Before my employment as an English professor I had another career: RN, Registered Nurse. In nursing, writing was not only necessary; it was at the core of our very system of accountability. One key statement was hammered into students during nursing school, the same doctrine practiced every day as a working nurse: “If it wasn’t written, it wasn’t done.” As staff on the hospital floor, Registered Nurses “chart” their activities into a series of daily nursing notes, a precise record of every medical procedure and interaction with patients. These documents are critical, providing important information to fellow health professionals, the patient, and, in some instances, the legal profession. These notes must be written clearly and accurately. Staff nurses also write admission and discharge reports. They record vital signs. They fill out separate forms for medications, dietary needs for patients, unusual incidents, on and on. Their day is filled with writing.
Another key role for nurses is teaching. Nursing is a profession based on the concept of preventative care. For example, if a person is educated about risk factors such as diet and weight beforehand, they might not develop diabetes at all. This teaching is often done by nurses. Informational materials are usually designed, edited, and written by the very professionals doing the teaching, the nurses.
In my nursing career, I was quickly promoted (partly due to my writing ability) to Charge Nurse and then Nurse Coordinator, an administrative position supervising nurses. My administrative responsibilities were grounded in the written word, including memos, care plans, a variety of reports, grant requests, and any manner of daily, written communications. I even edited the nursing newsletter for the hospital, a duty both important and enjoyable. My ability to write well, to communicate accurately and concisely, was critical to my ability and credibility in every position as Registered Nurse.
To put it simply, nursing is a profession. All professions in this country have reported a pressing need for strong writers, for individuals who can shape words to effect. No matter the vocation, the ability to write is indispensible, and writing very well is fundamental to sustained career success.
Where can a student obtain these important writing skills? In courses offered by the Ball State English department. No matter what your major, BSU offers an opportunity to add an English minor in a variety of writing disciplines: professional writing, creative writing, linguistics, and literature. Once a student leaves the university and enters the larger world, they will find—as I did in nursing—that communication skills are universally appreciated. No matter your present major or future career, the time to learn these skills, to study within and obtain a minor in English, is now.
Thank you for this post, Sean. I’m at Eastern Oregon University, and the professional health programs (both nursing and dental programs) require two-three writing classes BEFORE students enter those programs. I am directing students to your post so that the pre-professional students can see a real-life testimony.