I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out

True Stories of Becoming a Nurse

This collection of true narratives reflects the dynamism and diversity of nurses, who provide the first vital line of patient care. Here, nurses remember their first “sticks,” first births, and first deaths, and reflect on what gets them though long, demanding shifts, and keeps them in the profession. The stories reveal many voices from nurses at different stages of their careers: One nurse-in-training longs to be trusted with more “important” procedures, while another questions her ability to care for nursing home residents. An efficient young emergency room nurse finds his life and career irrevocably changed by a car accident. A nurse practitioner wonders whether she has violated professional boundaries in her care for a homeless man with AIDS, and a home care case manager is the sole attendee at a funeral for one of her patients. What connects these stories is the passion and strength of the writers, who struggle against burnout and bureaucracy to serve their patients with skill, empathy, and strength.


Expect to be moved by this anthology of tales from the front line, written by veteran nurses and nurses-in-training. One contributor describes his experiences as a nursing student at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when the disease was called gay-related immune-deficiency syndrome, particularly his nurse’s intuition, that is, knowing when a patient is going to die. There was a stigma to the work I was doing, he writes. But I eventually got to a point where I wasn’t afraid to say, when someone asked what I did, ‘I work with persons who are dying of AIDS.’ Several of the essayists lace their emotional tales with humor. A University of Pennsylvania nursing student records her friends’ reaction to her job: So you actually cleaned up poop? A woman who survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a teen becomes an oncology nurse. And a nurse recounts watching a person die for the first time. Essayists note that they’re not supposed to get too close to patients, but they do it anyway. It’s easy to love these empathetic people, and their beautifully written stories. –Karen Springen

—Booklist Review