Advice to My Younger Self as a New Nurse: What I Know Now

I was recently thinking back on all the things I have learned over my past three and a half years as a nurse & it’s a lot. Most of it, I didn’t even learn in nursing school. In fact, most of it was learned in real life practice. Through my mistakes and successes, the good days and the bad, I became a nurse. 

I thought it would be interesting to write a blog post on advice that I wish I could tell myself as a new nurse, now that I know what it is like. Anyone who is a nurse (also applicable to several other professions) can attest that starting out as a brand new nurse is overwhelming, daunting and challenging. I remember knowing that I learned all of this information in school but it was so different trying to translate everything in practice somehow. It was like I had a big arrow pointed at me that said “NEWBIE NURSE” and I felt insecure in my abilities to be a nurse for a long time. It definitely took a while to become comfortable with my role and my knowledge, and to feel like I was a nurse, not just someone pretending to be one. I remember getting a lot of advice from fellow nurses and friends at the time about how to cope with this transition.

I wish I was able to give myself back then advice from myself now, knowing what I know now. I would tell myself that it is going to be okay- that you know what you are doing more than you think. That a gentle nurses touch can go a long way, and active listening can make any patient feel like a PERSON, not just a patient. That silence is sometimes a good and necessary thing. That your instinct is sometimes more powerful than anything you may have learned in a book, lecture or conference. And that you WILL grow as a nurse, it will become more natural, and you will be confident in your nursing abilities one day. That it is always okay to ask questions, no matter how stupid or crazy you think it is. No one is going to fault you for asking questions, seeking answers and furthering your education. That is the beauty of nursing, it can open many doors for you, if you let it.

I asked a bunch of my nurse friends and colleagues to help pitch in with their advice they would give their younger selves and the results were beyond amazing and powerful. Not only do I think they are a good guide for new nurses, but also serve to be true for any nurse, experienced or not.

Advice to your Younger Self as a Newer Nurse:

  • If you don’t know, just ASK. There’s no way anyone can possibly remember everything from nursing school- plus every hospital/unit is a little different. Also, don’t feel like an idiot for not knowing! “Veteran” nurses will be happy that you’re attempting to do things right. (I personally recommend complimenting them on how knowledgable they are before asking them my question- everyone loves a compliment!)
  • Asking questions does not make you dumb! Ask ask ask! Ask things you don’t know, ask things you think you may know but want a second opinion. Ask anyone. Ask doctors ask nurse practitioners ask respiratory therapists, physical therapists, anyone and everyone. The more you know, the more confident you will become.
  • Never stop asking questions!
  • Stay calm, think before you speak and listen!
  • If you’re unsure of something– seek out experienced nurse for some feedback and advice. No question is a dumb question.
  • Go with your gut… If you feel like something’s wrong with your patient there usually is. Nurses intuition is a real thing.
  • Join a military branch, become an officer with goal of retiring from the military. Excellent benefits for rest of life, health etc.
  • Nobody loves staying in the hospital so be extra sensitive to the emotional piece. Patients and families might not be themselves when they are flooded with worries/fears. Be kind, be understanding and you’ll be more resilient.
  • Listen. I mean, really listen. Hear what people are saying without the words. Everyone has a different story and you are only seeing a tiny snapshot of their life. Don’t judge. Instead listen. Listen to their bodies. Listen to their tone. Listen to their eyes and their face. They say so much more than what you ask.
  • Nursing gives you the opportunity to explore your interests, you can’t possibly have covered all the different types of patients to care for in nursing school (elderly, med surg, cardiac, cancer, pedi, mother baby, ICU, surgical,neurological) take a chance that something you haven’t experienced yet might be your true passion. And don’t be afraid to change it up and learn nursing in different settings, the hospital is not for everyone. Take advantage of the fact your license allows you to be a lifetime student, constantly learning.
  • Always remember you were once a student…so when you have an opportunity to mentor a new nurse…think of what your mentor did to help you…and do the same. Not only will you help someone else but you will grow in the process
  • After a few years of consulting – An easy one is to put your cell phones away. Be present. Make sure your attention is on the patient and your fellow staff members. Save the face-spacing to break time. Healthcare is personal, important and intimate, treat it that way.
  • Make a mental list of things you can “fix”and things you can’t! Some things can’t be fixed, and some things just shouldn’t be! Learning that lesson helped me prioritize my care and keep my sanity in the ICU. And advocate for your patients, even when it’s not easy to do so!
  • Never be afraid to ask questions… take those patients that scare you the most… be forgiving, 1) towards others, we haven’t walked in their shoes, no matter how much we THINK we know about them, and 2) towards yourself, cut yourself some slack, do your very best always, and if you weren’t as successful with something as you had hoped, scrutinize, learn, then move on. … and always listen to your gut!
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Nurse humor

