Students, it’s not all about you!
The most important lesson I learned in nursing school had nothing to do with any pathophysiology, procedure, or medication. I learned the lesson on my worst day of clinicals, but on the best day in hindsight. As students, we can sometimes feel self-focused on trying to prove what we know, but the most effective nursing care comes from remembering that it's not all about you.
I just graduated, so obviously I’m not in a position to give advice. But this is my biggest takeaway from nursing school, so I think it’s important for incoming students to hear this: it’s not all about you.
Let me explain.
My first hospital rotation was on an oncology floor. I answered a patient’s call light by myself. She asked if we had any extra tissues, I said yes, and as I turned to leave she said, “I just got a phone call from my mother’s nurse.” Her mother was in hospice care and the nurse had just told her that her mother was probably going to pass today and that she should come right over to the house.
The patient started to cry because she felt so guilty that she was stuck in the hospital with a complication from her lung cancer while her mother could pass at any moment. She started fumbling with legal papers that she still needed to fill out, looking up phone numbers, and she pulled on her IV lines. She wanted to leave, but knew she had to stay. She rambled between sharing her feelings of guilt to telling me about her mother when she was growing up.
Her emotions were spiraling. I froze, watching her from the doorway. What should I do? What should I say? Should I offer a tissue? Put my hand on her shoulder? Get her nurse?
We had just finished learning about therapeutic communication in school, and I desperately tried to remember the communication techniques and phrases we learned in class. Anything! But my mind was blank. Instead of listening to her, I was focusing on what I would say next. I was lost in my own thoughts.
The patient broke my internal debate about how I should respond by saying, “are you listening?” I wasn’t listening, but I lied and said yes. There is something about obvious lies, they’re obvious to everyone else. She stopped speaking, politely thanked me for my time, and said she just wanted to be alone now.
I had failed. I hated that I couldn’t remember any of the therapeutic communication techniques from class. Deflated, I slumped down in a chair at the nurse’s station. An older nurse came over and asked if I were ok. I explained the situation and said how bad I felt that I didn’t do better.
She was quiet for a bit and then said, “it sounds like you still haven’t learned the lesson. Instead of focusing on how bad you feel, think about how the patient feels. Caring for someone else is not all about you.”
I thought for a minute.
She was right. For at least this moment, all that mattered was her mother. The patient didn’t want me to solve her problems. There wasn’t a golden sentence that would make everything ok. She was alone in a hospital room, and wanted someone to listen and share this life event with her.
Students, there will come a time when you won’t know what to say, how to respond, or what to do. That’s ok. And when that happens, listen. Just listen, and I mean really listen. Let the patient speak, then there will be silence, still don’t speak, the patient will fill the silence and start speaking more. You’ll know when the patient has finished sharing and, if you truly listened, you’ll know what to say next.
With increasing scope of practice, technological advances, and changing hospital policies, the art of nursing can get muffled. But at its core, nursing lives in the beauty of raw human connections.
Put down your papers, stop thinking, and be present in the moment. And remember, caring for someone else is not all about you.
Good luck in nursing school.Last edit by traumaRUs on Dec 29, '16
About BslateRN, BSN, RN
Farmraised is a new graduate oncology nurse in Arizona. He is interested in pursuing research, focusing on communication techniques and family involvement for critically ill patients
From 'Scottsdale, AZ, USA'; Joined Jan '15; Posts: 60; Likes: 48.Dec 29, '16Love this! Well stated. It's about the patients. I have also learned something in nursing school as well. It is also not about all the competition or being better than your classmates. In the end it doesn't matter who is better. The patient is not going to give a damn who is better. All the patient needs is help and if we are bickering about a procedural problem then we are missing the point. Again nursing is about the whole patient. Patient centered care in my opinion is the best thing. It doesn't matter how much you know all that matters is provide the care that is needed and create that raw connection with the patient. You need to be working as a team to care for the patient. I noticed that when I was doing a bed change in my clinical I had one of my friends help me with it and literally it went smoother and faster. It wasn't about doing skills on my own anymore or thinking I was something special. It was about pure teamwork at its finest. Keep in mind that everyone matters on this earth even your fellow nurses and docs. Yes some people will drive us over the edge, but it doesn't mean we cannot work with them to care for someone in need.Last edit by al3x117 on Dec 29, '16Dec 29, '16Therapeutic communication you learned in school?
What about, "So how ya doing? What's going on?"Dec 30, '16This applies not just to students, but to seasoned nurses as well. There have been plenty of times when a patient has been talking about something personal and I find myself thinking about my next antibiotic being due, the call back from the doctor I haven't gotten, if my other patient is back from x-ray, etc.
I thought this was very beautifully written!Jan 2I love this!!! I feel like sometimes we focus so much on what to say or what not to say that we forget to be human, or why we even got into nursing in the first place. A lot of student nurses and seasoned nurses should read this. It isn't about us.Jan 4Working on a Psych unit, as a PCT, I definitely experience this all the time. I have found that everyone just wants to be treated as a person first and are typically appreciative of your time. This comes in handy when that particular patient is escalated for whatever reason and needs to be calmed down. It is very rewarding when a patient is very upset and you're the one that is able to comfort them when things aren't necessarily going their way. Great article!
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