Skip to Main Content
Skip Navigation Links
Magnet Logo

Nursing Excellence

The Online Newsletter for Children's Nurses
e-Edition, Issue 8

Elizabeth Searles

Family Footsteps: Born To Be…

By Elizabeth (Bess) Searles, MBA, BSN, RN, NE-BC

Often in life, one may hear the phrase “born to be…” As I grew up, I often wondered, what was I born to be? What is the “spirit” that should lead and shape my life? As a sculptor might study a piece of stone, I would study those around me and see if I could tell what they were born to be. It became quickly apparent, that nothing was apparent. 

So next I learned to listen. I listened for stories of those I might wish to be like. What did I want to be when I grew up? I soon found I wanted to be someone that cares for others. I knew my satisfaction in life would come from giving to others in a healing manner. Since my family is a family of storytellers, I listened for stories of those that came before me that gave to others in a healing manner. I learned my heritage included women who were these types of givers. These women shared a common heritage –  they were nurses.  

I remember one such story of my great-great grandma. She followed her brother to war and ended up serving as a nurse on one of the “brand new” transport trains. She saw an immediate need and decided to assist those around her; she possessed a fearless giving heart. 

Since many of my great-great grandpas were physicians, their wives often found themselves serving in a nursing capacity. One such grandma was Sarah Jasne Kiersted VanBorsin Elbertson. In 1630 she came to the New Amsterdam, now known as New York, with her parents. In 1642 she married her husband, Dr. Harris Kiersted, who came from Magdeburg, Prussian Saxony in 1638 to New Amsterdam and is noted as “the first practicing physician and surgeon in that place.” She served as his wife and nurse for 29 years. She was well known for her leadership and caring spirit, making her popular with both the colonists and the Indians as she cared for both groups. She served as a mentor and negotiator with the colonists and the Indian groups around New York. 

When I think of other nurses showing this indomitable spirit, I think of my great-grandmother’s sister, Emily Kavan, who was a nurse during World War I. Stories tell of the work nurses were responsible for during that conflict: bandaging limbs, trying to control fevers, singing to the suffering, and reading the Bible to the wounded hearts – many of the same activities nurses do today. 

The last two nurses that shaped my understanding of the spirit of nursing are my grandma and my grandmother-in-law. Both attended nursing school in Iowa in the 1920s. Choosing nursing school was making a very serious commitment; one described entering nursing school as being akin to going into a convent. Time with young men, besides certain patients, was not allowed except on an occasional Sunday afternoon. The hours were long and they often fell into their beds exhausted at night. Nursing care was still very similar to the tasks completed as a World War I nurse. During this time, my grandmother-in-law did the unthinkable – she began to sneak out at night to date a young medical school student. One night he surprised her by letting her know they were going to get married. Since she still had six months of school left, they had to pretend they were not married or she would not have been allowed to finish school. At age 75, she finally retired from her career of being the nurse for his practice. 

One special nurse spoke directly to my searching spirit as I grew up, my grandmother. Her husband was a secret service agent as well as an officer in the Army Air Corps during World War II. They stayed stateside, but she found herself traveling around the country and being a nurse in numerous places, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, small towns in Kansas and New Mexico, and elsewhere. During the war, there were so many young men she recounted helping in so many ways. After the war, a favorite time in her practice was serving as a research nurse at Northwestern University in Chicago. Some of the studies she was a part of focused on diet and exercise for healthy living. She really felt that what they learned was so important, especially to students. She worked with school officials in one town to form hot lunch programs. When it came time for retirement, she moved with her husband to Newport Beach in Southern California. When one is a nurse, one can never retire from caring. She found herself at her husband’s side as the mayor’s wife, championing health issues in the community, such as the need for public parks and promoting a diet full of healthy fruits and vegetables. She loved the community and dedicated herself to finding ways to help out in a variety of local, regional, and state opportunities. 

So, when looking at the piece of stone in front of me, it is as if each nurse who found her way into the stories of the family storytellers had a chisel in her hand. And with each stroke of the hammer and the chisel, one could hear “born to be… a nurse.”


In This Issue

Nursing Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow - Making A Difference

Nursing Through The Generations

Family Footsteps: Generations of Influence

Family Footsteps: Born To Be…

Family Footsteps: Nursing, It's In The Family

It's Not Your Grandma's Student Program

Nurse of the Year 2011

Evaluation of the Humpty Dumpty Fall Risk Screening Tool

Enhancements to Nursing Professional Practice

Contributions to Practice

Leadership in Professional Nursing Organizations