A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Nursing Students

Nursing professionals often proclaim that nurses eat their own. Often this statement is said with such resignation that one would think nurses helpless in the advancement of their profession. Many people outside of the profession do not know how a nurse becomes a nurse. Yes, they attend classes, lots of difficult fast paced classes where the attrition rate is enormous. They also go to hospitals for "clinicals" to learn how to work with patients and view disease and healing first hand.

Inside the hospitals students are often treated like cheap labor by the staff nurses. They are frequently given the dirty, the foul and most nauseating work that must be done. Then the staff nurse goes on a long smoke break or gossips on the telephone. Nothing pisses me off more.

Every nurse, no matter how old and grey was once a nursing student. Nobody left the womb knowing this stuff, and they damned sure didn't learn it in kindergarten. When I am finished with my cases, I will sometimes cruise the floors looking for students. When I find one wondering what to do with a bedpan full of bloody crap, I show them. Then I locate their preceptor. I have absolutely no patience for this kind of abuse.

Nursing students are the future of nursing, and we all will be cared for by them if we last long enough. If we are to teach students to care, then we must first care for the students we teach. This is a simple notion totally lost on some of the asshats on the hospital floors. In medicine and nursing there is an idiom; See one, Do one, Teach one. This is not the same as Do one, Do another one, Watch your preceptor abandon you.

I will, about twice a year, have a class of students rotate through, to observe me work. Regardless of my case load and pace of operations, I take the time to educate. I try to involve the student in the process as much as possible, depending of course, on their level of learning.

I let students know it's OK to be queasy. We all were at one time. I let students know it's OK to want to run away, as long as you do not. I let students know it's OK to feel fear, to believe you are totally inadequate to the task at hand, as long as you step forward and learn how to accomplish the task. I let students know that nurses are not special, that we are not superhuman, that we have to learn and reaffirm our knowledge.....every day. It never stops.......Unless, of course, you are a know-it-all asshat who will never learn again.

We are all teachers. As nurses, we educate our patients whether we like it or not. We might educate them on taking charge of their health, or we might educate them that some nurses are rude, obnoxious and uncaring asses. When we have students on our units, we educate them as well. We teach them not only about our profession, but also how to teach others. If we do not teach them with our words and deeds, we will surely teach them with our attitudes of indifference.

So, if you are a nursing student, I apologize for the indifference and abuse you sometimes suffer from arrogant asses strutting around in scrubs. They may have a few letters behind their names and an ID tag on their shirt, but they are not what you have to become. They are not my colleagues, and they do not have to be yours. You are in charge of your destiny and the future of nursing. Learn all you can, and realize that the letters do not give you special powers. The knowledge and skills you acquire do. Those who would abuse you in clinicals are simply to insecure to teach you. They are the ones who retreated in their own clinicals, and they are retreating still.

If you are already a nurse, and if you have students aboard, make time for them. They are there for the same reasons you once were, because they give a damn about other people and they want to help them. I know you are busy. I know everything is late and falling apart. Teach them how to cope while making it better. Teach them how to be professional in the face of lunacy. Teach them how to teach. Teach them how to care. One day they will be caring for you, or someone you love.



Anonymous Dion said...

This is very sound advice. It applies to all aspects of life.
On the other end, ask questions, ask questions and ask questions. There really are no stupid questions.
Everyone has something to teach you. Some good some bad. You are the one who has tosort throught it all and use the good information and disgard the bad.

5:57 AM  
Blogger Mulliga said...

Holy schlamoly - even from my brief stint as a hospital volunteer, I recognize EXACTLY the stuck-up, unhelpful nurses you describe, and the students who "trained" under them. This is the kind of post that needs to be sent to every hospital and nursing school in the country.

11:09 AM  
Blogger JohnS said...

I must have lucked out - I saw that negative stereotype only once, at a SNF late in first year. 'Course, as a 50+ male, I think I was treated a bit differently than some of my 20-something female colleagues.

Nursing school, as prep for a second career, is very interesting.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Rabbit said...

