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.
The morning of my first nursing job, I ceremoniously tossed my white school uniform in the trash, donned my new blue scrub set (the one I was convinced made me look like a real nurse) and set out to save the world. What followed, however, was not the television glamour of nursing I had envisioned, but an eye-opening orientation that helped me see nursing in its true light.
On my first day I discovered I had been assigned the tough-as-nails preceptor who intimidated even seasoned RNs. I could almost hear the telepathic snickers and comments such as, Shes a goner, from the other nurses as I followed my mentor down the hall. But Im a fighter, so I buoyed myself up by remembering the confidence I felt at graduation. I had this nursing thing down. Yet, each day brought experiences I hadnt encountered before, and over time, I began to feel frustrated. With so much to learn and a clearer picture of my enormous responsibility, I began to question my ability to succeed in nursing.
One day my assignment brought me to the room of a patient who needed his colostomy bag changed. I had never changed one before and was irritated with myself for not having mastered yet another skill. My preceptor advised me to watch as she performed the task. I stood against the wall wearing my shiny RN badge and favorite scrubs feeling absolutely useless.Christine Shultz, RN
Thats when I first saw him; the man in the bed. He looked frightened. And for a moment, I stopped thinking about my fears and expectations. I moved toward him and smiled. We talked about the weather, the pictures he had on his bedside table, and the scribbled crayon drawing from his 2-year-old grandchild taped to the wall. We joked about the hospital food. When my preceptor finished changing the colostomy, we left the room.
In the hall, she pulled me to the side. The expression on her face said what I already knew. I had failed. I began to cry.
Do you have any idea what the real medicine of nursing is? she asked. I didnt answer, knowing I had no business pretending I knew anything about nursing anymore.
So you dont know how to do the technical stuff, yet, she said. So what? Thatll come with time. Its only 10% of the medicine. Youve got 90% of it down already. The medicine of nursing isnt in the mechanics of changing a colostomy bag or operating an IV pump. The true medicine is in the interaction between you and the patient, the smile on your face, the gentle touch of your hand, words of comfort, just being there. Then she gave me a once over and added, But your new scrub uniform doesnt hurt.
Through glassy eyes, I thought I caught a glimpse of a half smile but dont quote me.
Her answer affected me like a candle in a darkened room. I feel I havent given her words the regard they deserve. What I learned that day didnt make the hard work go away. And after almost 15 years, I still dont have all the answers. But my perspective changed. Nursing has never been just a job. It is entwined in the values of empathy and respect, and the connections we make with our patients. And its in this light that I press forward in nursing. Of course, being able to wear the professional scrub uniform doesnt hurt.