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Volunteering at the U.S.-Mexico border helped a nurse find meaning in her work


Time for StoryCorps. Today, a story about rediscovering meaning in your work. Angelina McCall began her nursing career at an emergency room in Tucson, Ariz. It was 2020 at the height of COVID. She left that job about a year later and doubted whether she was cut out for nursing.

ANGELINA MCCALL: I was very embarrassed and ashamed. And I thought, OK, well, I can't work in the ER, but I am bilingual. I have a car. And I live right on the border. My mom is from Mexico. She's an immigrant. So I thought I can maybe help these migrants that are stuck at the border right now.

I applied for the volunteer position at a clinic, and when I got there, people were coming in for first aid. They have an injury in their foot, wound care, blister care, and they open up, and they tell me stories that are very difficult. There was one family that came in and the little girl was probably around 10, and the dad of the little girl starts to cry. And he's telling me that the reason why they left their home country was because there was someone who was trying to hurt his daughter, and he couldn't protect her down there. And I tell myself, OK, I'm going to let him know that he is in a safe place, that he is worthy of safety, love, compassion, and then be a nurse and help the young girl.

That little girl drew these pictures for me, and they express their love for me, a stranger. And at that point, I realized the one year that I struggled in the ER - as much as I feel like I failed, I am actually using the skills that I learned. Nursing is a beautiful thing. It can be amazing to be with someone during their worst situation. And I ask myself, why did I become a nurse? And it's to do this kind of work.

MARTÍNEZ: Angelina McCall with her husband, Matt, in Tucson, Ariz. Angelina decided not to leave nursing, and she still volunteers at the clinic on the border. Her interview is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Esther Honig