While dining with family in Williamsville recently, I could not help but overhear the people seated at the table next to us. First I heard a woman say, “the girlfriend.” I was in dismay, and said to my family, this could be a Seinfeld episode. Surely, “the girlfriend” has a name. How discrediting to an individual, and in this case to an individual her son has chosen to enamor. I thought, where is the civility?

Within moments I heard “the girlfriend” is “just a nurse.” The woman was minimizing her son’s girlfriend’s career choice. First and foremost, I have to say that no matter what you choose to do in life, you are not “just” anything.

It was difficult not to personalize what I was hearing because I am a nurse, and I wanted to be one from my earliest memories. I began as a junior volunteer, graduated high school as a practical nurse and continued my education. This was my passion, and 36 years later I am proud to say it remains my passion. To be “just a nurse” means having the experience of our patients sharing a part of their lives with us.

One of my fondest memories that has molded my life includes Anna, one of my first patients. She was an elderly female who read me the newspaper every morning in Czechoslovakian. One summer, after returning from vacation, my co-workers informed me of Anna’s rapid decline, and said she was waiting for me. I couldn’t get to her fast enough. She was alone. And I was there to hear her last words and hold her hand as she took her last breath. What I didn’t know then was that this was the beginning of making a difference for others.

After supporting many patients and families through grief and loss, and shedding many a tear with them, I made the decision to dedicate my life to motherhood. What I learned about myself was that as much as I loved this period of my life, and love my family, I needed more. I missed my patients. Why couldn’t I have it all? Before long, I was working part time and, ultimately, full time.

Throughout my career, I have cared for many patients, in many facets. I am grateful for every experience I have had. I am the person I am today because of these experiences. And sometimes, as nurses, we have the benefit of caring for our own family members. My mother was proud to have me as her nurse, but the reality was, the honor was all mine. Today, my career continues as I advocate for children with mental illness.

Nursing sometimes requires being mandated to work when you have no relief, being on call 24/7, all while having a family and trying to take care of your own well-being. I have missed many holidays, family celebrations and tributes, moved my children’s birthdays, arrived late or missed events entirely. There have also been occasions when I resigned from positions for the betterment of my family. I strive to be a role model for my children. We have raised our children to have conviction. Conviction in themselves, and in what they choose to do. Should we not expect civility in one’s convictions if they are derived out of goodness, and in serving others?

My patients have taught me many things. They taught me about myself, how to advocate for the rights of others and to do what is just. To my family members, who have sacrificed so much for me, and to my patients, I am proud to be “just a nurse!”