just a year ago.

What is the most difficult part of nursing in general?

In my anecdotal experience, nurses are givers. I am constantly humbled by the humanity, humility, empathy and compassion that my colleagues bring into that hospital every single day. Every day they are finding new, creative ways to make the worst time in patients’ lives just a little bit brighter and happier. It’s like they’ve uncovered the secret source to endless love and generosity. The reality, though, is a bit different. Sometimes we give more than we have. Sometimes we come home after work so drained from the physical and emotional toll of what we do that our own relationships suffer, we are short with our kids, with our partners, with our friends. I’ve had some terrible shifts. Shifts that when I get home I would’ve paid any amount of money to be able to just crawl into bed for eternity. But we set our alarm for 5am, get up and do it all again the next day.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

Not every patient gets better – it’s an unfortunate reality. But I know that every patient I’ve interacted with, I’ve helped. The human connection in nursing is unlike any I’ve encountered anywhere else in my life. I get to see patients as their most authentic selves – a way some of their very best friends haven’t even seen them. It is an honour and I do not take it lightly. To get to really know someone, and help them on their level of need is the most rewarding part of what I do.

What does International Nurses Day mean to you?

I don’t see International Nurses Day being about me. I see it as an opportunity to formally recognize the incredible colleagues I have – to shave out just one day to look these people in the eye and say thank you for all the amazing things you bring to the table, and for how you elevate this center. Nursing consistently represents the greatest challenge in my life – without the compassion, perspective and love from my co-workers, I’m not sure I could hack it!

This International Nurses Day, we want to say a special “thank you” to Colin and to nurses everywhere. That’s why if you visit our Canadian and American web shops at paperblanks.com this Tuesday, May 12th, 10¢ of every $1 you spend will be donated to a COVID-19 fund for nurses.

Learn about the funds here:

Canada – Canadian Nurses Foundation

United States – ANA Enterprise Nursing World


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