Once a nurse, always a nurse. Here’s why I keep paying to renew my license.

This week, I renewed my nursing license. It was easy.

First, I got an email from noreply@maine.gov. “YOUR REGISTERED NURSE LICENSE IS DUE FOR RENEWAL” was in the subject line. The message inside was short, telling me exactly what I needed to do and providing a link to the renewal site. I pulled out my credit card and clicked on the link.

Five minutes later, having updated my personal information, answered some questions about my current employment status and forked over $75, I was done. Another email arrived the next day: “YOUR OFFICIAL REGISTERED NURSE LICENSE IS ATTACHED.” And it was — downloadable, printable, verifiable and good for another two years.

I haven’t practiced nursing since 1997, when my family and I returned to Maine after a three-year hiatus in south coastal Massachusetts. I decided then to make a midcourse career correction; after 15 years in hands-on health care — two as a nursing assistant and 13 as a registered nurse — I was ready for a change.

I had worked in a nursing home, in a large, acute-care hospital, in home care and as a school nurse. I had found much to love, and much to learn, in each of these settings. I was fascinated by the world of medicine — all we know about human health and disease and all we have still to learn. I felt privileged to help my patients and their families make the most of their health options and come to terms with situations they could not change. I felt challenged and enlivened by using my intelligence, education, intuition and common sense on a daily basis — and getting paid for it.

And I met a broad swath of people, each so different from the others, who shared their life stories with me — a never-ending source of wonder and enlightenment. I would come home from work and turn those stories over in my head, imagining how my life would be different if I had been offered different options and made different choices.

But for reasons I don’t completely understand, nursing just never felt like the right fit for me. Mostly, it had to do with those compelling life stories and the realization that my longtime dream of being a writer was calling to me. I hesitated to step away from a career in which I had invested so much, but when the opportunity arose to make a change, I seized it, without really knowing where it would lead.

As it turned out, journalism has been a great next step in my career trajectory, offering endless storytelling opportunities, daily creative challenges and the chance to make positive change in the world. Each day is different from the last, with new learning and new insights. My nursing background has been an invaluable tool in building my expertise and credibility as a reporter, particularly when my work focuses on health, medicine, health policy and public health. It also taught me how to interview, document and be observant — essential skills in journalism.

But through all the satisfying years I have earned my living as a journalist, I have kept my RN license on active status. It’s not really that I ever expect to work in health care again, although for a brief period, immediately following my divorce and during a particularly unstable time in the newspaper world, I considered it seriously. And I do sometimes imagine serving in an emergency capacity, during an epidemic or disaster of some sort, or possibly volunteering, after I retire, in an underserved region of this country or overseas. I also really like having that “RN” on my resume; it’s got cachet.

All in all, my nursing license seems too valuable a tool to allow it to lapse. Keeping it active is a simple matter of sending in a little cash every couple of years — no continuing education required. I find that a little shocking, frankly, although I realize I would never be hired, anywhere, without updating my skills in a significant way.

But my license also represents some valuable lessons, ones worth revisiting every couple of years when I renew it. It reminds me that for the most part, we can never see the end of any journey from the start of it. That few decisions result in irreversible, lifelong commitments. That it’s important to trust our inner voice when it demands a change. And that knowledge and experience always move us forward toward new opportunities.

Renewing those life lessons is at least as important as renewing the license itself, and well worth the cost.

Read more of Meg Haskell at livingitforward.bangordailynews.com.

Meg Haskell

About Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.