We each have our own wisdom, every piece unique and precious, cultivated over personal time and experience. That’s what makes them pearls. These are some pearls of wisdom I would share with an aspiring nurse. I wonder, what would you say?
Dear Aspiring Nurse,
I’m so happy you’re here. You have your own gifts and talents to share with your patients and your team. Cultivate those gifts. Be kind to yourself. Remember your strengths.
Don’t judge yourself by your NCLEX performance. It’s OK if you needed to take it more than once (or more than three times). While a standardized test is the best way we know how to regulate who is awarded a nursing license, it is not a determining factor in whether or not you will be the greatest nurse on the planet. Once you’ve passed that test, celebrate all of the small things. Celebrate receiving your first license in the mail, your first work ID that says RN, your first patient that thanks you for taking good care.
Expect feedback. You can learn from it. Expect mistakes. You will forgive yourself and move on.
Stay informed. Know what’s going on in healthcare policy. Subscribe to a journal and read it. Or choose a topic that interests you and conduct some informal research. Think on a large scale. It will help you hone your craft.
Be vocal. If something’s wrong, say it. Write op-eds and letters to the editor. Submit your stories to nursing publications and healthcare blogs. Join a nursing organization and let them guide you on your path to becoming a nurse leader and advocate.
Take care of yourself. It cannot be said enough. If you don’t take care of yourself, how will you possibly take the best care of others? Learn self-care habits early on. It will save you from burnout and it will brighten your own light, allowing you to illuminate the world around you.
Read about some of the harder to teach aspects of nursing, including having difficult conversations and being comfortable around death and dying. This will only help decrease your anxieties by giving you tools to recognize and deal with challenging moments as they arise.
Don’t apologize too much. No beginning a phone call with “I’m sorry to bother you” when you must call a surgeon at 2 a.m. If your patient’s status requires that the surgeon be called, then the surgeon must be called. Or if you can’t pick up someone’s shift because your week has just been too hard, then you simply cannot.
Apologize when it counts. You will make mistakes. Some of them will involve patients, some will involve other coworkers. Tempers will get lost. One of those lost tempers might be yours. Admitting when you’ve done something wrong takes guts, feels good and helps foster mutual trust and respect.
Use the C words: Concern. Colleague. Consult.
“Concern” comes in handy when you disagree with a coworker, a physician, or a patient. “I’m concerned that … ” helps you frame a statement without attacking the other player. “Colleague” is a term used to refer to other members of the healthcare team, both within your discipline and across it. Just using the word “colleague” helps assert the professional standing you already have. “Consult” can serve as a more formal way of saying, “Let me check with a more senior nurse, or let me discuss with the resident.” Using the term “consult” is a way of communicating that you’d like to spend some time exploring an issue with other members of your team before making a decision. It’s also a comforting word to patients that enables you to maintain a level of trust with them, while still showing transparency that you don’t always have all of the answers.
Find a mentor. If you work with someone who you think of as a mentor, let them know. Ask if you can meet every once in a while. If your institution has a mentor program, and you’re placed with someone who isn’t compatible, that’s OK, too. Find someone else. Maybe your mentor isn’t in your workplace. Maybe she’s your mom’s friend who’s a nurse with 40 years of experience and who sends you the occasional encouraging email when you reach out. Keep looking until you find the mentor who will support you as you grow.
Never hesitate to see a mental health professional. Becoming a nurse is hard. It’s rigorous, it’s stressful and, at times, it’s downright scary. The process is harder for some than it is for others. Whether you have institutional support, a great preceptor, a wonderful mentor, or none of those, have a low threshold for seeking help from a mental health professional. You do not have to go through this alone.
And lastly, remember this journey. Because one day, it will seem so far away. But there will be a steady stream of nurses marching in your footsteps. And they will need you. Just as you need the nurses who’ve surrounded you, gently guiding you where you’ve needed to go.
Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN
P.S. Nursing is a profession built on mentorship. Formal or informal, through long heart-to-hearts or a few passing words of encouragement, nurse mentors are all around us. Nurse.com, in partnership with The Campaign for Nursing’s Future by Johnson & Johnson, wants to celebrate all of the ways that mentorship influences nurses each and every day.
That’s why we encourage you to submit your story to The Next Shift, a column, video or audio recording by you, which shines light on the beautiful mentoring relationships that can be found anywhere one might look. Submit your experience here. Tell us about a time that you mentored another or that a mentor influenced you. Add your voice to the string of wisdom pearls. Your story is important.