Nurse Educator Chronicles: Gladys

Gladys* was a senior nursing student, in her fourth semester (out of five) in the rough and tough ADN program. She was very insecure and it showed in her demeanor. She had self-esteem issues and sometimes came across as “goofy.” She was middle-aged and morbidly obese, with an awkward air, and was clumsy. She had a loud, booming voice with a thick country accent and her speech was littered with poor grammar. Her grades were mediocre and she just managed to “squeak by” with a low C each semester. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

Nurse Educator Chronicles: Gladys

Some of the other instructors did not like Gladys. They did not feel she would make a good-quality nurse and they wanted to weed her out of the program.

The opportunity came for one of the instructors during a clinical with Gladys on a specialty unit. The instructor wrote up Gladys for behaving "unprofessionally" and for having difficulty with a lab draw procedure. The more this instructor "rode" Gladys, the more her insecurity grew and the worse her performance became in clinical, a vicious cycle. This instructor meticulously documented each of Gladys' clinical shortcomings. By the time Gladys came to me (during the second half of the semester), she was failing clinical.

Now it was my turn with Gladys. It would be up to me to make the judgment call as to whether Gladys passed or failed clinical that semester. If she failed clinical, she would be out of the program, with the possibility of re-entering one year later. I did not feel comfortable being placed in this position. Gladys would need to perform superlatively during my six-week rotation in order to overcome all the "black marks" from the previous six weeks and to earn enough points to pass.

The first clinical day during the second half of the rotation, Gladys had a "deer in the headlight" look. She seemed terrified and was almost shaking. To alleviate her anxiety, I quietly took her aside and gently spoke to her. I told her, "You're in my clinical now. I am not Mrs. ___. I make up my own mind about students and am not swayed by prior negative reports. You need to put the bad experiences of the past six weeks out of your mind and start anew today." With that soothing overture, she seemed to immediately calm down. I then gently probed, "What can I do to help you succeed?"

The transformation in Gladys from that point on was amazing. She went from being a nervous wreck to a much more confident and competent student. I allowed her space, but kept a watchful eye on her from a nonthreatening distance. I complimented her on positives. I sought her input about her preferences concerning patient assignments and procedures she would like to perform. She came to clinical prepared and her performance on the unit truly was superlative. In fact, patients and staff alike remarked about Gladys' high quality care. She received many compliments on the floor.

Gladys passed the semester and six months later, graduated from the program. After that, I lost track of Gladys.

Fast track six years later. My husband and I are eating lunch in a restaurant in a neighboring town. I suddenly hear a familiar booming voice from the past, calling out my name. It is Gladys! She relates to me about her satisfying career as a corrections nurse. She also appears much slimmer. She states she has lost over 60 pounds since her recent gastric bypass surgery. She seems very happy with her life.

This goes to show, that as nursing instructors, sometimes students can surprise us. Gladys, contrary to all the negative expectations, went on to become a successful nurse working in corrections, which is a very challenging practice area. Gladys is now a contributing and functioning member of society. We have to be careful not to judge from the outward appearance, but to allow the true human potential to shine through.

* Name changed

VickyRN, PhD, RN, is a certified nurse educator (NLN) and certified gerontology nurse (ANCC). Her research interests include: the special health and social needs of the vulnerable older adult population; registered nurse staffing and resident outcomes in intermediate care nursing facilities; and, innovations in avoiding institutionalization of frail elderly clients by providing long-term care services and supports in the community. She is a Professor in a large baccalaureate nursing program in North Carolina.

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Such a beautiful story and compassionate act of kindness!

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

Every nursing student should be lucky enough to have an instructor like you. :redbeathe

Specializes in Programming / Strategist for allnurses.

I love this story!

I had a few teachers go out of their way to help me in a similar way (elementary/intermediate school).

My family came from Puerto Rico in 71. We were a poor family. My parents only spoke Spanish; didn't have an education; and, worked all day long. I was the oldest out of 3 siblings.

