What is a nurse?

by | Jun 6, 2016 | Reflection, Stories

What follows is a tribute to my right hand, Pam Scoggins RN, who worked by my side for 27 and a half years, upon her retirement:

What is a Nurse?

The origin of the word “NURSE” is traced back through the 14th and 15th centuries as a Middle English variant of the Old French word norice, from the Latin nutricia, the noun form of nutricius, which found its way down to the Old English nursh, which was a reduced form of the word nourish, only changed to the noun form.

I am compelled to explain this because I am a doctor, derived from the Middle English and Anglo-French docto, derived also from the Latin docere: to TEACH. So listen well and learn. There WILL be a quiz at the end.

What is the dictionary definition of the word, nurse? Let’s start with the most precise synonym in the English language for the word nurse: Pam Scoggins.

It’s true! In both its noun and verb forms, the word, nurse, means Pam.


1) a person formally educated and trained in the care of the sick, the infirm; this, of course, is Pam…

From the first second she occupied a place by my side I can never recall ever teaching her what to do. She was well-trained and accomplished and, even if she had a doubt about how to do something, I never knew it; she figured it out. She was and is, simply, the BEST.

2) a woman who has the general care of a child or children; as in a “dry nurse”.


This is a rather quaint definition to which those of us who, like Pam, have been “Downton Abbey” fans, have lately been re-introduced. Her tender touch with children is the stuff of legend among my own kids. I might say that she cared for my children even by proxy, dispatching her daughters for baby-sitting on so many occasions and for extended periods. They are family.




3) a woman employed to suckle an infant; a “wet nurse”.


Though I sincerely doubt Pam was ever employed in this capacity, one can only envision the loving tender and intimate care this embodies … this, of course, is PAM.


4) a worker that attends the young in a colony of social insects…

While this definition of nurse, might more properly apply to another member of our previous company,  Ann. She herself, as former office manager, daily tended to the colony that was this office over many, many years (even if that colony could become fire ants). But there are features of the nurse ant that Pam Scoggins embodies: I refer you to Proverbs 6:6 that pictures the ant as tirelessly working. Nothing could stop Pam. She came in and stayed on days that she should best have spent nursing herself in bed. She never, never, complained. Even when arthritic issues caused her to fall in the office, she grudgingly allowed us to pick her up, apologized – for heaven’s sake! –  and went back to work. The nurse insect gives its very health and life for the others. That is Pam


Here I am compelled to eliminate two dictionary verb uses of “nurse”. One definition has to do with the technique of finessing a cue ball into the right position in the game of pool or billiards. I must leave that one off the table.

The other is that Pam Scoggins never ever “nursed” a grudge.

So, moving on…


5) to tend or minister to in sickness, infirmity, etc., to try to cure an ailment.


Could this be any more Pam? I’ve said before that she can sooth with her hands, comfort with her voice, heal with her kind demeanor. It is supernatural. Can I say enough about the countless conversations we who worked with her have all witnessed as she speaks with endless patience and compassion to a hurting, confused, or especially irate patient. She never raises her voice. Never wavers from a kind or conciliatory tone. Again. Supernatural. Whenever I would do an uncomfortable procedure on man, woman, or especially a child, having Pam holding a hand or stroking a brow, or giving me unspoken signals by eye expression or body language, she guided me in what to do. Her touch, her kindness, her ministrations to all who came for care were continually sought after by all.





6) to look after carefully so as to promote growth, development, etc.;foster;   cherish; to treat or handle with adroit care.

Let me say something about Pam as a wife and mother. Lee, her husband, has a partner truly given by the Lord. Their care for each other is mutual. And together they have fostered and promoted growth and development in three wonderful children. They will leave a legacy of love and ministry to, I should say, thousands of people in their son, with and near whom in Memphis they will soon live. He has a lovely family and is Regional Director of Young Life, an international ministry to high school students. I must say that this ministry had no little impact on my own life when I was a teenager. And through their eldest daughter, who, with her husband has taken on the Herculean task of spreading the Gospel to the Muslim community in London, England for many years. And through their youngest daughter, who as an accomplished graduate degree speech pathologist, has used her caring gifts, acquired from her mother, to be a healer to others.

And Pam, more than once, though she may not have known it, cherished, fostered my growth, treated with adroit care, and, yes, healed me. During tiring days and weeks and through difficult years, her presence was a balm and a blessing. She is my dear sister in Christ and I love her.

And of late, there is a constant question out of patients’ mouths on those days now that Pam is not seen at her usual post at her desk (where she was always observed, no doubt, healing someone over the phone). Even before, “HI DOC!” I hear: “Where’s Pam?”

There will always be a void that cannot be filled after her retirement.



I am petitioning the publishers of Roget’s Thesaurus to add to the list of synonyms of “nurse”…. to the top of said list:

Pam Scoggins.