I Teach Nursing, Not Political Ideology

I teach the art and the science of nursing. Nursing does not have a political ideology, so unlike what some religious leaders believe I do not teach liberal, progressive, or conservative ideology. I teach science, compassion, and the skills that help prepare students to care for all patients.

I view nursing as a calling and sharing and advancing knowledge as a responsibility. I teach nurses because I love my vocation and I want to nurture those who have a desire to care for the sick and the injured, change health policy, and improve outcomes. My philosophy of teaching is heavily influenced by three factors: 1) a career of serving the poor, the incarcerated, and those impacted by disasters, 2) the joy of being constantly surrounded by young officers with a desire to learn and grow into the future leaders of the vocation, and 3) having seen the profound impact that evidence-based policy can have on lives.

Teaching, like any truly human activity emerges from one’s inwarness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. – Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I believe a strong liberal arts education, supported by science, serves as a foundation for a well-rounded nurse. This is essential because nursing requires a broad understanding of the human condition, including cultures, religions, and history. Moreover, studying nursing is necessarily an interactive process between the instructor and the student that prepares undergraduates to be novice nurses and helps graduates students to become experts.

Imagine my surprise every time some or religious leader holds forth on how colleges and universities teach liberal ideas. I’m pretty sure the principals of chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics…and nursing are not liberal or conservative. Even more surprising is when educated people make comments implying that education does not improve one’s life. Not only does what I teach improve the lives of the students, but it improves the lives of all those in their care. The average new BSN graduate will make between $55,000 and $65,000 as a new graduate in a job with security, retirement plan, and health insurance. Many people find that nursing has flexible hours and part-time options are available when one is raising a family or as one moves into retirement. In addition to the obvious advantage of higher income that generally comes with a college degree those with a college degree live on average 7 years longer, have better health, and engage in fewer risky behaviors.

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Of course, a college degree isn’t without a cost. When I attended the University of Tennessee other than my first and last semesters for which my parents funded I either borrowed money or earned it to pay tuition. I managed to only borrow $2000 while living at home for free most of the time. I had a full-time job(s) mostly waiting tables and went to school full-time. It did take me 6 years to graduate, but it was doable because I was essentially paying $243 plus some fees for 12+ hours of credit. The same 12+ hours now cost about $5555 plus fees today. In 1980 I was making $2 per hour plus tips so a little less than $10,000 per year. Add in gas, car maintenance, insurance, clothing, books, supplies, and other incidental expense and I could pay my tuition. However, I don’t encourage anyone to try and work that much while going to school. It was reflected in my undergraduate grades which are still embarrassing.

Today if a person made minimum wage, worked full-time, and lived at home with few expenses other than the ones I had that person would make around $15,000 per year. Tuition would be around $12,000 before books and supplies and in nursing, it isn’t unusual to pay $200-300 for a book. If one budgets $1000 per year for books the total of tuition and books is $13,000. Add to that gas, clothing, car insurance, and all the other expenses and a student going to school full-time would need to be able to live off of $3000 per year. It is not reasonable to expect a young person today to be able to work their way through college without substantial loans.

I think what struck me as most hypocritical about the comment from the religious leader was the suggestion that the students should pay just like everyone else. I’m a faithful Catholic and every year I give to my parish, Catholic Charities, the Bishops appeal (which helps fund seminaries), and various other calls for money. While some parish priests are expected to pay part or all of their education most dioceses help fund the education either wholly or in part or provide loans that the Priest can pay back after graduation, but even then those loans aren’t the full cost. Many religious orders pay the full costs. What if you did expect the young man to pay it all? If he lived at home and went to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary he would pay $26,000 per year. How is it that one would expect a young man to study for the priesthood and work full time to then take a job that with many orders requires a vow of poverty and even more parishioners expect it…of course $100,000 in student loans does almost guarantee at least tempory poverty starting out.

I’m proud of the fact that I worked my way through college and paid for most of it myself. I learned valuable lessons, but I would have preferred to have graduated with a 4.0, have had time to be socially involved on campus, and to have made friends that were not merely associated with my college job. I did work my way through college and it is exactly why I don’t want others to work more than 10 hours a week. College is a time for learning and the rest of life will be filled with work.

As a teacher, my objectives are to:

• Instill a desire for service to others
• Inspire joy in learning and facilitate life-long learning skills
• Develop students that are critical thinkers and exercise sound judgment
• Ensure students master the basics and proceed into the vocation with confidence
• Advance knowledge through service, research, and administration

If religious leaders do their jobs then they might be a little less worried about people like me teaching students the liberal way to change a dressing or start an IV.

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