Ten days ago I re-sat the OSCE, the final exam to garner UK nursing registration. I had no idea if I passed. In fact, if you were to ask me, gun to my head, I would have told you I failed. I don’t like this kind of pessimism, and consider myself an optimist, but the delay-riddled road towards nursing registration changed me in a lot of ways, and, when it came to this, I was not so naive as to presume anything.
It has been nineteen months since I begun the paperwork necessary for getting myself registered in the UK. Back then, I was full of adrenaline and a dogged enthusiasm. I had been warned by many parties that it was a trial for an Australian nurse to work in England, but I surveyed the mountain I’d put in front of myself and decided that, as long as I kept walking, I could scale it.
This attitude worked for a year. A year is a long time to work towards something. In retrospect, it doesn’t sound so bad, but for three-hundred and sixty-five long days I thought about and put energy and effort into achieving this goal. That means from the outset, I awoke three-hundred and sixty-five times and resolutely pointed myself back up that mountainside. And in case you haven’t done it, it’s damn exhausting to walk uphill.
Which is exactly how it felt. Every step I took came at a great expense of physical and mental energy. Nothing was simple and straight-forward. If I had seen the logic behind the things I was doing, the documents I had to gather at personal cost, and the exams I had to sit, also at a high personal cost, then it would have eased the journey, I would have seen my destination getting closer and known that what I was doing was effective. Instead, everything I was asked to do led me around in circles, often having to repeat steps I’d already taken, like police checks, immunisations, blood tests, GP declarations of good health, and forcing more and more detailed paperwork out of my university. It wasn’t a matter of ticking boxes, it was ticking all the boxes, then going back and ticking them again and again as you watched your mark fade from the page.
Anybody who’s had a job that feels endless, who does all their work and finds the same amount or more waiting for them the next day can appreciate how this taps your motivation. It worms into that part of the brain that says to keep going and riddles it with holes. Defeatist thoughts begin to intrude, until you feel like laughing at the efforts you make while the out-box is consistently outweighed by the in-box.
This was me after a year, sitting and laughing and shaking my head when the latest report came online in my UK registration portal telling me the documents I’d already acquired needed to be reacquired, with no explanation as to why the previous version had been deemed insufficient. I was watching the ticks fade from the boxes, and it got to me.
My view of the world has always been one of hard work winning out. Not that every hard worker somehow becomes a millionaire, more that input results in an equal output. I had seen my parents work and save for their whole adult life, but the victories seemed to match up with the sacrifices they made. We had a home, and food, all the possessions we’d ever need, and the ability to go away in the summer and relax with family and friends. They worked, yes, but the payout of that hard work seemed justified.
For the first time in my life, hard-work added up to jack-shit.
But, slowly and resolutely, clinging more to an insane refusal to break than any real hope that I would achieve my original goal, I persevered, and eventually those boxes, now scarred and marked with repeated ticks, remained filled. It had taken sixteen months, a lot of money, and a huge chunk of my energy, but I finally only had one last box to check. Of course, it wasn’t this simple.
This last box cost money. A lot of money. I was to be tested, despite the testing that had already taken place when I completed all my placements, graduated from university, and successfully obtained, held, and was even promoted in my employment. I was to be held to their standards. This bothered me, mostly because I felt I had done more than could be reasonably asked from a person, but the logic of it was clear. What wasn’t clear was the obscure way they went about laying out the exam, feeding those to be examined scraps until the whole procedure became one stained with doubt and confusion, which led invariably to stress. This seemed so unnecessary, and not an accurate way to examine anyone. Shouldn’t we be taught first, and then be tested on what we’ve learnt? Instead, they seemed ready to test, and then tell you where you went wrong. This meant failing, and paying the huge sum of money just to find out one piece of information, one lesson, and then having to try, and pay, again. It seemed backwards, and horrible, and exactly like every other part of the registration process. I don’t know why I was still surprised at this point.
I sat the exam, and failed.
In the wound care station, I picked up a cotton ball from my sterile field with the same hand I used to clean the patient’s wound. It didn’t matter that I was wearing sterile gloves, that all those sterile gloves had touched was a sterile cotton ball soaked in sterile saline, I had reintroduced something into the sterile field that had left the sterile field, and this was deemed sufficient to endanger the patent’s wound to infection. While I can see the minute chance that this would have at creating an infection in a wound, and while I can agree that they should tell me not to do this in the future, it bothered me that this was enough for them to fail me. And by “bothered me,” I of course mean it almost brought me to tears of rage and utter frustration.
I had played their game, done the hard work, and this infinitesimally small excuse was enough to, once again, set me back.
Something changed inside me with this failure. I felt defeated. I felt that I had been beaten, and knew I couldn’t keep stepping back up and trying again because eventually I would go broke in the attempt. I knew what I had done wrong and would not make the same mistake twice, but part of me knew they’d just get me on another small hitch that would see me fail again and again.
Despite this, hanging onto the last threads of refusing to be broken, I signed up, paid the money, and rescheduled a resit of the exam. I didn’t think I could pass, but had come so far up the mountainside it seemed there was no way to go back down.
Ten days ago I resat the exam, and passed.
I was, unsurprisingly, pleased. Okay, I was fucking ecstatic. But also, more so, the dominating emotion was relief. Upon reading the email congratulating me, the weight and stress that had dragged at my shoulders for a year and a half suddenly lifted, and I could have collapsed as mental muscles released. It was done. I did it. I hadn’t been beaten.
And this seemed the greater accomplishment. Not the fact that I could now practice as a nurse again, not the easing of financial stress this fact resulted in, but that I hadn’t been broken. That I had kept scaling the mountain despite what felt like endless pitfalls and active opposition, and I achieved what I set out to do. That lesson, that reaffirmation of the belief that perseverance will win out, was the sweetest victory I took away in that moment. That was the win.
And it was communal win, because in no way did I accomplish it alone. Without my community around me, I would have buckled. I am infinitely grateful to all the people who supported me in my efforts to beat this beast. I have had nothing but support, encouragement, praise, assistance, and love from my friends and family. I am humbled by the people who have bothered to take the time to give me their time and kind words. That I have come this far is because they have held my hand and pulled me up each step of the way.
I have had countless conversations with friends about the madness of the registration procedure and they have all sympathised and empathised with me. My current housemates, Dom and Nikki, shared a lot of the same ill-logic England presented to me, and their mutual understanding helped tremendously.
My family supported me from the outset, knowing that a victory in this arena would ultimately mean time spent away from them. They didn’t hesitate for a moment in filling me with encouragement and pride.
My brother and best friend, Damian, for whom this absence would affect the most, actively bolstered my motivation every time it flagged. I lived with him and his girlfriend, and my friend, Holly, for six months before leaving Australia, and they patiently let me talk through every delay and frustration that tripped me up along the way.
And most recently, Alex, who showered me in unfailing love and support, and kept me together when the first failing of the exam threatened to have me fall to pieces. Her perspective of me gave me the drive to sit the exam again when my own perspective of myself left me devoid of incentive. Her own determination and tenacity is a constant inspiration, and I am blessed to have her in my life. I simply cannot thank her enough.
So this was a win. A win for me, and for my community. It took a lot from me, and scoured away some of the naive optimistic from my personality. It had me doubt my world-view, and face a society stripped of the beliefs I used to navigate life. But ultimately it proved that some things are true, and no matter how hard and exhausting the climb, it is possible to scale a mountain.
That persistence can win out.
Thank god it’s over.