These days — what with down-sizing and right-sizing and lay-offs and deliberate career changes — you often hear about transferable skills. Those are the you-can-take-it-with-you things from one job that will be useful in another. I was meditating on the subject this evening as I milked the cow (meditation and milking frequently co-exist quite peacefully). It occurred to me that nurses and ranchers share quite a few qualities, characteristics, skills and traits. Among these:
• A tolerance for fecal material. Actually, a tolerance for body fluids in general. Placental fluid, blood and urine aren’t really any different (other than perhaps in quantity) whether you’re dealing with a laboring woman or a laboring cow. Nurses get used to dealing with people poop, which is good training for dealing with cow, horse, sheep and chicken poop. Although I must admit, nurses don’t usually get quite as excited over the possibility of using the stuff for fertilizer or treat it with quite the same enthusiasm as ranchers, who know where their soil’s next meal is coming from.
• The ability to juggle multiple tasks and demands. In the hospital, those demands tend to come from other people, while on the ranch they tend to come from animals and the land as well as other people. In one day, a rancher may need to prioritize among the irrigating, weeding the garden, moving the sheep to another pen, dealing with the horse that just cut itself on the barbed wire fence, unloading the hay, putting new straw in the milk cow’s pen and the usual daily work such as feeding the animals, milking the cow and collecting the eggs. Of course, if you’re the ranch wife, you’re also trying to fit child care, laundry, food preservation and meal preparation into that rotation (not housework, however — you only do that when you get a round tuit).
• The skill of choosing good footwear and appropriate clothing. Nurses, farmers and ranchers spend a lot of time on their feet. We don’t wear flip-flops. In the hospital, that’s a good way to get your foot run over by a hospital bed (and believe me, those things are heavy!). On the ranch, it’s an invitation for a horse or cow to step on you. We both need clothing that allows us to move freely and stand up to various stain-producing liquids (see #1 above). Not to mention, laundry is a major consideration. Protective gear is another angle for both. In health care, there are lots of nasty little bugs just waiting for a chance to glom onto the unsuspecting nurse. On the ranch, you need good rain wear, heavy chaps for horseshoeing or bucking hay and a welding helmet to be able to weld without going blind from the torch flame.
• Both must be able to work in a team. Moving a heavy, half-conscious patient attached to various tubes and other medical equipment isn’t much different from hoicking around the cow you just butchered and need to hang up so you can skin it. Both projects take several people, working in concert, with everybody paying attention, so no one gets hurt.
• A sense of humor. In a tense medical situation, a good laugh is as refreshing as a two-hour nap. On the ranch, it keeps you from beating your head against a fence post when the sheep suddenly can’t find the pen into which they’ve walked every night for the last five years.