I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 1970, followed by a Master of Nursing in 1974. After receiving my Master’s degree, I taught undergraduate nursing students at the University of Washington for five years. I enjoyed teaching, conducting research and writing for publication, all requirements of my Assistant Professor position. After teaching there for five years, I decided to take a job as a Maternal-Newborn Clinical Specialist at Swedish Hospital Medical Center in Seattle.
To progress along a tenure track at the University of Washington, I would have had to earn a PhD. At some point in the early 80’s, I decided to start working on the PhD. I don’t remember what my reasoning was at the time, but I imagine it was to keep my options open. Afterall, I might want to teach at the University again someday. I continued to work at Swedish Hospital part time as I started the PhD program coursework. I don’t remember what the degree was called in those days but I know that it focused on nursing research and that I chose a track that had a special emphasis in statistics.
At some point during those years, I also started my personal therapy. I loved that process. It helped me move through the pain of my early years and I was able to make good friends and connect in a way I hadn’t in the past. One day, I had an insight that hit me like a sledge hammer. Even though I was doing very well in my studies, I realized I didn’t want a PhD and I didn’t want nursing research to be my life’s work.
In that moment, I realized I was studying for the degree in hopes that my father would acknowledge my existence if I had a PhD. My education had always been important to him and some of my earliest memories were of me asking him to make up math problems I could work on.
While I don’t think we were ever close, our relationship became even more strained as I moved into my teen and young adult years. We had battles when I came home from college during summer vacations, usually over civil rights issues. During one of those altercations, he told me to get out of the house. My mother intervened so I didn’t actually move out. The last straw came in 1971 when I told him I was going to marry Al, an African-American man I had met in Seattle. Simply by my having made that statement, he declared that he would not speak to me again, and he didn’t. My father died in 1999 without ever having said a word to me or my children.
Realizing that my PhD study was so tied to a child-like yearning for my father’s approval ended my interest in the degree. I was loving my psychotherapy experience and in time it became my passion. I did what it took to get the credentialing to become a nurse psychotherapist (Clinical Nurse Specialist in Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing) and I’ve been doing that work ever since.
I see the moment when I recognized the tie between my PhD program and the unfinished business from my past as one of those life changing moments, one that propelled me into work that I felt passionate about and believe I was born to do.
Written for Dungeon Prompts: That Now I Get It Moment