I have always said if nursing doesn’t work out for me I am going to be a long haul trucker. Ok, go ahead and laugh, but know that I am only partially kidding about this. The idea of experiencing the country via the open highway and meeting all kinds of people from all walks of life excites me. As I traveled from Oregon to Arizona with my family over spring break, my love of the open road was rekindled again. Through the windshield and through interactions with folks we met, I caught glimpses of a different life. Unexpectedly, the sights and stories I encountered opened my eyes to the opportunities and significance of the life I am pursuing through a career in nursing.
The San Joaquin valley stretches long and wide through the heart of California. Stopping in a small farming town south of Sacramento, I stared at the acres of fields and orchards surrounding us. At a table nearby, a group of men in a pickup truck pulled up and sat down. I speak very little Spanish but what I observed was a conversation about the work and the crops spread across this valley. I didn’t need to understand all of the words to know it had been a rough couple of years. It was evident in the miles of dead orchards and barren fields, cut off from the supply of water due to political and financial struggles. It was evident in the faces of the workers, tending to the ones that remained. As I observed this particular group, I noticed a bandage wrapped around the wrist of one of the men. I began to wonder, as I considered the livelihood of this tiny town, where people got medical care in this area. Did the jobs support resources to provide health services to the workers that put in hours of physically demanding work? Outside of the farm land, all that remained here were a few hotels, a gas station, and a cluster of fast food restaurants. I imagined having to pack up a sick child and drive over an hour north to Sacramento just to seek treatment, particularly with the current cost of gasoline. What did they do in the event of a serious injury not uncommon in physically demanding jobs like farming? The questions kept coming and I pondered them as we continued our trip southeast across the Mojave Desert. Towns with names like Boron and Tehachapi fascinated me and I began to count the miles between cities with obvious health care resources and these tiny, random communities. The barriers to care became more apparent with each passing mile.
As we dawn on a new term, I am reminded of our own communities in Oregon that survive on farming. In our population-based care course we will be working collaboratively across campuses via Sakai to study the community resources for children, migrant farm workers, addictions recovery, and patients from all regions and walks of life. We will learn of the community nursing opportunities and ways that we as students and future nurses can make an impact on both community health and policy. I look forward to the experiences this term. At this point I still have more questions than answers, images of my trip across the heartland of California is still fresh in my mind. What dawned on me as I traveled home was that I am in a sense fulfilling my inner desire to explore. While I may not be driving a big rig and humming down the highway, I am charting a new course. One of the things I love about nursing is that it cannot be contained into a certain role or definition. The opportunities for rural health and traveling and community health are plentiful. We will learn more about these roles as the term progresses. Perhaps what is most exciting to me is the chance to hear the stories from other students and various patients that I have not yet had the opportunity to meet. The highway to a career in nursing at this point definitely feels like a long haul. It is the experience, not the end destination that motivates me, however. The adventure awaits, let’s roll!