Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Graduation: The Pinning Ceremony

For the past four years, I have looked forward to the day I graduate. It wasn’t especially exciting for me to graduate high school, because I knew that three months afterwards I would be starting yet another four years of school until I actually was able to start real life. And lo, the time has come! In December, I will walk across the stage and be able to wave adios to college (until graduate school, but I’m going to try and forget about that for now.) For those of you who aren’t familiar with graduating from a nursing program, there is a special ceremony (aside from the typical graduation ceremony) that most schools have – it’s called a pinning ceremony.

I can’t speak for any more than the couple nursing schools I know about, but generally, each student nurse walks up on stage one by one and gets a special pin with an insignia from his/her nursing school pinned on him/her by a special person in the graduate’s life. For example, as a side note, I’m hoping my husband and mom can pin me, but my husband has extreme stage phobia to the point where he needs medication or else he’ll faint and my mom already told me she’s going to bawl her eyes out just looking at me, so it looks like I’ll have to recruit my dog to pin me. Anyway, back to the pinning ceremony. So all the students get pinned by a loved one, some faculty members give a few speeches, and we eat some cookies or something. Oh, and did I mention the Florence Nightingale Nursing Pledge that we all recite (AKA The Nightingale Pledge)? Ahem. Here it goes:

I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly:
To pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully;
I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug;
I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling;
With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.

This is what I am dreading the most – well, besides the fact that the pinning ceremony is going to be held in a megachurch (I’m in Texas, remember?). There are some more modernized and updated Nightingale Pledge variants floating around, but I’m not sure which one my class pinning committee has decided on. I have heard many older nurses mention “the Pledge,” normally in addition to whatever else they’re using to deride us about something or other. “Hmph. New nurses these days… don’t they know about the Pledge?” So at least for older nurses, it is considered something relatively important in the field of nursing; it’s essentially our Hippocratic Oath.

I personally don’t think it’s necessary at all for us to take an oath (or for anyone to ever take an oath, for that matter – it’s not the Middle Ages.) Any licensed medical professional should be competent enough to understand the main concepts of caring for other people: don’t hurt them intentionally, strive to prevent errors and mistakes, and abide by all of the general ethical principles of veracity, fidelity, beneficence, nonmaleficence, etc. It’s common sense, and they should be followed regardless of whether an oath is taken or not – it’s part of the job, and part of the responsibility we bear as health care workers. It’s ridiculous to think that student nurses aren’t going to behave ethically until we robotically repeat some century-old phrases.

I am ecstatic about graduating and can’t wait to actually begin practicing in the field that I have worked so hard for, which will undoubtedly provide me countless stories to retell here. Even though I don’t necessarily look forward to some parts of the pinning ceremony, I understand its symbolism is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, I have the sinking feeling that I might be the only student nurse at the ceremony not pledging myself “before god” and passing my “life in purity”. Instead, I’ll strive to be a rockin’ nurse who treats all patients equally and has the benefit of not being biased toward any religion or god at all. But for now, that’ll have to remain my little secret.