Last December, I was in the third quarter of my RN to BSN program at the University of Washington, Bothell. I worked four days a week on an orthopedic floor, and attended school full-time. I had been both working and in school on and off for almost ten years. Exhaustion had set in, and I began to question if it was all worth it.
I had known deep down for years that I wanted to be a hospice nurse, but I suppressed this dream because I knew acute care experience would be the foundation for me to progress in my career. I had a dream to open a residential hospice facility, but it felt like a far-off hope ten years down the road.
The only thing that interested me as much as nursing was travel. After several volunteer trips abroad, I had planned to save up money for five years, examine how people grow old and die in countries around the world for a year, then apply for hospice jobs upon my return. I thought after another five years of that, I could work towards opening my own place.
While taking a break from my homework one day, I opened my inbox and saw what may be the most important email of my life. The subject line read “UW Bonderman Travel Fellowship: $20K to fund 8 months of solo travel!”. Tears streamed down my face as I read the description, which I thought must have been written exactly for me. It said, “Ideal Bonderman Fellows have integrity, the capacity for vision and leadership, and the potential for humane and effective participation in the global community. An applicant should demonstrate initiative, commitment, passion, honesty, and creativity in designing his or her proposed travel plan, but does not need to have a theme or project. The selection committee will consider the student’s experience as well as curiosity and seriousness of purpose.”
My dream was staring me right in the face. Adrenaline rushed through my veins, and I knew I had to get this fellowship. I immediately started researching celebrations of the dead, and end-of-life traditions around the world. I drafted an itinerary and four-page proposal about where I wanted to go and why. I had only three weeks from the time that I found out about the application until the time it was due.
About a month later, I received an email to schedule my interview. I was ecstatic and responded immediately. When I showed up for the interview, another woman was in the waiting room, and they had scheduled us both at the same time. She went ahead first, and I sat nervously waiting for my turn. I thought I knew everything the committee wanted to hear, but I went over and over my answers in my head.
There were five or six people conducting the interview, and when I started to hear the same question asked repeatedly, I began to panic. “We can see that you love your job, and we understand that you want to be a hospice nurse, but what we really want to know is how this trip will affect you personally”.
Personally? I gulped. What do you mean personally? I am a nurse, and taking care of others is the most important thing in the world to me. Being a nurse is my identity; it’s who I am. I couldn’t answer the question without reverting back to opening my own hospice. This sort of attitude frequently leads to what we refer to as burnout in the nursing world.
I left the interview feeling defeated. I had spent so much of the last ten years working as a nurse, being in nursing school, volunteering as a nurse, and thinking about nursing that I realized I did not know who I was outside of being a nurse. I was so set on becoming Emily Sorman, BSN, RN, that I had lost sight of who Emily Sorman is.
Adrenaline flowed through me once more. I could not give this up. I went home and drafted an email to let the committee know I had thought about their question. I wrote, “This trip is still incredibly important in helping me to create the type of work that I want, but it will also help me to understand that I am good person because of who I am, not just because of what I do.” I knew they might not consider my email, or that it might even disqualify me, but I felt I had to take the chance.
Several agonizing weeks later, I listened to a voicemail while on my break at work. I began to cry again. “Oh my god ” I said out loud “I got it”. I was orienting a new RN resident to the floor, and I had to explain to her what it was about, although I had not told anyone else at work yet.
The months that followed were a whirlwind of domestic travel, graduation, and trip planning. I will have to leave behind family, friends, and the love of my life for the greater part of year. Though there are many difficult changes that have to be made, I know it’s all for the best. I know now why I didn’t go directly into a BSN program after high school. I know that I was meant to be exactly where I am, at exactly this time. I am so very grateful for this gift that not many people receive, and I can’t wait to share my journey with you. First stop: Belize, November 18, 2015.
*Note- To be eligible for the Bonderman Fellowship you must be an undergraduate or graduate student at the University of Washington. It is not open to the general public. More information can be found on my Bonderman Page