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An Open Letter to a Former Nursing Professor

Students Article   (9,777 Views | 8 Replies | 1,355 Words)

FurBabyMom has 8 years experience as a MSN, RN .

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What to write a thank you note to nursing instructor?

We go to college for an education. At the time, sometimes we think it's mostly related to our degree and/or passing classes. Except, when the classes are over, we've graduated and become "Real Nurses" and worked on our own? Turns out, some of our educators did more than educate us about course content - whether we realized it or not then.

An Open Letter to a Former Nursing Professor

Dear Former Nursing Professor,

As a student, I had very little appreciation for you, your knowledge and methods outside of passing your class. I thought you were a meticulously difficult grader, impossible to reason with, and incapable of seeing the perspective of the student. You had a reputation as one of the strict ones, and I think you both deserved it and cultivated it. I valued what I got in lecture more than I'd admit to other classmates, but I didn't value it enough just then. The unique opportunities afforded me related to the institution I attended college at, as well as your connections and so on - I valued them enough at the time, but it wasn't really enough.

As a new grad waiting to take boards? I was more focused on applying for jobs and studying than anything else. I went on multiple interviews, studied some more and passed my boards the first time. I interviewed some more, and landed a new grad job. Then suddenly, I was moving to another state and busy with all of those things - the ones that go along with moving and new jobs. I was so busy learning how to sink or swim as a new nurse. I kept in touch with my friends the academic year behind me (the then senior class). Even when I returned, that first year, to visit friends who lived near school, I never stopped by school. I chose to keep in contact with a specific former clinical instructor, but otherwise, I didn't keep in touch, with any of my instructors.

During my first year in nursing, I had emergency surgery. I was alone, and my family was hours away from me. My family members were able to make it to where I was before I had surgery - because of my NPO status (I'd tried to eat before going to the ED, and it was not a life and death emergency). Being a patient was a humbling experience. Being a patient alone? Scary. Surgery was kind of scary - but I knew I needed it to get better. I spent the night (and much of the next day) in the hospital and I found myself critiquing the nurses who took care of me on days (and thinking things you said to our class).

Towards the end of my first year in nursing, I left that job for my current job which required another move, even further from where I went to college/nursing school. This move and job made it harder to keep in contact with folks from nursing school (the orientation for this job was especially demanding) and the added distance simply adds another dimension of difficulty. My communication with former classmates largely included social media and occasional text messages.

During a trip "back" to the same city/area I completed nursing school (about three years after graduation), I attended a nursing classmate's wedding. A third classmate of ours shared that you were sick and how serious it was. I contemplated emailing you and ultimately chose not to (it had never seemed like you liked me all that much). Not that you treated me poorly, but that you never seemed to like me that much. I see now, having helped to orient many new people to our department and helping to train residents? Some people you like more than others. It's just kind of a fact of life. I don't have to love everyone I work with all the time to make me a competent nurse and good "teacher".

After three years of practice plus some reflection and thought about what "next" for me professionally, I can see that there are definitely things you taught me that have been with me since I completed school. I've found myself thinking things you used to say. Just recently, I used an analogy you used to explain something to me, oh, at least 5 years ago in a sim lab class session to explain the same thing to someone newer than I. It took this reflection to see the correlation between the instructors and leaders I had in school and where I am today.

I see now how unique it is that I was able to spend time studying abroad during a traditional BSN program. More unique than that? That we got to participate in nursing specific things abroad. One coworker of mine with whom I was discussing experiences during nursing school was amazed I went abroad during nursing school. It truly was amazing. I did lose most of my holiday break related to study abroad, but it was an amazing experience I was privileged to have.

I'm really thankful you were so hard on us. There was no sugarcoating it then, and there really isn't in the workplace. That you took points off for any spelling and grammar despite how correct our message was. I'm thankful you made us present to classmates and/or other classes (and I HATE public speaking, still do, if you're wondering). The fact is, in the real world, nobody cares why you didn't spell something right (spelling can totally change the meaning of things), nobody cares what you meant when you incorrectly or inadequately document. 


Certainly, there were standards the program as a whole had, and many (most) of our instructors (classroom and clinical) held us to those standards. It was easier during school to get the clinical instructor, or small group facilitator/grader who was as permissive as possible with grading. But in the end it wouldn't actually make anything easier. I was fortunate to have several strict and demanding instructors early on, who set the expectation, instead of being faced with that at the end of senior year. Another instructor, from psych, made me learn to be assertive (I was not at the time, and really wasn't as a new grad, but now, I am much better). It made me better in the long run.

