The Cultures of Nursing

Fresh out of nursing school and with my brand new RN license, I followed my husband overseas so that he could pursue his studies. So my very first "job" after graduation was in a Scottish hospital. What a shock! Nurses Announcements Archive Article

The Cultures of Nursing

The job duties, the vocabulary and the hospital were a far reach from anything I had experienced as a nursing student in San Francisco.

The ward of the hospital I was assigned to used to be a debtor's prison. This was culture shock. I was used to private and semi-private rooms. I felt like I was experiencing nursing history firsthand. Patients were in "Nightingale wards" with twenty to a room with each bed divided only by curtains.

The walls of brick did not contain the modern conveniences I was used to. Oxygen was brought in huge green canisters and placed by the patient's bedside when ordered. The canisters were extremely heavy and only the orderlies were expected to move them.

Medications had different names than in the United States, although sometimes the generic names were more familiar to me. Paracetemol was used instead of Tylenol and peppermint water was given for indigestion. And instead of sedatives for bedtime, some patients were prescribed a bit of sherry in the evening.

The newest task I had to learn was to serve afternoon tea. I learned to brew the tea the proper way and then arranged the teapot and tea cups and saucers to be taken to each patient's bedside. One afternoon a patient asked me when tea would be served. I replied, "I'll go and get the cart with the tea." The whole ward of patients laughed out loud. "A cart, you're going to bring the tea on a cart? That's what a horse pulls. You mean a trolley." I learned that lollies were candy, and jumpers were pullover sweaters. I called head nurses "Sister". The hardest part was deciphering the different Scottish dialects. In the close quarters it was easy for some patients to translate for me. The word I heard spoken most often was "ken". "I no ken" and "You ken?" New to me, I finally figured out that it meant "know" or "understand".

The whole experience, even the way I dressed and got dressed was different than what I had learned in nursing school. I had to go to the nurse's dormitory each morning to change into my starched white uniform and cap to walk to the hospital.

One morning I returned to a ward to see how a patient was responding to a medication he had been given. There was no response at all. There was no pulse, no respirations. Another nurse and I began CPR. As a student nurse, I'd learned but never used my CPR skills. This time it was for real. The code was called, the physicians and other nurses came, and the orderly with the huge green canister of oxygen arrived. Eventually the patient was resuscitated.

Most importantly I discovered that not everything I learned was different. Some things were merely part of the worldwide culture of nursing.

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You could keep going with this as far as I'm concerned. The most interesting thing I have read in a long time. I really want to know more. What things were the same and "part of the worldwide culture of nursing"? I find this very fascinating like I'm reading a novel. I picture cobblestones and green grass on your way to the hospital. Was the tea served in china?

Specializes in still to decide. your post. I am scottish and this sounds so familiar!

Before I went on to train as a nurse I spent 8 years working as a nursing assistant in a hospital just like that with the florence nightingale wards. Loved it. The hospital that I worked in has been demolished and a new purpose built one has been erected.....there has been positive and negatives with that.

Could this hospital have been in Aberdeen, locals there refer to sweets (candy) as lollies. Ohh and I 'ken' wot u mean about the, even I had problems catching what was being said at first and I am scottish, lol!!!

Specializes in surgical medical.

great article.

I'm Australian, and always laugh when american friends talk about taking a patients 'vitals' Here we call them "obs" observations.

and E'K'G?????? K for cardiac?

no ecg here!


it's fun

Specializes in Home Health Care.

This story would make a great movie!

Specializes in LTC.

When i was reading your article i was hoping that it happened a long time ago (i mean decades). The scenario you have described was a bit scary. If it took place in a third world country I probably would understand where you're coming from but i don't think Scottland is a poor country. If what you've experienced happened just recently then I guess I would never want to practice outside the U.S.

Specializes in Medical and general practice now LTC.

There are some hospitals that have these issues in the UK but generally they don't. A lot will depend on the age. I wouldn't use this as something to say not work outside of the US as many experiences can make many changes to your life and how you work

Specializes in Med/Surg, Dialysis.

What a great story! I love learning about different cultures. It's definately an eye opener to how spoiled/lucky we are here in the U.S.

I am w/ bestbabynurse...keep it comin'.

It was awhile ago, but I loved the experience. I learned alot about myself and that American nursing is just that, it is a blend of nursing culture and American culture. I've also worked in American hospitals in rural areas that do not have alll the technology and glitz and the nursing care is very good.

Specializes in Critical Care Nursing.

Hey jttweedie

what a great post. You have highlighted something very important but not highly valued, that is the need to experience different healthcare cultures, which could be another ward, hospital or country. It is only then that we can appreciate what what we may have had elsewhere or what we have now. Another benefit from working at St Elsewhere (with apologies to the '80s show of dubious benefit) is learning how to solve the same problems in a different way. This vital practice knowledge is unspoken and hardly ever documented but more disturbing undervalued and over-looked. I would echo the sentiments of previous posters in saying I would love to here more. Perhaps an article in the Nurse-zine newsletter or even a blog!

cheers from down under


Specializes in Med-Surg, LTC, Rehab.

ITA with the others. Keep it coming.

Well written with felt emotions... i love to hear about nursing stories coming from somewhere else. Problems are solved in different ways.