I was very smart, artistic, and curious with everything but my lack of access to resources often meant that I couldn't do assignments properly. One day in 4th grade, a report was due - I had nothing to turn in. My teacher, Mr. Figgs (now Dr Figgs), took me into another room and asked me why I didn't turn my report in. I looked at him and began crying. I told him that I didn't have a library card nor did I have access to the library (parents worked).

The weekend following that day he visited my house spoke to my mother and off we went to the library. I would never forget this day. I still remember looking back at my mom - smiling while I got into my teacher's car. That day I got my library card and learned everything that I can about our local library. I handed in my report and got an A+.

Because of him and others just like him, I became the person that I am today. I think about these teachers often and am totally grateful that they were in my life.

Vicky, thank you for sharing this personal story. I love it and it's bringing back some great memories.

Specializes in Psychiatry (PMHNP), Family (FNP).

Great story. Very helpful to keep this in mind when teaching/mentoring students. Thanks for writing up this excellent example of "enlightened" education! :specs:

You're the kind of teacher who really allows students to succeed, and I'm so grateful to have people like you out there!

While I was doing my care aid course, our regular teacher had to leave halfway through the semester due to an injury and we were left with (sorry to say this, it's terrible but everyone in class agreed with me) a sort of "bottom-of-the-barrel" nurse who was not a teacher before and who probably shouldn't have even been a nurse. Her and I got along just fine during the theory of the course but when we arrived in clinical, but when we got out to the care homes, for whatever reason she *went after me* like a freaking shark! Everything I did was wrong. After a couple of weeks she threatened to fail me, and I called up the program coordinator to ask if she could do that this early in the practicum. Well he came in to talk to her, because she wasn't allowed to do that and threatening such a thing really does damage to a student's confidence. Well having her get in trouble just made things worse, and eventually my mistakes from being so nervous got worse and worse until finally she failed me.

When I got back into the course next semester (only having to re-do the clinical and practicum, not the theory thank goodness), I was a nervous wreck. I was petrified. I was introduced to the new teacher, however, and she was like a beacon of hope! She was so kind and understanding, positive and encouraging. She told me the same thing you told your student- "I haven't read why you didn't graduate last semester. I chose not to even look at any of your previous work reports or records; we're going to start over. Don't be nervous, don't be worried, I'm going to judge you based on the actions I see personally and no one else's opinion is going to get in the way of that!"

I did SO well that semester, and I lay so much of that on her shoulders because of how comfortable she made me feel! 1 in maybe 20 or 25 people thrive on teachers pushing them or "challenging" them, telling them they can't do it or telling them they're not doing well enough, but you know what? The rest of us need a little bit of trust, someone to believe in us and encourage us! I know that's rarely realistic but it goes a long, long, long way.

Amazing... :cry:

It takes alot to move me to tears, but this sure did!!

Specializes in Telemetry.

This is so inspiring. I have seen the same things happen to many students. Thank God for that nursing instructor, she looked beyond the outward appearance and search within. God bless an understanding professor!

Kudos for being a decent human being.

Specializes in PICU, NICU, L&D, Public Health, Hospice.

Lovely story. I wish I had experienced a nursing instructor like you while in school.

Gosh we need more instructor's like you...can you be cloned???

Seriously I'm very grateful for instructors like you! Thank you.

Thank you; it's teachers like you--that give encouragement and support--that students need.

When I was a nursing student, a couple of us, including myself, were being "picked on" by a few of the nursing instructors for being quiet. I'm not the type of person to be buddy-buddy with teachers--I prefer to keep a professional teacher-student relationship. But a few of those teachers liked hearing students' personal stories and obviously liked the students who were quite the talkative and extroverted types.

So your story hit it pretty close to home. Thank you and the other understanding and supportive (both nursing and non-nursing) teachers out there. We really appreciate it.