The Next Shift is a new series of stories written by experienced RNs to provide advice that can help guide the next generation of nurses. The series is presented by The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future.
I was not one of those little girls who grew up wanting to be a nurse. I had visions of being the next Laura Ingalls Wilder and writing to my hearts content. As fate would have it or should I say, as my mother would have it I went to college and majored in psychology. That first year of college felt like a waste of time; I was not excited about my course work.
I left college and later met a wonderful woman who introduced me to nursing. Her name was M. Grace Daniel and she was part of Project Hopes collaboration with the Navajo Tribe in northeastern Arizona to develop a nursing program on the reservation.
Grace nurtured and supported us, motivating us in a way that made us stronger, more confident. I realized my first year in nursing school that nursing was my calling and I could actually influence a persons life by assisting in the healing process. Grace also taught me that being a nurse opened up so many opportunities to be a role model to Native Americans in healthcare. I found I loved to teach both patients and new nurses and knew that I could make a difference. Not everyone gets to realize that dream.
About six years after graduating, I was working on the evening shift of the OB unit at Tuba City Indian Hospital on the Navajo reservation. One of our patients had delivered premature twins and the babies were flown out to the NICU of Tucson Medical Center. About two hours later, we got news the twins had died. How was I going to help this woman? When we finished delivering the terrible news, I stayed and sat by the bed. I cried along with her and held her hand. No verbal communication was necessary.
That was one of the first lessons I learned about being a nurse. First, you need to care and the rest will follow. Listen to the patients and families, laugh with a young child, be patient with an elder, cry with someone who has experienced loss. When you do this for your patients, you gain confidence in your role as a nurse with each experience. You gradually come to realize you are no longer as nervous as you once were when caring for complicated patients, that you can be confronted with any situation and can handle it well. Also, offering to help a young nurse can do wonders for your own spirit.
Being on an Indian reservation in the 80s meant you also were the housekeeper, the respiratory therapist and the unit secretary, because there was never enough ancillary staff. One night as another nurse and I were cleaning up after a delivery, she simply said, We had better hurry in case someone else comes in. But this made me realize that whatever came through those double doors, we could handle it and be confident in our abilities.
I encourage nurses to remain optimistic on their professional journey. You can be that nurse who shows she cares and can handle whatever comes through those doors.