This is one of my hot-button topics. I went through the nursing program at a major state university. Everyone knew that there was discrimination against 'non-traditional' students- if you were a straight white male, then you had a target on your back. I didn't see nearly so much of this in clinical settings, from the nurses, as much as I did from preceptors and faculty. This was a BSN program; I did notice that the ADN students from the community colleges did tend to have a little more scutwork pushed off on them by aides, but I never saw an ADN student dressed down in front of staff.

Nursing schools eat their progeny as well.


4:10 PM  
Anonymous eprn said...

I wish I had known you when I was a nursing student. It would've made the time more tolerable. Most of my preceptors were pretty good, although I did have a couple who were sociopaths. I wish they remembered that most students are there to learn how to manage this insane world that they've wound up in. Yes, there are some students who are "bad eggs," but most are good people simply looking to the staff for guidance and support.

I believe that might be one of the best posts you've ever written.

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Sans Authoritas said...

Phenomenal post, Xavier. Glad to see that humility still accompanies a man who's seen a lot.

If I may, I'd like to take the opportunity to remind everyone to treat those who (temporarily) occupy menial positions, such as waiters, customer service representatives, and store attendants, with the same respect that you would hope they would extend to you.

Remember: they carry what you are going to put in your mouth, they've got your credit card number, and proably know how to work the system. Not only does common courtesy dictate that you treat them with respect, but common sense demands it as well!

Thanks again for the wise post, Xavier.

8:44 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Good for you for showing a more sane approach to the young nurses you meet. How we carry ourselves through our daily tasks can have far-reaching effects like ripples in a pond. Thank goodness they are having exposure to a seasoned professional who still has the patience, humanity and meekness to actually care for patients. Bless you.

8:40 PM  
Anonymous gnholbrook said...


I knew from your very first post you are a searcher of values and a teacher of what you have learned. You can't be otherwise.

You would be a teacher if you were a plumber, a Japanese gardener, or a police officer.

+1 for all comments above. To sans authoritas: My dad told me much the same when I was starting out. "Son," he said, "treat everyone at the bottom of the rung the way you treat those at the top. You may be the assistant to the person at the bottom of the rung if you fall off the ladder."

That was sound business advice. It was, as it turned out, sound personal advice. I met a much better class of people.

Very best regards to all.

1:47 AM  
Blogger alpineman said...

Very timely, sir. I'll take this to the bank, since I start work with my preceptor in one week. My entire class needs to read this post, and I'll recommend that they do so.

7:42 PM  
Blogger NocturnalRN said...

AMEN. One hospital I worked at had a strict policy that no preceptee or student takes a step without their precepting nurse. The whole time. I mean minus the lunch/bathroom breaks. I think it works lots better this way. And then they have a "buddy nurse" to go to if they need help and they staffed appropriately to make this happpen. Great post and kudos to you for being one of the nice ones

8:51 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the insight.

I'm a 45 y/o student starting my third rotation in two weeks; it hasn't been as bad as I'd feared but it hasn't been skittles and beer either. I've been lucky though, most of my preceptors have been pretty damn good. With 25 years of IT behind me it takes a fair bit to get my goat.

The profession needs more people like you.

Kudos, sir.

Pete "SN" Camper

11:19 PM  
OpenID seedless-grapes said...

Thank you!

I am currently in my final year of nursing school, and have experienced just what you wrote about. While many nurses I've worked with have been extremely kind and informative, a few have been downright mean.

One nurse once loudly groaned when myself and a few other students stepped onto the floor for the first time. Others have told the aides to designate some of their workload to us. (Never mind that we are trying to learn the skills that the aides are not trained to perform.)

It's nice to see a nurse that recognizes what goes on!

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i want to hug you.
just starting my first round of clincals, and the comments made the first day on our unit, were horrible. they think we cant hear them? or they just...dont care.

:sigh: if only i could print your thoughts, this nursing students blog, and give each one a copy..

thank you!

11:39 PM  

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