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Oncology Nurse Lori Tanguay Named Student Speaker for University of Maryland School of Nursing Graduation


Good morning fellow graduates, distinguished faculty, family and friends. Just as one can have seasons of their life, I believe that nurses can have seasons of their career. As I look at this assemblage of graduates, I see that many of you are like myself, in the second, or more, season of their career. Most of you, though, are in the beginning. However, no matter the season, the one attribute that I see as a common thread among all the graduates is PASSION: passion for the profession of nursing, passion for their patients, passion for life.

As I looked at this word PASSION I began to see that it embraces what nursing is about and I began to see a mnemonic emerge. You know how we nurses like our mnemonics; they help us remember everything from cranial nerves to drug regimens. What do I see when I see the word PASSION?

Professionalism. What defines a profession is a course of study that has its own body of knowledge. Nursing is a science with its own body of knowledge and research. We have a code of ethics that we adhere to and are held accountable. This code of ethics is based on values. Recently I heard Dr. Sandra McLeskey say that when one becomes a nurse the profession is asking that person to accept the value system of nursing. These values include, but are not limited to, honesty, responsibility, and integrity. Nurses are expected to have empathy, to show compassion and understanding for human frailties, knowing that everyone has vulnerabilities, that no one is perfect not even ourselves, yet demonstrating caring anyway.

Attitude. A good, positive attitude. Nurses are expected to be helpful, pleasant, friendly, and positive. Most of the time we are able to achieve this; some days are harder. Every nurse I talk to will at some point mention that seeing the suffering of others helps to keep things in perspective. The phrase "There but for the grace of God go I" is often remarked. We are witnesses of what is the best and the worst of man and we still show up the next day. We carry on with a smile on our face, offering assistance and friendship, no matter what may be going on with us personally.

Sense of Humor. We deal with life and death, suffering and misery, pain on all levels. This is serious business and we have to take it seriously, but we don't have to take ourselves seriously. In the midst of this we have to keep our sense of humor. As you go through your day, you can always find something amusing, something ridiculous or absurd. Sharing these with each other helps ease the personal pain of what we deal with. Research has shown that laughter is indeed powerful medicine. Patients do not want things to be doom and gloom all the time. They want us to be able to laugh and remind them of what's good and humorous about life.

Sensibility. This refers to the ability to be responsive to the needs of others. This is where compassion, empathy, and understanding come into play. We as nurses have to be able to understand what our patients and their families are saying and are NOT saying. We have long called ourselves patient advocates. We have to respond to their needs and fight for them, especially when they cannot fight for themselves and give a voice to them when they don't know what to say. We have to understand that while some of our patients will do everything we and the doctors recommend, there are those who won't. Part of our job is to determine why and then try to find a solution that is best for that patient.

Interactive. Nurses are at the core of quality patient care. We spend the most time with them. We get to know our patients and their families. We coordinate their care. We have the responsibility to bring in other disciplines when needed. We are an essential, crucial member of the multidisciplinary team. We continually strive to improve patient care, patient safety. We strive to make our institutions better by giving voice to their shortcomings and make recommendations for improvement. We lobby for better laws and regulations at all governmental levels. We network with accrediting bodies and specialty organizations in order to stay current and to constantly push the envelope, always with the goal of delivering, and improving on, quality patient care.

Optimism. We as nurses do what we do because each one of us believes that we can make a difference, that we can make it better. If we did not believe this, down to our soul, our very marrow, we could not do what we do. We could not come back day after day and be witness to the pain and suffering our patients endure if we did not think we could make a difference in just one life. As a profession we feel that if each of us can make a difference in one life, then all those lives added together, makes a difference in our society, our world. And we do make it better. When we accomplish that, we evaluate the outcome and seek to improve yet again.

Nursing. I don't mean the profession here, but the actual caring of our patients. Not just physically, but psychologically and spiritually. We look at our patients not as disease entities, but holistically -- body, mind, spirit. I've always hated the expressions one often hears around the hospital: the MI in room 6, the gallbladder at the end of the hall, the bipolar in the exam room. Patients are more than their diseases. They are a whole person and I have always referred to my patients by name. Their disease not only affects their bodies, but how they think, how they feel, how they behave. Nurses have always looked beyond the body, while caring for it, to tend to the mind and spirit, also. They are as important for healing as medicine and procedures.

I am here late in my career, possibly in the last season, maybe not. Maybe I have a couple more seasons in me. The one thing I do know is this: I have been a nurse for a long time. I graduated with my bachelor's degree 32 years ago. I can honestly say that I stand here today with as much, if not more, PASSION about the profession of nursing than I did that spring of 1978. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, but I've never doubted for a second that nursing was my calling and I've never regretted pursuing this as a career. Nursing has been my strength and my refuge in some of my darkest days. It has aspired me to be my best and to be a lifelong learner. It has been my PASSION. My hope for each one of you today is that you maintain your PASSION: for nursing, for your patients, for life. Nurture it and allow it to grow. I hope that in the last seasons of your career you can still say as I can: I am a nurse, and say it with pride and with PASSION.

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This page was last updated on: June 9, 2010.