When people ask me – as I imagine they have asked many of you – “did you always know you wanted to be a nurse?”, I have to answer honestly: No.
While I was at school I was convinced I wanted to work in the theatre. From an actor to a stage manager to a producer, I explored many different roles. I was your quintessential “theatre nerd.” I couldn’t get enough.
I continued to do lots of theatre – mainly musicals – at university. It was there I discovered that a career in the theatre wouldn’t make me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it and made many close friends. But I realised that I wouldn’t be able to make it my livelihood.
I explored several different careers in the public sector. I thought about social work, teaching and various different carer roles. I was lucky enough to find nursing. I feel lucky for many, many reasons. One of which is that nursing not only gives me the time to pursue other creative projects, but also complements it in a way I never expected.
The Student Nurse Project has spoken many times about the benefits of having hobbies and projects outside of your course or job. In this blog I am going to speak more specifically about performing and the way in which it feeds into my work at the hospital and vice versa. This is certainly not to say that nurses have to be creative or perform. It’s more a story about how it helps me directly, most likely in the same way playing frisbee, sewing or reading novels helps others.
While training as a student nurse I have been part of several performative projects. Primarily, I have been a troupe member of ‘Invisible Cabaret’ – a theatrical company whose purpose is to break down boundaries and stigma surrounding mental health by exploring them in boundary-breaking, stigma-busting art forms. We seek not to glamorise mental illness but to open up discussion and nurture freedom of expression. As a member of this troupe I sing, play piano, recite poetry and (attempt to!) dance.
There are countless reasons that being part of this project is good for me in general. Singing has well attested benefits for my physical health and posture, whilst playing piano keeps me focused and disciplined. Both have brought me to places where I need to face my fears and believe in myself. But, on top of this, there are so many things about being a part of this troupe that have helped me directly with my training, and vice versa. It has taught me to be brave and travel outside of my comfort zone. It has taught me the importance of asking for help.
My work as a student nurse has also provided invaluable inspiration for my creative work, especially given the mission statement of ‘Invisible Cabaret.’ I’ve used my experience with patients and my access to nursing literature to support our discussion of mental well-being and inspire some of our pieces.
Being a good member of this troupe has come, in part, from learning to be a valuable part of a nursing team. We support each other, make each other laugh, share stories and pick up cues when someone else if struggling. We help each other form creative solutions to complex issues, and learn to ask for help when we need it. The importance of community and teamwork in one, complements the other almost perfectly.
One of the first times I ever performed in front of people was a poetry reading contest. I think I must have been 8 years old. The judge spoke briefly at the beginning. She reminded us that performing should, first and foremost, be a generous act. You should think of it as giving something to the audience, rather than taking something for yourself. My career as a student nurse reminds me to be generous, both on stage and in many other aspects of my life.
Lily Parham (@lily_parham)