Why do you want to be a nurse?
I’m willing to bet that all nursing students, no matter which branch they’re in are asked this question more times than they can count. The NHS is in crisis. Social care is in crisis. Everywhere is understaffed. You could earn a lot more in a less stressful job. In mental health the need massively outstrips demand. There’s no funding. You’ll never do a good enough job.
Why would anyone want to be a nurse in the UK right now?
That is not the question I get asked. It’s not the question I get asked because I am autistic. I am autistic and I tell everyone that I am autistic because if I don’t tell people then they can’t reasonably be expected to know that I have a disability. If they can’t reasonably be expected to know that I have a disability, then they don’t have to make adjustments for that. If they don’t make adjustments for that and I have a sensory overload or a meltdown because nothing was put in place, then it’s my fault. So, I tell people, because autism is as much a part of me as my eye colour, only people can’t see it. When I tell people I’m autistic, the question becomes this:
Why do you want to be a nurse?
Suddenly it’s not about the state of the NHS or understaffing or underfunding or pay or working conditions. Suddenly it’s personal. Nursing is about communication and teamwork and interpersonal skills and every day is different. The things required to be a good nurse are anathema to everything most people know about autism. How do you, autistic person, think you are going to cope?
There is a video by Tony Attwood that I really love, I’ll link it below. It’s a video I wish that I had seen three years ago when I first started my degree or when I was 18 and wondering if working in a lab really was what I wanted to do. It’s the video I wish I could send to everyone who has ever asked me why do I want to be a nurse. I love the video because it explains something I have known for a long time but struggled to articulate. I am autistic, but I am also a woman. I am an autistic woman who, more or less and with a lot of help, survived mainstream school. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me that I don’t ‘look autistic’. I learned to mask. I learned to mask by watching and reflecting and cataloguing turns of phrase and facial expressions and social rules. I learned in order to imitate and although my imitation still isn’t and probably never will be perfect, I have learned to read people. I have learned what body language can mean, depending on the context, depending on the words accompanying it. I have learned to judge when I’ve said completely the wrong thing. I have learned how my own emotions work and how they link to what’s going on around me in ways that aren’t always immediately obvious to me. I became a psychologist because I am an autistic woman in a society that doesn’t make space for us to simply be as we are.
So why do I want to be a nurse?
I want to be a nurse because I have spent my whole life learning to understand people and what is the point of that if I don’t use it to help others? I want to be a nurse because I’ve been a patient and I want to break down those barriers. I want to be a nurse, because who is more qualified to work with and advocate for autistic children than autistic adults? There are some things you can’t learn from reading about. I want to be a nurse because I want autistic children to know they don’t have to accept closed doors. I want to be a nurse, because I love finding that one thing that sparks a moment of connection with another person. I want to be a nurse because what’s the point of looking at the world from a different point of view if you don’t put that to good use? I want to be a nurse because working with children is something I’m surprisingly good at. I want to be a nurse because everyone needs someone who will listen to them and be there for them and fight their corner. I want to be a nurse because I’m better at 1:1 than I am to groups, so I’d be an awful teacher. I want to be a nurse because I am autistic and I’ve found my special interest and for me, that is enough.