No matter who we are or what career path we have chosen, becoming familiar with the role and its responsibility takes time. The difference in nursing versus another non-healthcare related career is that one mistake can cost a patient their life, so for us, the stakes are high. This pressure contributes to stress and fear, especially as new, inexperienced nurses enter the field. Thirty seven years of nursing has taught me many things in relation to the notion of confidence and competence and there are ways to ensure that you possess both. It has also been my experience that the most confident nurses may not be the most competent nurses and throughout my life I have met many individuals that seemed to be visions in their own minds that did not manifest itself in their performance. New and evolving nurses can improve their confidence and competence by thinking about the following strategies.
Realize That You Don’t Know It All
As unique individuals we are never going to know everything, yet at times we feel that it is important for us to achieve this. Adults vary in their degree of learning and abilities on tactical as well as didactic learning, coupled with interests in various topics that excite us. For instance, nurses that love trauma will work in emergency centers while nurses that enjoy caring at the end of life will enjoy hospice situations. There is no right or wrong, no better or worse, just different preferences. First of all, it is important to understand who you are, what you like to do and pursue areas of personal interest that will continue to pique your interest and your desire to learn in that area.
It is also important to realize that the volume of knowledge at our fingertips in the nursing profession is so vast that there is much to learn. Do not fall into the trap of “I know it all” because that may be just as dangerous as not knowing it all since you have decided that you no longer need to learn. Be open to the fact that there may be some things that you do not know and are willing to learn.
The Only Stupid Question is the One You Don’t Ask
This was a tough lesson for me to learn for personally because I always felt that asking questions made me look stupid in the eyes of others. Perhaps my upbringing by two school teachers created these expectations for me. It wasn’t until I was almost finished with my MBA (a very difficult degree for me) that I realized that it was important to ask questions and that other students in the class also appreciated it. Once I learned to ask the questions, everything I did seemed easier. Especially in the area of hospital administration, asking the important questions got me to the best decisions. So, ask the questions, you have a right to know the answers, and you are not going to be perceived as “stupid” by those around you.
It is also important to continually advance learning through reading your professional journals and looking for evidence for your practice through lifelong learning.
Establish Supportive Relationships
Healthcare is a team sport and no man is an island. We will achieve more as a team and more as an individual if we reach out to others. There are important relationships for any nurse developing confidence and competence to cultivate. Developing a strong relationship with educators and preceptors will provide you a great connection for learning. They are a wealth of knowledge and willing to share what they know with you. Even if you are not in any formal learning program, ask them for articles, suggestions to care and any questions that you may have.
Always develop a strong relationship with your manager and leadership team on your unit or in your area. I always suggest that you do this by first of all scheduling a formal meeting with your manger to get to know them, ask them what their expectations of you are and share with them what you may want to learn. If you are interested in leadership let them know that, if you want to be an educator some day let them know that. Remember that your leaders can be the key to your future growth and development and not many people feel comfortable accessing them. Whenever anyone asked me for help I did what I could do to get them the exposure and learning they were looking for.
Whether you are a new or experienced nurse, there is always going to be those days when you need help to get your work done. It may be a tough assignment, changes in patient condition or the fact that you may not feel well which is making the physical work difficult at this time. If you find yourself in this position it is not that you are a failure and cannot get your work done. Everyone has experiences like this and rather than putting your patients at risk, ask for help. Also remember to help others that need it so that you reciprocate this service.
Take Time to Reflect
Lastly, the most effective individuals are those who have a great degree of emotional intelligence and the ability to reflect and identify areas of potential personal growth. Once you identify these areas, whether it is learning, controlling your feelings or managing your behaviors, you can create a successful roadmap for your success. Life is a journey but we have a tendency to think it is a destination. The challenge and reward is in the journey forward so take time to enjoy the ride!
About the Author: Dr. Val Gokenbach has a true passion for leadership and has been in administrative healthcare positions for over thirty years. As a professional dancer and fitness instructor for over 40 years, Val has led a dual life as a fitness presenter, consultant and dance instructor. She has been featured as a health consultant and guest host on multiple TV shows and QVC. As an international speaker and author, her goal is to share her life's philosophy with all nurses and help them realize their value to the world.
Click here to read more articles in the Surviving Modern Healthcare series by Dr. Val Gokenbach.
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