The lesson I've learned? You (as well as other instructors) had more of an impact on me than I imagined at the time. Also, I should have spoken up and emailed you. Worst that would have happened is me being ignored. Best? I would have been able to articulate how fortunate I was to have had you as an instructor, the impact you had. When it comes down to it, it's hard to choose one most influential instructor from my past. But I can more clearly see the direct correlation my instructors had on my development as a student and on my practice as a nurse, to this day. More importantly, this principle of speaking up and letting people know what they mean to me, is one I should apply to the other people in my life.

A couple of people that I'm still close to kept me (and others, classmates mostly) apprised of the situation and how you were, right up to and including when you passed. I said many prayers for you (and your family) during the time you were sick and dying. I'm sorry I never took the time to let you know the impact you had on me. I'm also thankful you are no longer suffering and are in a much better place. Rest in peace, you've earned it. I sincerely wish I had been able to attend your visitation and/or funeral to pay my respects. Unfortunately, living several states away and with my work (and call) schedule? I was unable to make that trip.

I can only hope you are aware, in some way, shape and form, of the things the nurses you helped educate are up to, even those of us who didn't directly keep in touch with you. I hope you'd be proud of the things we're up to. I think you would be, speaking for myself of course.

For now,

A Grateful Former Student

1 Follower; 1 Article; 25,316 Profile Views; 799 Posts

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No Stars In My Eyes has 43 years experience and specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN.

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I had a med-surg clinical instructor who made us all shake in our white shoes. We would not only learn the ideal/professional way to do things, but she'd also say, "Now, how are you going to accomplish this if you have nobody to help you?" She knew that once we were on the job, things would not always occur the way we had learned them in school. Priceless knowledge, that!

Because she 'scared us to death' in nursing school, when I got out into the real world, I wasn't afraid. I put myself into situations that would challenge me. I never would have been able to do that without having been under her often scary tutelage.

Don't have a clue to where she might be now, since it was well over 40 years ago I graduated.But there isn't a week that goes by that I don't offer up a prayer of thanks for having been one of her students.

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I posted this as an article once upon a time. This is partly why I teach. Thanks for recognizing it. 

You just never know when the stars will align and you'll hear, see, or do something that will determine the rest of your career. I had a moment like that on my very first first clinical day, the day a gifted teacher taught me to think like a nurse.

Who forgets the first day of clinical? Even if you've been a CNA or a candy-striper, getting up and putting on that spandy-new student nurse uniform and shoes, walking into the hospital, and meeting your new classmates on your first floor is ... .  

Oh, who are we kidding. Many of us don't remember a lot about our first days, really. Some had genuinely horrible experiences they laughed about later -- much later-- and most of us, meh, maybe not so much. But I did actually have a career-changing experience on my very first day of clinical, and if I haven't told you about it before, sit down a minute and indulge an old bat. It might surprise you. Heck, it surprises me even now. 

We were sophomores in college. We picked up our uniforms at the downtown store the week before, individually, sight unseen; we dressed in the dark, and self-consciously made our way by subway or bus to the big hospital, finding the right building, riding the dark and creaky elevator to the sixth floor. We were excited but scared, with the usual wondering whether this was really the good idea it seemed a year --or gosh, a week-- ago. We assembled in the hall in front of the nursing station and met our instructor for the first time. We exhaled a sigh of relief when she smiled kindly at us, noticing that we had sort of been holding our collective breaths. 

"Good morning. I am Mrs. Vartanian and I will be your clinical instructor on Colly Six." She read off our names alphabetically and peered at us over her glasses when we said, "Here" in small voices. She showed us the lay of the land and set us to passing out the breakfast trays, following up and down the halls looking for all the world like a big Rhode Island Red hen keeping an eye on eight chicks in the barnyard. After the trays went out she herded us all into the clean utility room. It was a cozy fit.  

She showed us where things were, pointing out the various shelves: cath kits, gloves, wound packing supplies, liters of solutions. Then she picked up a huge brown glass bottle labeled "STERILE APPLICATORS" and unscrewed its lid. Applicators, we saw, were sorta like Q-Tips, but 6" long ones with wooden stems, cotton end down. About about a hundred and fifty of them, about an inch down below the lip of the glass. "How would you get one of these out without contaminating the rest of them?" she said. 

