A difficult learning experience

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    After being a nurse for almost two decades, I felt ready to continue on to get my MSN. However, I needed an attitude adjustment first. I now have a new appreciation for the nursing theorists- the thinkers, the philosophers of our profession- as well as a more humble spirit.

    During this past semester, I took a graduate-level nursing theory course as part of my MSN program. "Piece of cake," I told myself; I believed it would be easy. Puffed full of hubris, I expected to ace the class with little to no effort. After all, I've been a nurse for 17 years. What could I not know about the philosophy of my own profession? Had I not suffered through countless undergraduate lectures on Sister Callista Roy and Florence Nightingale? Had I not done interminable care plans utilizing every possible NANDA diagnosis? I've used the nursing process every day of my career. There was no question that I would be awarded an A.

    The first day of class, I probably even walked in with a swagger, clearly the oldest student in the room, second only in nursing experience to the professor. I chuckled to myself during the introductions. Some of the students had never even held a nursing job, while I've worked in almost every nursing setting possible.

    Then the professor asked us what we thought of the article we'd been assigned to read in preparation for the first lecture. Since I hadn't checked my email, I didn't know about it, nor was I at all prepared for the depth of discussion in which she expected us to engage, using vestigial vocabulary from philosophy classes I'd taken 20 years prior. This was a minor setback. I bluffed my way through and knew a few of the others did as well. After that, I read voraciously, dictionary in hand.

    As the semester continued, it became increasingly clear to me that this was not going to be easy, and that I was not nearly as well-prepared or as intelligent as I had initially believed. The students who had never worked as RNs and the new grads? They were some of the smartest people in the room, and the most dedicated to their studies. The younger students who had more recently done their undergraduate work possessed academic skills both far fresher and more up-to-date than mine. My years of nursing experience were easily trumped by the younger people's concept mapping prowess (something I had never heard of) and their online research capabilities.

    Our biggest project for the semester was for each of us to develop his or her own nursing theory. I was certain that mine would instantly enter the canon of nursing literature, sure to torment all future generations of students. Again, this was mere delusion. My anxiety became overwhelming. My paper delineating my own theory of nursing was returned with the terrible truth written all over it: "This is not graduate-level writing." In fact, it was terrible writing, and I knew it. My professor had seen through my bluff, and found my deep shame: that I had barely scratched the surface of the literature, relying on articles that I had already read. It is obvious to me now that I had used no primary sources. The barely-passing grade the professor gave me was indeed generous.

    So, then, what did I learn? First and foremost, I became aware of the infinity of what I don't know, and the vastness of knowledge itself; I learned some new skills that will help me curate and attempt to understand this knowledge; and I learned that I needed a serious attitude adjustment.

    I learned that using a previously unfamiliar nursing theory in practice and keeping a weekly journal of the experience really enriched my practice, finding resonance in particular within the ideas of Martha Rogers and Jean Watson. I learned that all those theories really do have merit and utility- because I tried them in real daily practice. I also learned that they are much more than just theories: they bring depth and meaning to nursing itself, and helped me develop a personal sense of nursing pride. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

    I met with a campus librarian, and worked on doing a thorough literature search; I learned how to do a decent concept map, and realized what a good tool it can be. To put it another way, I learned new methods of learning.

    Most importantly, I learned that I do not know nearly as much as I had led myself to believe. I learned that I need to ask for help, from the right people, early on, rather than sweating alone over my notes and letting anxiety get in the way of thoughtful work. This experience changed me in a fundamental and humbling way, nudging me toward praxis.
    Last edit by Joe V on Aug 19, '12
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    About SHGR, MSN, RN, CNS

    I've been a nurse long enough to have seen an overabundance of nurses, a nursing shortage, and now back to overabundance. I have worked in med-surg, oncology, hospice, and home health, recovery room, been a camp nurse for people with developmental disabilities, and have now fallen in love with primary care/family medicine.

    Joined: Oct '11; Posts: 1,508; Likes: 3,146
    nursing faculty; from US
    Specialty: nursing education

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  3. by   TheCommuter
    Thank you for sharing!

    As the old saying goes, "You don't know what you don't know."
  4. by   GitanoRN
    Enlightening post.
  5. by   SHGR
    Aloha, Gitano! I see you are a guide now.
  6. by   daeous
    thats a pretty epic post..reading that sparked instances of old humility i discovered in similar situations. great minds must think alike because i personally have always told myself, friends, and loved ones that adapting and evolving mentally comes from learning how to learn.

  7. by   NRSKarenRN
    Thanks for your insight....you can teach an old dog new tricks.

    Classic AN thread that supports your threory:
    Can Someone Be a Nurse Without Jean Watson??

  8. by   tigerlogic
    I wish you could preceptor me some day. What a great post!
  9. by   SHGR
    Thanks, Tigerlogic- I do have a capstone student this fall and am sooo excited!! And NRSKarenRN, thanks for the link (and all the links you post- you are a fount of information)!
  10. by   NRSKarenRN
    TY. Knowledge = power.
    Last edit by NRSKarenRN on Aug 21, '12 : Reason: spelling gaff
  11. by   Despareux
    Great post. I've had a couple of similar experiences during nursing school. I believe some of the best learning experiences come from those that have humbled us the most.
  12. by   jgr1001nurse
    What a great post and thread. I'm a new nurse in my second career, but I've been in school for some time (part time school so I can work full time). I've been put in my place more than once when I think I'm smarter than I really am. I will shortly be doing a LPN-RN bridge and I hope I remain humble throughout. Thank you for the reminder and pointers for learning.
  13. by   llg
    Great article. Thank you. As someone who teaches theory to RN-BSN students, I can only hope my students learn to appreciate theory half as much as you do now.

    And if it's any comfort (not that you seem to need it) ... My worst class (and worst grade) in my PhD program was my theory development class. But building on those struggles turned into my doctoral dissertation. The fact that I struggled with that class led me to focus on philosophy and theory development for the dissertation itself. So some good came out of it for me, too.
  14. by   nurse_starlight
    This was very enlightening! Thanks for sharing.

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