Why I Left Clinical Nursing to Become a Writer
I remember the moment vividly. As the office manager of a university department, I had to fire the young woman I’d hired to be our receptionist. She reminded me a lot of myself when I’d been her age: bad attitude, unwilling to take direction, surly. That I empathized with her didn’t change the fact I needed to terminate her employment.
She and I (and a member of the human resources team) sat together in a conference room with the door closed. I delivered the words no one wants to hear, “We have to let you go.” But I didn’t expect what happened next.
This 22-year-old woman screamed and jumped on top of the conference table. She flung herself down and began kicking her legs and flailing her arms like a toddler in the midst of a tantrum, all while cursing at the top of her lungs.
I observed her dispassionately. I didn’t blame her, really. I thought if someone fired me ever again, maybe I would do the same thing. It looked cathartic.
As I watched this woman come undone, screaming epithets at me that questioned my parentage, I realized I could no longer work in middle management. It was one giant craphole of a career. How the hell did I get to this place in my life?
My first career: writer
About 15 years earlier, in 1989, I was working at a deadend job in Colorado Springs and looking for something more ‘career-oriented.’ I happened to spot an ad in the Gazette-Telegraph newspaper. The YMCA-USO of the Pikes Peak Region was seeking an entry-level public relations secretary. The position required an ability to write press releases. Well, heck! I’d written for my high school newspaper for two years – a decade earlier. And then I had taken a couple of semesters of journalism in college before dropping out. Surely I had enough native talent to land that job.
Sound naive? Oh, it was. But my naivete enabled me to fearlessly apply for a job I was unqualified to win. Yet win it I did.
I spent five great years writing almost full-time. But I didn’t have the right attitude to keep the job. I was too young and ignorant to realize what a good thing I had going. So I wound up exiting the YMCA position by my employer’s request.
My second career: various
I felt foolish for getting fired, but my success in PR allowed me to see it may, in fact, be possible to earn a living as a writer. Unfortunately, I listened to the people who warned me against pursuing a full-time writing career. It was risky, they said. Too risky. I should “grow up.” Get a 9-to-5 job with a steady paycheck and a pension plan. Sure, I would hate it. Every adult hates it. But that’s life.
And so, for a couple of decades, I tried to conform. I held jobs as a typist (lowly), secretary (quaint), administrative assistant (progressive!), grocery store clerk, Kelly Girl and even completed a very brief stint as a court clerk. Sometimes I quit those jobs. Sometimes I got fired. But through it all, I noticed a common thread: whenever the company needed someone to “write something,” they turned to me.
Meanwhile, I kept a hand in freelancing. I moonlighted as an art and antiques reporter for about 15 years. Working on my lunch breaks and in the evenings, I got published in such high-visibility places as AntiqueWeek. Heck, I had a feature article published in Art & Antiques. I made about $1200 for that! At the height of my part-time freelance career, I made $20,000 in one year. You’d think a lightbulb moment would have occurred at that point, right? Nope. I still thought freelancing full-time was an impossible way to earn a living.
My third career: nurse
Eventually I found myself in middle management at a university. And then I had to fire that receptionist. After her legendary tantrum, she gathered her things and left in a huff. I needed a fresh perspective–and a new career–so I walked over to the College of Nursing.
As a kid, I always wanted to become a nurse. Now, I could take advantage of the university’s tuition remission benefit to actually get my nursing degree. I already had a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, so the CON put me into an accelerated BSN program. Bingo! At age 45 I fulfilled my dream of becoming a nurse. No more middle management jobs for me!
I worked for about five years in the perioperative setting and loved every minute. I quickly discovered I enjoyed educating patients. I spent a large part of my time giving pre-op and post-op instructions, along with performing telephone triage (a great way to learn how to interview people, by the way). These interesting patient interactions balanced out the mundanity of charting.
But I got frustrated at how few patients I could serve in a single shift. I came home one day and told my husband, “I’m tired of reaching maybe 20 patients a day with important health information when I could reach 100,000 with one article on WebMD.com.” That very evening, I started marketing myself as a freelance nurse writer. It was the spring of 2011.
My final career: freelance nurse writer
Using my old moonlighting technique, I freelanced in the evenings and on weekends to land assignments. Over the course of four months, I quickly ramped up to where I was earning the equivalent of about half my nursing salary through writing. I told my husband the time had come for me to jump off the ledge. Being my biggest supporter, he urged me to leap. His exact words were, “What took you so long?”
By the end of 2011, I had more than replaced my nurse salary by writing. And I get as much satisfaction from writing about health as I did from hands-on nursing. Every time a reader takes the time to hunt me down on the internet and send me an email saying, “Thank you for that article. You really helped me,” I smile to myself.
Today I take great pride in my career. When people ask me what I do for a living, I love saying, “I’m a writer. And a nurse.” I can’t imagine ever going back to a regular job. Not only do I enjoy the articles, blog posts, web sites and everything else I get to write, but I genuinely love my clients. I like being self-employed and all the challenges it brings. I love encouraging other nurses to take the plunge into writing. This career confers benefits beyond measure.
It’s a tired cliche, but it’s true: If I can do it, you can do it. Why not make 2015 the year you make the leap to freelance writing? Perhaps you’ll be asking yourself, as my husband asked me, “What took you so long?”
Wishing you well!