Eyes looked rapidly right and left. Feet shuffled a little, quietly, those soft-soled so-white Nursemates. We had done a lab on sterile technique but this wasn't one of the things we practiced until our gloves were wringing wet inside. What to say? What if we get it wrong? What would happen to us? 

Finally one of us said, hesitantly, "Pick one out with sterile forceps?" Mrs. Vartanian smiled and said firmly, "Good. Who can think of another way?"  

Another way? What another way? We thought there was only one way to do any nursing task. Hadn't we just spent a week in lab getting each item on the check-off list perfect? But...she wanted us to think of another way. Slowly, we started thinking. "Sterile gloves?" "The sterile scissors in a suture kit?" "Try to tip one out onto a sterile field? Even if there was more than one?" And as each new answer came, she smiled and nodded.  

Standing in the middle of the group I felt a terrific idea forming. It give me goosebumps. We were free to think of different ways to do things, so long as we had a good rationale. No, that's not it: We had to think of different ways. Knowing the why of things, you know how to apply them. There can be another way. 

And so ever since that day I've looked for different ways to do things. When I was an ICU nurse I thought about the many physiological processes going on so I could choose a useful intervention. When I taught students I tried to explain things in several different ways, figuring each student would catch on to at least one of them. When I did case management I thought about the why and how of the challenges of explaining to employers and insurance adjusters.  

Now I'm in independent practice and I have different challenges. But you know, to this day it surprises me to feel goosebumps when I figure something out. I hear Mrs. Vartanian's voice just as it was that day, making me bold, defining my whole career in then-unknowable ways. "Who can think of another way?"

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TheBlackDogWaits has 2 years experience.

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GrnTea said:
I hear Mrs. Vartanian's voice just as it was that day, making me bold, defining my whole career in then-unknowable ways. "Who can think of another way?"

This is lovely..... Thank you for sharing 

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NurseSpeedy has 18 years experience as a ADN, LPN, RN.

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The instructor that I had for some lecture and all of my clinicals was absolutely awesome. She was terrifying in the field for us students but we learned from her. She had a two year nursing degree and worked in ICU prior to getting burned out. She wanted to teach but when she went back to get a four year degree the school told her she would have to take all of her courses over again and she didn't want to do that so she got a Bachelor's in Education and taught LPN school. This was an excellent combination because she had years experience in critical care yet had learned the best ways to TEACH it. I always enjoyed her lectures. She was almost 60 when I graduated and it's been a while. I don't know where she is now but I will always be thankful for the gift that she gave me with an excellent nursing education.

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labordude has 14 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in L&D, OBED, NICU, Lactation.

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Every year in October, I write a letter to my first clinical instructor ever. It was right around the 3rd or 4th day of clinical and she pulled me aside and was very clear to me that I should be looking at another profession. It took me a little bit to realize that I simply wasn't ready to be in the field as yet, but I don't believe she handled the situation very well. Now I write a letter to her every year and talk about my accomplishments. Every letter ends the same way in the words of the fantastic Toby Keith "How Do You Like Me Know?!" I actually do thank her for the harsh reality, but I internalized the motivation from the moment and well here we are with me being an excellent nurse.

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No Stars In My Eyes has 43 years experience and specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN.

1 Follower; 2,469 Posts; 44,127 Profile Views

I wish I could contact my former grade school principal and tell him he was 100% wrong-WRONG-WRONG in his opinion and assessment of me and my abilities and intelligence. I would like to give him a giant raspberry and make a very rude Italian gesture at him, telling him he was a complete schmuck, before I dropped my 4.0 school records on his desk and walked out the door, smiling.

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armymalenurse has 8 years experience and specializes in MED-SURG Certified.

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I wish I could tell one of my professors where I am today. She cried and told me to go home from clinicals after I documented in my notes and reported to the doctor that my patient refused his colace because he has been having diarrhea for the past two days. Before I left she told me that she feared I would kill a patient someday. Since graduation, I have taken care of many patients in many settings and as an NP student, I am poised to care for patients in a wider capacity. It's been 9 years and there are still times when I remember her words of discouragement.

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127 Posts; 2,700 Profile Views

Lovely article, and this former nursing professor really appreciates the words and the learning curve that motivated them!!

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