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Nursing: “What you can’t prepare for”

If you’ve been in nursing for some time, I can assure you that your passion is not money, short workweeks or job security. People who enter the nursing profession for these reasons are quickly weeded out.

I spoke to two nurses the other day who were truly frustrated how their shifts had gone that day. Both were upset that the staffing was low and the patient count was higher than four people could take care of properly.

Were they angry because they had a job? No. Were they angry because they had to work that day? No. Were they frustrated because of the type of patients they had to care for that shift? No.

You’re going to be dealing with everything from florid psychosis to suicide attempts. One minute you could be changing someone’s bedpan, washing someone’s body or cleaning up the bodily fluids they excrete from any possible hole. My god, you have no idea how disgusting the human body can be until you practice nursing (I say that now, after having to take a guy to shower in the decontamination room and power wash his whole body because he had faeces caked on everywhere including where the sun doesn’t shine). You could have a patient so delusional that they call you ‘fox face’ because you look ‘sneaky’ or another with a septic delirium that says, “you are so sweet I want to chop your legs off and carry you around in a backpack.” You could be running around like a maniac making phone calls and scanning the hallways to see if the front page of a consent form had being dropped en route to surgery (only to find out it was a double sided page).

It can very often be hilarious, some of the things patients will say to you or the situations you find yourself in will stay with you forever. The sense of camaraderie among your colleagues is often much greater than any other industry.

Nursing ages you. And I don’t mean physically. You will emotionally mature way more than you expect. It was one of the biggest surprises to me when I started working. You are going to see horrific injuries, people dying, and people at their worst. You will watch someone die and be thinking of what you are going to have for dinner that night. You will make jokes on shift with your colleagues. It happens, it’s a coping mechanism.

Remember that every patient has a story. The sick or injured person in front of you, and the scared, worried family member who is with him, are not the whole person. You are seeing a small slice of them in time. They have been touched by something that is scary and uncomfortable or painful – and they have no control over what happens to them. Before this happened, and now, they have a life beyond this illness or injury. It’s especially important to keep this in mind with the most difficult of people. Though, you will begin to see patients as patients, not people. It happens, it’s a way of dealing with the situations. Don’t feel bad about it, just don’t let the patients see it.

The department you end up liking often depends on your personality. Different types of people like different units. Nursing makes you feel 100 different emotions, and that can all be in one shift! So you need to find something that suits you. For example, oncology & emergency are often suited to people who are introverted. You need to be task-oriented, independent, and diligent, preferring to work alone. While a critical care nurse needs to have a streak of independence.

To be a good graduate nurse you need to cut the arrogance. It can be a huge problem for nurses coming out of school. They are built up in nursing school where they tell you how awesome you are going to be and how good of a job you do. Story: I was training a new grad in the ED, level 1 trauma. It was busy. Things were going fine, but whenever I showed her something, her reply was “I know”. Don’t be that person. Take advantage of every opportunity to perform a procedure under the guidance of your instructor. There are never quite enough to go around and once you have been there for a few months, you’ll be on your own.

But what you don’t know, what you should, is that you need to be prepared for the dumb moments. Making a mistake in this career is not like any other. The repercussions of your actions are far worse and you need to know how you deal with failure.

There can be small-ish mistakes, like when an OB can make the call that your patient (an expectant first time mother) is to have a non emergent C-section later that night. During the wait time the patient’s glucose levels drop and so you offer them some jelly. During their fast time. How do you tell a mother who is about to burst that you have added another two hours to her operation time because of your stupid mistake. But then there can be BIG mistakes that can cost someone their life.

No one has ever told you that the job isn’t going emotionally draining, you go into work expecting that. So what I wish I knew… Well, I guess to be honest, I wish I knew more about myself than I had about the job before I started. I think I always knew how demanding it would be, everyone tells you it will be. I think I wish I had of known a little more about myself and how I would handle it.


Did you enjoy this? Read one nurse’s incredibly honest account of nursing in, HANG ON, THIS ISN’T SCRUBS?


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