I’ve been in my nursing career for 23 years. Theories have come and gone. I’ve caused a lot of pain and hopefully relieved a little bit more.
I couldn’t help but get better at what I do (that says more about me as a new nurse than my abilities today). At first, I had to think hard about every step of each procedure like a new driver struggling to shift gears without stalling in the intersection.
Now, I’ve got nursing skills. With repetition and time came expertise. Daunting tasks became second nature. What once required intense concentration now flows from muscle memory. Like that experienced driver concentrating on the traffic instead of his car, a lot of what I do happens on a level below conscious thought, giving me a chance to observe, anticipate and avoid potential problems.
Experience brings more gifts: tact, know-how, acceptance and wisdom. We’ve grown.
Some of us experienced (never say old) nurses watch the flock of new nurses entering their nursing career, full of courage and fear. They remind us of our younger selves and we shake our heads and think, “If I knew then what I know now.”
Having that hard-earned wisdom and skill at our fingertips would have been beyond wonderful.
But turn that thought around. Of course, experienced nurses have much to share. But what have we forgotten or lost over the years that the young ones still know?
Do they have something to teach us?
If I could know now what I knew then...
What do they know that I can’t remember?
This is an adventure.
I remember how excited I was walking into the unit the first time in my brand new nursing scrubs thinking that someday I’d participate in saving somebody’s life. I don’t think like that anymore. Maybe I should.
I have something to offer.
Turned out that in researching all those papers in school, I’d read some recent studies that had bearing on our nursing career. The nurses, busy with the demands of family, shift-work and the like, had trouble keeping up with the literature. As long as I listened first and didn’t overdo it, my comments were well received. In my down-time now, I can ask the recent graduates for their take on things. I might learn something.
It’s okay to ask questions.
As a beginner, I felt very free to ask questions. In fact, it was practically my job. Over the years, I’ve started to censor myself, feeling a little embarrassed when I don’t know anything. Intending to look it up later rarely works. Forget my pride, it’s better to look foolish than to be stupid – I’m going to ask some questions.
I have a lot to learn.
New nurses know this well. Heads full of book knowledge and never enough clinical experience; they realize they don’t know it all. After more than a few years on their nursing job, it’s easy to think you’ve got this down. Seen it. Done it. Bought the shirt.
Watch out. Confidence can turn into pride and we all know what comes after that. Humility and caution are valuable traits in nurses at any level.
Caring costs – but it’s worth it.
Some of my most significant experiences as a nurse happened in the first few years. I don’t know if it was because everything was fresh and new or because I was.
Over the years, I’ve learned to protect myself, sometimes erecting barriers between myself and my patients. Recently, I watched a young nurse care for the family of a dying infant with love, grace and, yes, sorrow. Her transparency and vulnerability touched that family deeply. She carried them with her compassion. I know she was nervous. She said so. This was her first time. She wasn’t sure of every procedure but no matter – more experienced staff helped her and answered her questions. Here’s what she did - she offered herself to that family. It was what she had and it was what they needed. She was present with them in this darkest of times. And they knew she cared.
We need nurses like that. Old nurses, new nurses - not just numbers to staff our organizations but educated human beings dedicated to the art of caring. Let’s take a few minutes to go back to where each of us started in our nursing career. Let’s remember these things we knew at the beginning, before we learned everything else. We’ll be better for it.
Nurses, please leave a comment below to share your thoughts on this article!