What advice would you give to your younger self as a new nurse? Or what advice would you give to any new nurse?

xo

Hannah

(Special thank you to all you awesome nurse friends who posted  in response to my question-prompt on my facebook page that helped to contribute to this post! You know who you are!)

 

Masters of Science: I Did It!

It has been a crazy, wild, stressful two and a half years, but I am happy ecstatic to say that I am finally done with graduate school!

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Matt & I after the Ceremony. I am so lucky to have this great man in my life. 

School has always been important to me, so when I decided that I wanted to go back for my masters degree and was accepted, I was beyond thrilled. Looking back now, I kind of have to laugh, because I thought it was going to be fun, not-that-hard, and manageable with my work schedules. Boy was I wrong. Grad school is a different demon than nursing school– which says a lot because I don’t personally know too many people who openly admit that nursing school was a breeze. However, I will say that grad school made nursing school feel like a breeze after the fact…

Anyways, over the past two and a half years while I have attended grad school full-time I have:

  • Worked 5 different RN jobs, 2 of them travel positions (which were full time)
  • Broken my right ring finger/hand keeping me out of work for 8 weeks while on a travel contract
  • Had to cope with my younger sister being hospitalized and diagnosed with a serious autoimmune disease
  • Met the love of my life and best friend, and subsequently had to deal with a long distance relationship
  • Ran in 4 half marathons
  • Adopted a stray cat “Audrey” from the local animal shelter
  • Struggled with severe anxiety (yes severe, as in it affected my friendships/relationships/school/work)

 

This is probably not even an exhaustive list, but it helps to make my point. It was not an easy ride. There were so many times that I wanted to quit and  said ” I am done with this” or wondered why I was putting myself through this. Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I managed to do it, and graduate on time, but I did. It feels like the greatest accomplishment and it makes all those hard times even better.

I didn’t do it alone though. I could not have done it without the help from my family, especially my mother who believes in me with the entirety of her heart. I also owe a big shout out to my wonderful, handsome, supportive boyfriend Matt because he has had to deal with me during some of the darkest times of my life. He has been a huge supporter of me from day 1 and he has been there for the highs and lows, some of them not very pretty. How I didn’t scare him away is really beyond me- but that is another story.  I also couldn’t have done it without my professors and advisors who supported me on the way and served as mentors to me through and through. I remember when I broke my finger and I called the school of nursing at UVM and asked to take a leave of absence because I would have to be  in Boston for almost 2 more months than planned to finish out my work contract, which would overlap with one of the busiest semesters of school. Not long after I had called about taking a leave of absence, I received a phone call from my academic advisor and the director of the program I was in. I will never, ever forget this conversation. She took almost two hours out of her busy day and life to talk with me about all my possible options; about how I was doing, what I wanted to do, and most of all she reassured me that I could do this and that she would help me through it. She discouraged me from taking a leave of absence, but instead encouraged me to continue through at least part-time. She was honest, kind and helpful through my tear-filled phone conversations with her and we decided together that I would try to make this work out somehow. And guess what? I did. I did it all somehow, despite all the obstacles that were destined to drag me down. But like I said, I would never have been able to do it without the people in my corner- my professors, my family, my boyfriend, my co-workers.

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My mother and I. My rock, my number 1 supporter, my biggest cheerleader.  I wouldn’t be here today without her.

