For starters, it's better than being shot at.
Seriously, if I get my back up at a stupid-nurse joke, why do what I do? Why not take one of those six-week miracle courses that will turn me into a legal nurse expert, or work in case management, or become an NP?
Here are some reasons:
The time I called Mario, one of the neurology residents, with what was an idiotic question. I realized that before he called back and apologized for paging him, remarking that I'd been hired for my looks, not my brains. Mario, with a total lack of irony and his usual sweetness, said, "Jo, I've been trying to tell you that for months, but was afraid it would land me a charge of sexual harassment." (To get the full effect, you need a heavy Brazillian accent on that last bit.)
Hearing a patient or a patient's family member say that they've never been in a hospital with such caring staff or such good care.
Improving one patient's mood or symptoms, or just leaving them better/cleaner/more comfortable than I found them.
The time that the Ice Queen, a brilliant and unapproachable internal med specialist, broke down and confided her worries about her elderly and ill dog. I teared up too; we ended by drinking cups of very hot and very strong tea in the family room.
Watching a total dickhead of a resident turn into a real human being and begin to be good for his patients. Sometimes this takes a while.
Being able to translate what a patient needs into language even the most inhuman doctor will understand, and being able to translate back into English what he says for even the most overwhelmed patient.
The science of neurology and neurosurgery. The joy of learning something new and incredibly neat. The fun of trading jokes with the orthopedics staff or setting aside brownies for the constantly-hungry hem/onc fellow. Seeing the aforementioned dickhead resident melt and grin and stammer when I ask him about his newborn son.
Knowing that somebody was with that person who died. If a patient doesn't have family around, we arrange assignments so somebody can be with him or her when he or she dies. Nobody should have to die alone, without another human being's smells and sounds in the room. Once in a while, I'm that other human being. That's a privilege and an important job.
I'm better at this than I've been at anything else in my entire life. Nursing is a calling, as much as medicine is, or more so--we're belittled and underpaid in a way that doctors aren't once they leave residency. "Just a nurse" is a common refrain among patients and doctors and even some nurses. (Yes, I've said it. Once. And kicked myself silly afterward.)
We don't do this because we want to lean on other people or depend on them for answers. The majority of us have a passion for the science and a fierce pride in our work. We appreciate being given room to practice and independence to make our own decisions. If we fuck up, we admit it and fix it (well...most of us do, at least).
I get cynical. I get angry. There are days when I come home exhausted, sore, covered in puke and shit and blood and less-savory substances, and fall into bed too tired to cry. There are times when I've lost a patient or had to deliver bad news or made a stupid mistake when I berate myself endlessly.
But if you offered me any other job in the world, I wouldn't take it. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd keep working. And there's never a morning that I don't secretly look forward to going in to work, no matter how much I might grumble over that first cup of coffee.