Be a nurse, they said... it'll be fun, they said!

By: Carmen Harris

Who are ‘they’ exactly, and who told them nursing would be fun?! 

I will admit, I was 100% green when it came to being a nurse. I came into nursing from a retail & corporate background – having worked for the Public Service and a major supermarket chain for years. How did I get into nursing? I had a fight with my manager one day, went home & saw an ad in the paper for a Trainee Enrolled Nurse; run through TAFE NSW.  It felt like a sign, which I decided to follow. I applied and much to my surprise, I got in!


I knew nothing other than what I had seen visiting other people in hospital or what I had watched on TV. Now let’s cut straight to the chase – what they show on TV is not at ALL what being a nurse is like in real life. Nurses are way too busy to be sleeping with doctors in the cleaning closet or sitting down to gossip! Most importantly, not everything is roses at the end of your shift.

Nursing is hard work and when you are fresh onto a ward, either as a trainee or a qualified nurse, nothing prepares you for the shock of what you are expected to do and what you will see. Nothing prepares you for the patients who are rude and demanding, the ones who cannot reach for a tissue on their own even though they are capable of doing so. Or the ones who scream, spit, throw things, bite, scratch and yell abuse at you. Nothing prepares you for the lack of support you might get from your management when these things happen – even when you work in a no tolerance workplace.

Nothing also prepares you for the kind, gentle patients who are truly grateful for everything you do for them, even if they have to ask you five times for something because they can see how run off your feet you are. Or the families who are gracious for the care you are giving their family member. Nothing prepares you for the excitement you feel and the celebrations you have with your patients when they accomplish even the smallest of tasks on their own when recovering from a Stroke. Nothing prepares you for the colleagues you have who show intense generosity; who hold your hand during a bad shift or assist you when you’re drowning in tasks. 

Nothing prepares you for the agony of being with a patient as they pass away, or what it feels like to lose a patient. Nothing prepares you for how you will feel when you care for the body of a deceased person. To this day, this is still one of my favourite things to do for my patients. There is something special about washing and caring for a patient once they have died. Respect and dignity don’t stop when the breath does; every nurse knows that. 

I have been doing this nursing gig for 12 years now. It has been hard and challenging at times. If you put any group of men & women together from different walks of life, different stages in life & different views on life, you will be challenged. But you will also be rewarded!

I am not the most confident of nurses but I like to think that I have given my absolute ALL to every person that has crossed my path. I have missed more Christmases, birthdays and social gatherings than I care to remember but that’s what it means to be a nurse. 

I have moved from being a ward nurse to working in general practice; some would say I have joined the “dark side.” In all honesty, joining general practice was a last ditch attempt at saving my nursing career. I had begun to hate nursing before I joined general practice, disillusioned by the politics that controlled the hospital I worked for. Now each day is a blessing! 


What makes general practice nursing so rewarding for me?  I now actually get to spend quality time with my patients, not constantly pressured by time and lack of resources (although all nursing faces these challenges no matter what!). I get to start a wound dressing and actually follow the progress of that wound from start to finish. I get to provide chronic disease care to patients, providing them with education on nutrition, exercise and setting a goal with them to follow up in three months’ time. We get to celebrate the wins. I love that I can be involved in pilot programs for the betterment of my patients and provide preventative care, rather than a patient being in hospital with something that would have been avoidable with quality preventative care!

My nursing career has seen me travel from Cootamundra to Macksville, Newcastle to Dubbo. I have met some of the best people at the worst times in their lives and some of the worst people at the best times in their lives. I have been enriched by each and every interaction with a patient, either good or bad, because it has given me an opportunity to learn. I have been privileged to be present when people have entered the world and when they have taken their last breath. I have seen tattoos & piercings in some of the most interesting places! I have been an advocate for my patients when they needed it, and this has never been more true than it is as a primary health care nurse working in general practice.

I have to admit, even though nursing is hard work and challenging, it is also fun -  so I guess “they” were right! The people I have worked with along the way have made it that way; they are some of the most amazing nurses, doctors and allied health staff. I am extremely fortunate to call many of them my friends. Nursing is THE most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. The people and the patients, the good and the not so good, make it what it is. It is something I am grateful for every day.

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About the author: Hi, I’m Carmen Harris. I am an endorsed enrolled nurse working in Aboriginal Health. My primary role is Chronic Disease Management; but I also cover all facets of practice nursing.

 I am a self-confessed chocolate addict, a Keith Urban tragic, a tech-phobic social media bandit; a collector of teacups and an okay cook – chocolate & beetroot cakes are my specialty. I am a closet Kylie fan and I have a life-long dream of being a back-up singer – minor hitch is I cannot hold a tune. However, this does not hold me back when I am in my car; God gave me this voice & I make him listen.

 I took up running at age 45 and I love it. I feel my job as a runner is to make the other runners look really fast. My goal is to run 5kms in sub 40 minutes – I have a long way to go. I endeavour to do the Parkrun most Saturdays; and the Sydney City to Surf is on my bucket list.  I also love paddle boarding, gardening, playing with my dogs Ned & Pippa and photography – clouds are my subject of choice.

 My motto in life: find the positive in every situation and be grateful for everything and everyone that crosses your path. You can follow me on Instagram: @carmmaree22

This blog was released in celebration of Community and Primary Health Care Nurses Week! Learn more.