The one thing that I have heard the most recently is “I don’t know how you did it all”. Well, I don’t know either, I would like to say that I believed in myself, but honestly, at some points I really didn’t. But I didn’t want to give up just because things got hard. I have always been someone who is used to being busy or doing twenty million things at once, so I could do it right? Right. Did the last two and a half years challenge my sanity, patience, willpower and strength? Absolutely. Would I do it again and repeat all of this? Umm…Probably, because after all was said and done, it felt really amazing. It really felt like the biggest accomplishment of my life to date. Being able to walk on stage during the Hooding Ceremony to receive my Master’s of Science regalia with my family and loved ones watching was one of the happiest moments of my life. I am even smiling right now thinking about that moment.

Although I doubted myself at many times, I have realized that anything is possible when you put your heart and soul into it and when you have people that believe in you.  I am so blessed to have the opportunity to the education that I have been given and I am so grateful for every little bit of it, even the hard times. I have learned so much over the past two and a half years, but most importantly I have learned to believe in yourself- we are resilient and we can persevere so much more than we can imagine. Dreams really do come true.

Next up: I have to take my boards so that I can officially be a NURSE PRACTITIONER!!!! Watch out world, I am ready to do great things!

Thank you for reading & feel free to share any personal experiences with your schooling!

xo

Hannah

 

 

The Good Lie

Tonight I had the pleasure of watching Hollywood’s version of storytelling the tragedies and triumphs of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” in the 2014 film, “The Good Lie”. I must say that I initially had some hesitations, but was really impressed overall with the entirety of the film. The acting was on par (many of the actors are actually survivors of the refugee camps themselves), the storyline was genuine, and every minute of the movie tugged at my heartstrings.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”, I highly recommend doing some quick reading/research. It is a terribly depressing and horrific part of history, but it is also moving to see a group of people come together as “brothers”  to protect one another and simply try to survive despite the unfathomable terrors surrounding them.

The Lost Boys of Sudan were collectively given their name when roughly twenty-thousand displaced children and orphans trekked thousands of miles in the late 1980’s to seek refuge in a camp in Kakuma, Kenya after being ambushed in what was known as the Second Sudanese war.  I won’t get into too much of the history, because it is worth researching and educating yourself if you are interested.

Honestly, until a few years ago, I can say with one hundred percent certainty, that I knew nothing about this group of people, this war, this struggle and struggles similar to these. I know, how naive of me.  I grew up in a small, predominantly Caucasian town in Southern New Hampshire, and not to knock my school or education, but I do not remember learning about topics such as these. Yes, it is very depressing and upsetting to learn about what these people went through, lived through, died through, but it is real life. It puts things into perspective.

I first learned about this population a few years back during my junior/senior year of undergraduate school at the University of Vermont when some fellow classmates and I were assigned to put together an educational presentation to a group of resettled African refugees in our community- Association for Africans Ling in Vermont, (AALV).

What a lot of people don’t know (myself included prior to my education and time living here) is that teeny tiny Burlington, Vermont is a location that is part a national refugee resettlement program that houses those seeking refuge and asylum from their country of origin.  I can’t even begin to explain how foreign it must be to some of these people to come from living in a village in the deserts of Africa to living in subsidized housing in Burlington, Vermont- a place where people talk different, dress different, eat different , do everything different. I could continue to go on and on, but I digress. For anyone interested, I highly recommend doing some research and watching some documentaries and movies that touch upon this subject.

My personal favorite is a documentary from 2006 entitled “God Grew Tired of Us”.

Secondly, the movie I began speaking about at the beginning of this post, “The Good Lie” is an excellent (in my opinion) Hollywood redo per-say of the “God Grew Tired of Us” storyline.

I encourage you to learn more about this population- do some research, do some reading, watch these films, talk with these people if you have the opportunity. I work in Burlington, VT so a lot of the staff and patients at my job are immigrants and refugees and although we generally tend to think that they can learn a lot from us and our culture, we too can learn a lot from them if we open our hearts, minds and eyes.

The Good Lie