The Altruistic Nurse vs The Career Nurse

The Altruistic Nurse vs The Career Nurse


altruismIs there a requirement for a nurse to have a ‘calling’ or to be altruistic in their reasons to become a nurse?

I’ve recently ran across several articles and nursing forum posts related to nurses having a ‘calling’.  Something deep seated in their personality or their mind-set, a need or want to ‘help’ others. Something altruistic in their reasoning for becoming a nurse. The argument that I’m seeing repeated over and over is that you ‘have to’ or ‘should’ have a need, want and desire to help others in order to be a good nurse.

I’m going to rant on this…please do not send me ‘hate’ mail.  If you would like to have a respectful discussion; I’m open and willing to participate

Confession:  I never wanted or desired to be a nurse.


That’s right.  I started my nursing career as a career choice and a JOB.  There wasn’t any deep seated desire to make a difference in the world.  No passion to ‘help others.  No ‘calling’ from a higher power.  Nursing to me was a stable career with attainable educational requirements, decent pay and job security. I consider myself an altruistic person but that was not my drive to become a nurse.

There are many that will immediately think that I am a bad person or worse yet, a bad nurse for my decision to become a nurse as a means to provide myself and my family a decent lifestyle.  To them, I say ‘YOU’RE WRONG’.

 I look at nursing as I would any other job or career that I could have chosen.  I WANT to do a good job.  I need  to perform well.  I expect to be able to take a certain amount of pride in a job well done.  These feelings are no different than if I had chosen to be a basket maker.  If I were a basket maker…I would still WANT to do a good job, I would need to perform well and I would expect to be able to take a certain amount of pride in a job well done.

So, am I automatically a bad nurse because I chose Nursing based on purely career and stability oriented reasons?  Or is it possible that even though my reasons were not altruistic, I am still a good nurse, a patient care-giver and able to provide safe care with positive outcomes?

I want to hear your thoughts.  Were your reasons for becoming a nurse altruistic?  Do you think it’s a requirement for someone entering the nursing profession to want to ‘help’ people?  Are you like me and see nursing as a career and a job to be performed to your best ability?


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  1. I came to nursing as a second career, having temporarily left teaching to do so. I do not see anything wrong with looking at nursing as a career over a calling. In fact, I think that doing so in many respects furthers the fact that nursing is a PROFESSION.

    Nurses are caregivers, but we provide care through a background in science. Whether we are calling upon our knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, pharmacokinetics, or human growth and development, we are acting based upon an established scientific knowledge base. Certainly there are those of us for whom this is a passion or calling, but to fail to consider the professional aspect in lieu of the “calling” limits the professional respect that nursing deserves.

    To our patients, we may be angels of mercy with an altruistic calling, but we are also professionals. We need to acknowledge, respect, and honor that aspect of what has brought many of us to nursing as well.

  2. Same for me. Nursing is my job. I love it! I do a great job because its what I want to be doing. I became a nurse because I felt like it was a smart career choice. I thought that more than likely (knock on wood) I can have a job just about anywhere. I do know, however, that some people are appald at that. Appald at the fact that I didn’t “have a calling” or “always want to be a nurse since I was a little girl”. One of the hardest parts of nursing to me is compassion. Sometimes I do think that maybe if I did have “a calling” that the compassion would come more natural and not something I have to work at.

    • Sympathy and compassion are very similar yet very different. I struggle with sympathy but can give compassion…if you have ever held a dying hand or said a soothing word, I would say that you have much compassion.

  3. Nursing is a second career for me also and I also chose nursing as a career. I looked at all the possibilities that a nursing degree gave me from bedside nursing, to travel nursing to administration and so much more. It is a degree that offers stability and the chance to not “burn out” from your carer because it is diversified. There is a part of nursing that called to me and that is the NICU. I would have never felt that “calling” if I had not first chosen nursing and did clinicals in the NICU. So I believe that choosing nursing as a career is a decision made by the brain and choosing which area of nursing to do involves the heart as well.

  4. Nursing was an absolute cslling on my life. I was a curious child and at the age of 10 I discovered my baby sisters death certificate in my mothers closet. I copied down her cause of death and went straight to the World Encylopedia for research. At age 13 I fell in love with science and at 16 became a Candy Stipper ! That was 40 years ago. I’m still enjoying this phenomenal career and will be a NP in 6 months.

  5. No doubt that there are some altruistic qualities one needs to be a good nurse besides good grades, critical thinking and dexterity, qualities like sound morals, integrity, compassion and a sense of advocacy for the vulnerable. So as you may not have had a “calling” initially, you may have already possessed the attributes nonetheless.

    Your perspectives are so refreshing and greatly preparatory as well with your years of experience you help build a solid foundation in how to proceed as a well prepared nomad like professional but have you discovered that as your career unfolded, your heart and soul have become even more of a compass in your choices in the field?

    Also…do you practice any holistic approaches to healing…even if it be simply to recharge your own energy and faith in the job?

    Thanks again for all your wonderful posts. ?

  6. I think you said it yourself actually… “I consider myself an altruistic person…”
    I don’t feel that nursing HAS to be a calling, it is for me, but I fully understand that not everyone feels that burning desire from the start for it. But I also feel that in order to do this job and be successful at it, you have to have an altruistic personality and those traits (at least some). I have seen people choose to do this as a career, and that’s a fine choice, but they did it JUST for that, and you could tell. It was evident in their patient care. They had zero qualities that an altruistic person has, and they weren’t successful nurses. I think when you choose to do anything with the care and teaching of other human beings, you have to have some form of selflessness about you…working with people in the manner that we do is HARD. Even as someone who knows this is what I should be doing, what I’ve always wanted to do, and had the passion for since the age where I first found the word “nurse”, there are days its hard. There are days it takes everything from me and days I’m just plain tired. So yes, I think you can totally choose nursing as a stable career choice and profession, but I don’t think you can be devoid of the altruistic characteristics needed to be successful at this job.
    I just found this site and am loving it! Thanks!