Ageism is prejudice against a person based on their age. When I hear the word, I typically think of an older person being denied a job based on their age. However, it is not always the case. I have struggled against it to some degree my entire career. When I passed the state nursing boards and got my nursing license, I was 20 years old. I was the second youngest person in my class. I knew the moment that I graduated that I would command less respect than the 50-year-old classmate that began her career the same day as me. Put the two of us side by side and patients would naturally assume that she had more experience than I did. I accepted this as a simple truth. It did not bother me at the time. I knew that I would gain knowledge and hands on experiences as time passed. I set out to prove myself to be the great nurse that I knew I was.
However, genetics turned out to be a blessing and a curse. It seems that I look younger than I actually am. I will be 32 in a few short days. Most people who I meet in day-to-day passing assume that I am somewhere in my early to mid-twenties. People think my 13-year-old son is my sibling. I get carded constantly. Once I even had a high school student working at Walgreen’s try to ask me out on a date. While this is super flattering (and hopefully my youthful look will last until I am 80), it has not always helped instill respect or faith of my abilities in my patients. While caring for pregnant women, I would often get comments about how I did not understand what they were going through because I was too young to have had children myself. Unbeknownst to them, I have two sons. I personally know how miserable, painful, and downright scary pregnancy can be. I would have people question if I knew what I was doing while removing sutures or surgical staples. They would ask, “Have you done this before?” “Only a few thousand times over the last decade. Haven’t lost anyone yet.” I would cheerfully reply. Occasionally things get ugly. I have had patients yell at me, telling me that I was that I was not old enough to know what I was talking about. I have had people throw things at me. Demand to speak with my superior. Not because I was wrong. Simply because they did not like what I told them. They felt that I must be mistaken because I was “young”, “ignorant”, and “inexperienced”. I have been a nurse for 11 years and I still do not command the same respect as my 50-year-old classmate on the day we graduated nursing school all because I appear to be young. That is ageism.
Thankfully, it is not all bad. I have had the joy of working with amazing patients, nurses, and providers over the course of my career. These great people are the ones that allowed me to gain the experience that I needed to be who I am today. I have nurses that I will always be eternally gratefully to because the raised me up from a baby nurse to a skilled professional. I share such great rapport with some patients that I consider them to be friends. Not to mention the providers that have gone above and beyond to teach me. Having these people in my corner make it easier to deal with these negative experiences.
I do not fear getting older as some people do. I do not dread birthdays. I never have. I am not worried about turning 40, 50, or any other age that may follow. I look forward to the respect that age brings. I want people to look at me and not doubt my capability based on my presumed age.