I have practiced nursing for 43 years. Being able to work in many different settings with so many different patients is one of the greatest benefits of our profession. I started as an LVN in the emergency room, continued my education to become a staff RN and then eventually served as a director. I have worked in various outpatient areas, a diabetes center, oncology, pre-op, PACU and the GI lab, which helped me become a well-rounded, knowledgeable nurse. I hope the following tips will help you survive — and thrive — in this profession, just as I did.
You have options — take advantage of them
If you are like me, you will remain a nurse your whole life; it will be your passion as well as a door to a world of possibilities. The first specialty you choose may not be your last, nor should it be. Try not to stay in the same area at the same place of employment for more than five years. Broaden your horizons. Be open to change.
Be adventurous and try several healthcare settings over the course of your career, such as working in inpatient and outpatient care, in a physician’s office or in education. Legal nurse consulting, home healthcare and insurance examiner are just a few roles you may want to look into. Currently, I work in quality improvement, and I pull from all of my past nursing experiences to fulfill my job responsibilities. The knowledge you acquire at each position can benefit you in the next one.
Take advantage of every experience that comes your way. It will increase the depth of understanding you have for your patients — where they come from and how to meet their needs. If there is a certification in your field, pursue it. It shows your dedication to and expertise in that area of nursing.
Prioritize self-care, professionalism
Before you can take care of others, you must take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, exercise and stay away from all things that are not good for you, including toxic people. Toxic individuals will drain you of your positive energies and can detrimentally affect your nursing care.
Dress appropriately for your profession, but make sure you’re also comfortable. Wear the right shoes and support hose. Your legs and feet will thank you. And wash your hands — a lot.
Don’t work every extra shift your management team offers. Use your off-duty time to de-stress and relax.
Don’t expect to learn everything right away. You learn the basics in the beginning, and every day after that you will learn something new about the profession in general and nursing care.
Network with senior nurses and learn from them. Ask for their help and guidance. They’re the best sources for all things nursing.
First things first
Never forget that the patient is your first responsibility. They trust you to keep them from harm. They also hope that you will not judge them, as you have not walked in their shoes. Be positive, sincere, honest and gentle with them and anyone else you encounter, for that matter. Smile. Address patients by their names.
What nursing wisdom can you share with me? I’d love to hear it. We can always learn from each other, no matter our age or our years of experience.
Susan M. Sommers, MBA, RN, HACP, CPHQ, is a performance improvement specialist at Desert Regional Medical Center, Palm Springs, Calif.
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