Words of wisdom for new nurses

Originally published on KevinMD

Welcome to the land of happiness, sadness, confusion, self-doubt, defeat and heroism. You have only just begun. This is not an easy job. And countless times you will say, “What was I thinking?” Or “Why did I do this?”

But it’s not really a job. It is a lifelong sentence. It can be insanely gratifying, or you can throw in the towel.

But be patient. It will consume you, and you will never be the person you once were prior to becoming a nurse.

My mother told me that I had to be a nurse. Back then, you did what mother said. I never wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to be a teacher or a journalist. But I did what mother said. I eventually grew into my nurse role. I went from psychiatry to ER to surgery/PACU, and finally landed in medical-surgical ICU. Almost 30 years of ICU.

1985 is when I graduated from nursing school. Computers were just becoming the new toy, and with the advancement of computers and technology, we still held onto archaic uniforms and traditions. Such as the nursing cap.

We were finally able to get rid of the dreadful nursing cap (thanks to women’s lib and sex-dress discrimination). I lost two years worth of salary increases because I was so against the nursing cap. The nursing cap that held onto thousands of microscopic germs. The nursing cap that got in the way with my patient care, the nursing cap that pronounced that I had to wear it because I did not have a penis. I finally threatened “sex-dress” discrimination, and I finally got my well-deserved raise, and never had to wear this appendage again.

I was absorbed in nursing. I loved the entire body and the vital organs malfunctioning and trying to figure out this puzzle of life. There were good times, and there were bad times.

These are my words of wisdom. My rules. Maybe this will help you absorb the rhyme and rhythm of nursing.

1. Stay alert, take a 30-minute break, take yourself to the bathroom, decompress. 12 hours is a very long day.

2. Be kind and gentle to all, from the janitor to the CEO to the poverty stricken homeless person. Treat everyone as an equal. There is no elite; there is no VIP unless everyone is a VIP.

3. Always keep your cup half-empty. I always thought the nurse that thought she knew everything was the most dangerous nurse. Medicine, cures, procedures, diagnosis and treatments are always changing. So keep your mind open.

4. Stay far away from the “bully trap.” The lateral violence. It’s not worth it, and you can be a part of ruining a person’s self-worth. Forever. Stay far away. Stand up to the bully, fight them off. Report them. Protect your fellow nurse and nursing staff.

5. Know your facts about your patient before you call an MD, PA or NP. Write down your problems.

6. Do not ever apologize to an MD for calling him or her about a patient that you need new orders for or you need to report a new condition in the patient. That is their job to assist you. You are the protector, the teacher, the nurse of your patients.

7. Chose your battles wisely. Managers can be wonderful, but they also can be a slippery slope. Chose your friends wisely also. Deception sadly comes in sheep clothing.

8. The worst shift can be the most wonderful shift if you engage, empower and help your fellow team. It is beyond any retirement gold watch you’ll ever receive when you have a good crew to work with and to depend on.

9. Watch out for burnout. That is the wonders of being a nurse. To go from psychiatry, ER, maternity nursing to newborn ICU, trauma ICU or neuro ICU to peace corps or travel nurse, to getting your BSN, or masters degree or doctorate to become an NP or an anesthetist: The world of nursing is wide open.

My bottom line to you all:

  • Keep your chin up, decompress, take a vacation, follow your heart.
  • Be kind to each other.
  • Respect one another. The old nurse and the new nurse.
  • No question is ever dumb.
  • Questions are good and much safer than not questioning and therefore potentially making a grave mistake.
  • Empower each other.

We’re all in this together. This circle of life. From birth to dying with dignity.

Focus, love, and empower.