Why I became a nurse: The summer of ’62

Toward the end of my sophomore year in high school, my best friend asked if I would consider becoming a “candy striper” at a local hospital. At the time my plans were to become a math teacher. After much coaxing on her part and for lack of anything better to do that summer, I finally agreed.

I remember those first days of being in the hospital as if they were yesterday. My duties were to deliver ice water to patients’ rooms, feed and transport patients and assist the nurses with errands.

I was immediately awestruck and captivated with what I saw within the walls of the hospital. I found a place where there was challenge, endless learning opportunities and a sense of camaraderie. I loved meeting new people every day. For the first time in my life I knew what it meant to feel needed and was heart-warmed by how appreciative patients could be.

The nurses I worked with served as role models. They nurtured and taught me, and I was like a little sponge absorbing everything I could. That summer, I could hardly stay away from the hospital and knew, without question nursing would always be my passion.

At the beginning of my junior year I was asked to become a nurse’s aide at $1 per hour! I was thrilled with this honor. I was trained and acquired more responsibilities in direct, hands-on patient care, which I relished.

Throughout my junior and sophomore years I worked every weekend, and any time off from school was at the hospital, saving every dime for nursing school. My goal was to attend Douglas College — the most prestigious school in New Jersey at the time — to obtain my BSN.

There was just one problem, and that was a major one. My father blatantly refused to support me in any way to become a nurse. Obtaining a BSN was no longer a tangible goal. Since I would have to support myself, I had to find a way to become a nurse and to do it quickly. I applied and was accepted into a two-year diploma program in New York and fortuitously received two scholarships and acquired two part-time jobs.

My patients’ appreciation for the simplest acts of kindness still touches my heart Click To Tweet

Shortly after graduation I moved to Miami Beach and began classes toward my BSN. Unfortunately, I married a man who insisted I withdraw from school. It wasn’t until 1976, as a single parent working in the MICU/CCU at Houston Methodist Hospital, that I resumed my education. With the financial backing of our hospital and the support of my manager, I finally received my degree in 1979.

Joy Shiller started her nursing career 52 years ago as a candy striper (left) and has been with Houston Methodist for 44 years (right).

I met many obstacles in my nursing education and did it the hard way. But that was good. I sincerely believe had it not been that way I would have never appreciated my career as much as I do.

Throughout my 44 years at Houston Methodist I have been offered many opportunities to move into other positions. I have denied each one because I love bedside nursing. It’s hard to believe it has been more than half a century since my days as a candy striper. Yet, every day when I come to work I still feel challenged, have learning opportunities and a sense of camaraderie.

I still enjoy meeting new people every day and to know that I am needed. My patients’ appreciation for the simplest acts of kindness still touches my heart. I will always be grateful for that summer of ’62. My life has been incredibly blessed because of it.