Someone asked me once, “When did you know you wanted to be a nurse?” The day, the hour, the minute is memorable, as if it happened yesterday.

My mom was a registered nurse who worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift during a time when many mothers did not work outside the home. She began when my brother and I were little and I do not ever remember a time when she did not work. To me her job was one of excitement and glamour.

Each afternoon, I sat on the end of her bed while she got ready for work, our process always the same. She got us packed up for grandmom’s house, gathering up our toys and snacks, before she got herself ready. Then, she would sit on the bed and put on her spotless white pantyhose. Her white uniform was freshly ironed and spotless. She took great care in attaching her nursing school pin and name badge to her uniform. Her shoes were always polished — my father was responsible for this task — once a week. Her cap was starched and ironed, then carefully folded into a triangle with bobby pins to keep it in place. The last part of the process was a mist of Jean Nate perfume, one for me and one for her.

To me, she was a guardian, she looked like “the lady in white.” When I was younger, this routine never failed me, and it grounded our family. Everyone had a role. My dad oversaw the shoes and the cap. I believe he even did the laundry, including starching her uniform.

As I got older and entered grade school, our house was where the family came to recover after illnesses or injuries. I learned to be a caregiver from the best. Some might say being a caregiver was in my blood. So, for me the question is not when I knew, but rather was there ever a time that I did not want to be a nurse? No, I was called to nursing.

Twenty-one years ago, I left a busy medical surgical floor at Einstein Medical Center and entered a world that was both frightening and exciting when I became a neonatal intensive care nurse. I remember calling home about a month into my orientation, crying to my mom, that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. There was no way I was going to be able to be everything these families needed. I would never know enough to make a difference. She very eloquently told me to “stop it,” and reminded me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Fast forward to the present, I have held the hands of too many parents to count. I have cared for my staff like my family. We have now weathered a pandemic together.

I never thought I would be called to lead but my desire to care for patients, staff and family led me to this place. I am present in each moment. I have found that my passion is in creating that moment — no matter how small — that will make a difference for one person. While my lady in white has left this earth, I know that she is looking down on me, proud of the legacy she created.

Maryann Malloy is the nurse manager for the Departments of Neonatology and Labor and Delivery at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.