July 8, 2020

Essential Ministry: Similar Reasons for Entering Nursing School and Seminary

Several times here on Morning Vitals (most recently here), I’ve alluded to the fact that I’ve previously considered applying to seminary. I may also have mentioned that it actually took me several years to decide to apply to nursing school. For reasons related to funding, I’ve actually endured three forced job changes within a ten-year period, the last of which resulted in an extended period of unemployment, during which I completed an accelerated nursing program. Why did I want to enter seminary at one time and nursing school at another? Why did it take so long for me to actually apply to nursing school?

As I reflect on the road I’ve traveled, I can see similarities between my desires to enter seminary and nursing school. I only noticed these similarities after having entered the latter and begun to formulate a personal philosophy of nursing. What I’ve discovered is that the central reason I’ve ever wanted to attend seminary or be a nurse has been that these paths represent complementary forms of ministry.

Both nursing and Christian ministry are grounded in service to God. Historically, many of the earliest formal health care structures and institutions were established by Christians serving others in faith. It seems that, just as pastors and other early church leaders tended the spiritual welfare of others, so nurses–or whatever they’ve been called throughout history–have tended the bodily welfare of others.

Long before I finished high school, I had decided to pursue undergraduate study that would prepare me for medical school. Early during my college experience, I obtained some experience in life science research, and I began to learn about myself that I was not going to medical school. This was not because I couldn’t handle the course of study; I eventually graduated college with highest honors as a Biology major with a History minor, just a single course shy of a Chemistry minor as well. It was simply that I realized I was more interested in studying diseases than in the people suffering from them. For good or ill, I’m sure this outlook played itself out in various aspects of my life.

In any case, following undergraduate study, I entered graduate school in Physiology. It was a logical enough extension of my previous course of study, and my degrees have been a blessing and have paved the way for numerous career opportunities. However, I have not always maintained a constant desire to conduct life science research. Through the experience of “growing up” post-college, getting married, having children, and gaining experience as an educator, I began to realize that I wanted my life to be more holistic. Without targeting certain changes for myself, I gradually and imperceptibly came to realize that I did in fact care about people as well as their diseases.

When the time came for me to lose my research position for the third time in ten years, I spent an academic year trying to cobble together enough adjunct or part-time faculty positions to stay afloat. At that time, Indiana Wesleyan’s Transition to Nursing program met an important need in my life, and I’m grateful for the experience. In nursing, I’ve found an excellent fit for my interests and background, and there is ample opportunity for Christian ministry. Indeed, there are many patients as well as colleagues in health care who long for holistic care that includes the spiritual.

As for the question of why I took so long to decide to enter nursing school, that’s a rather involved question best saved for another post. However, I will say now that the answer involved gender and sexuality, comparison and contrast between nursing and other fields aligned with the natural sciences, as well as financial considerations. I’ll talk about all of these later, and I hope to tie them all back to last week’s post on public perceptions of the honesty and ethical standards of nurses as opposed to clergy. Please stay tuned.

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