By Stacey Northcutt, BSN, RN, PHN, CCHP
In my very early days in nursing school I heard a fellow nursing student ask a nursing instructor, “Is it true that nurses eat their young?” I wondered what the profession had in store for me. I quickly learned that, yes, nursing students are often ignored, not acknowledged, not included and not nurtured or embraced by experienced nurses. At best, a large majority of nurses in the clinical setting were not helpful to me and went out of their way to make mine and many other students’ learning experience as anxiety producing as possible. Because of these experiences early on, I decided as a new nurse I would be kind and set an example, far different from the ones I had.
Fast forward 25 years. I am now a program manager — a leader. When I ask students how their other clinical experiences have been at previous clinical sites, I learned they all have had at least one negative encounter. I show them empathy and reassure them that we value students having a positive clinical experience. My advice to them is to remember times they may not have been treated well and to help break the cycle of being unkind; to be a positive example of how to treat students.
I make sure all students are greeted, given a tour of the units, introduced to all staff, encouraged to ask questions and told in front of staff “we welcome students here.” I openly discuss my experience as a student those many years ago and clearly set the expectation with staff that nursing students on our unit will be provided with an environment that is supportive, encourages and engages them in learning, and provides a positive experience.
During the events of 9/11 and following, the news frequently showed police and firefighters talking about their “brothers and sisters” within their professions. It made me think, “Why aren’t nurses united, and why don’t we refer to one another as brothers and sisters? After all, we are a huge workforce. Why are we not, as a profession, more empathetic to students who are the future of nursing? Why have we allowed unkindness to exist as part of the profession’s rite of passage?” My goal is to do my part to make our profession more united, and you can do the same.
You can start by greeting new students, making eye contact, shaking their hands and introducing yourself. Introduce the students to other staff members, tell students you are glad to have them and pair them up with a staff member. Nurses also can offer to be a resource during their rotation and check in with them from time to time to see if they have questions. They also would appreciate if you include them in unit activities and share your own student experiences, both positive and negative.
It is my hope the students I encounter will carry on the kindness they have received, be leaders, question the status quo and help create a much needed brotherhood and sisterhood within our profession.
Stacey Northcutt, BSN, RN, PHN, CCHP, is a program manager for Juvenile Health Services at OC Health Care Agency, Orange, Calif.
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