Mentor, Mentor...Where Art Thou?: Newbie 101, Ground Zero

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    Newbie 101, Ground Zero


    Psychiatric nursing is unique and is a wonderful field of nursing. However, for the student nurse or for the new nurse entering the field, it may either cause much anxiety or alot of awe. Psychiatric nursing often presents its own unique challenges. This blog is to help prepare those who may have some concerns starting off.

    Many of us may had prior experience of someone close to us dealing with their own psychiatric issues. Many of us may have had psychiatric issues ourselves before walking into this field. As a result, this may often be our first contact with psychiatry, psychiatric nursing, or the issues concerning mental health. Regardless of the prior exposure, it is now time to tuck this away for awhile. It is time for learning new things or restructuring the old things as you become now that effective deliverer of care.

    Yes, prior experience is something you can use, maybe to pull from later...emphasis later...in assisting a patient. However, your prior experience, in and of itself, is not enough to make you a psychiatric nurse...not even a good one. If that is all one has to fall back upon as a primary knowledge base, it may even hinder the new nurse from growing. In and of itself, it may possibly even render one ineffective. The issue of co-dependency comes to mind when I speak of this. So, at this time as a new nurse, it is time to set one's educational sights forward, not backward. Your learning is to become proactive, not reactive. The focus needs to be on you in the present, not your past exposure.

    So, what should a student nurse or a new nurse in the field focus on? There is no pat answer for this. The answers are as sweeping as the field of psychiatric nursing is broad. However, how one is coming to be introduced into the field as a professional may provide a starting point. Are you a student? If you are a student, is this a field that you simply have an interest in or is it something you plan to enter? Or, are you here just for getting the grade and hope to get thru it in one piece? Are you a new nurse now entering the field? If so, your needs are similar but different. It doesn't really matter much if you are a brand spanking new nurse or a nurse with 15 years under your belt transferring from ICU to psych...this field is a new world with different expectations. So, the first step is coming to realize for yourself: how am I entering this field, what are my personal and learning needs, what do I want or need to accomplish, and what is at my disposal to accomplish this?

    After coming to realizing our starting point, the next step is to give yourself a break. You are learning. Many if not most psychiatric nurses that you will come in contact with realize this about you and are either very glad to assist you or very support of you in your growth. As a learner, ask questions...ask many questions. Believe me, for the most part, psychiatric nurses truly don't mind. In fact, they often want you to ask questions. Asking questions gets you answers. I truly cannot emphasize this enough. Beware of the student or new nurse who thinks that they know all the answers already, keeps silent, and asks little. If this is you, you need to change this. You don't know all the answers. You're not fooling anyone.

    The next thing is to pick a mentor on your floor/unit where you will be having your training. This could be the person assigned to you as a preceptor and/or someone else. Developing an attitude of hunger for this mentor's knowledge is beneficial. Observe this mentor in action....how he/she carries oneself with other colleagues and with patients. Pay attention to body language, eye contact, distance, and the use of voice and choice of words. Sometimes, the best examples are played right out there in front of us. Observe interaction...relating. Truly, interaction is but a dance. As a learner, you are paying attention to the steps and to the tempo. This will serve you well as you begin starting to observe patients...their dance...their tempo. It will also provide you later insight in how the milieu is coming along on the unit as your perspective broadens. It will also cue you in (when on your own) that intervention on your part (or by someone else) may be needed before a patient escalates. Deescalations are much easier when they are but a spark.

    The next thing is to absorb as much literature that you can handle. This field has been around for quite some time...there is good material out there for you to fill in these learning gaps. I call these gaps the technical things...like the psychiatric meds, the DSM nomenclature, policies, how to run a group, writing psychiatric nursing notes, et cetera. Again, while filling in these gaps, ask questions. Take notes. Explore the allnurses psychiatric nursing forum and ask questions there. The more concise the question, the better the answer.

    Have you noticed that I have said very little regarding patients and their issues at this point? There is a reason. When it comes to learning and starting off, you are only as good as your knowledge base. So, the focus needs to be on you. In psychiatric nursing, "not knowing" either will have you seeking further assistance or asking additional questions (the correct outcome) or will have you being detrimental to the patient (the incorrect outcome). When it comes to patients who may become violent or act out, "not knowing" can get you hurt (a very bad outcome). So, if you do not know...seek answers...ask...observe...get assistance...read...continue to learn as you grow into that professional psychiatric nurse. The process is never ending...even for the long term professional.

    At this point in time, you are at ground zero. Observation is your tool. Asking questions are your guide. Obtaining a mentor (or several) will provide you the support. Remember, all psychiatric nurses started at ground zero. You are not the first. Your job is to learn. And believe it or not, your patients that you come in contact with realize this too. And if they can give you a break, so can you.




    carterr, Meriwhen, MedChica, and 5 others like this.

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    About Thunderwolf

    From 'Where ever my coffee cup lands'; Joined Oct '04; Posts: 12,571; Likes: 3,211.

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    2 Comments so far...

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    i'd like to point out that we are ALWAYS learners, or we will never be effective human-beings. So often people who are actively working in the field do not take time to do research on the new information/research being done... this has led to horrendous difficulties within the field itself... (this also applies to psychiatrists who only learn about pharmaceuticals, and not the latest in treatment techniques/hearing patient long-term outcomes from all the various websites devoted to it, etc.) We are also so quick to "take the patient out of the equation of partnership in healthcare decisions", taking over their lives as well as their ability to continue working to survive in a meaningful way (the outcome of much psychiatric treatment), not to mention how we limit the poor patients by our use of "incurable" diagnoses (since when are we God?): by these actions patients "become their illnesses" because, after all, it is better to be "somewhere" than "nowhere"! We must continue learning! all the time looking deeply within ourselves: our motivations, the effects of our actions/words on our patients, the effects of the "power" we use to "control behaviors"--etc. We have done the damage to the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets carrying psych "labels": yes, we, ourselves are complicitous with it! We have taken away basic human dignity and re-inforced dependency--and sometimes even taken away the patients' very identity (if they had one to begin with)! Mea culpa; mea maxima culpa! What goes around, comes around! (as the old saying goes).
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    I am a nursing student just beginning my clinical rotation for mental health. I am grateful for the pearls of wisdom I have found within your blog and believe they will be very useful for my next 6 weeks. We have learned that you have to know one's self first, and it's good to hear that it is true and not just 'book information'. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!


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