The “Light Bulb Moment”

Nursing Students General Students

Updated:   Published

Specializes in ICU + 25 years as Nursing Faculty.


I have been teaching nursing for a long time. I teach in the last course of an associate degree program.  

It might surprise many students what I am REALLY looking/hoping for in clinical. You may think that you can find it listed in the course objectives or the clinical evaluation tool. Nope. You may think that it is something that I want you to say or do. Nope. You may think that it is a perfect care plan or paper. Nope.

What I most want is for the “light to go on”.  That is a phrase that many faculty use to describe the moment when a student understands what nursing is and what the role of the nurse really is. Once a student understands this… everything else will fall into place for them.  Until this occurs, students often see everything in nursing school as mere obstacles or busy-work… not as having purpose.

This awareness occurs at different times and different ways for various students. Students can have different responses to this awareness too. The good students often seem to be more confident and at ease after the light goes on. They know that there is much more to learn… but they understand why and are eager for it. Some weak students find the awareness to be frightening. I remember one student who had “floated” through nursing school. He had done the minimum required, and had promptly forgotten what he had learned. When the light went on for him… he was terrified at the enormity of the responsibility of a nurse, and lamented that he had wasted so many opportunities in nursing school.  

I don’t have an easy way to accelerate this process of becoming aware. Certainly more clinical contact with patients is helpful.  Thinking deeply about the patient’s situation and the care needed will move students along. Watching really good nurses in action can be really helpful. Sometimes asking experienced nurses “What do nurses do?” is helpful.  Often it takes a combination of the above and a dose of luck for the right situation to trigger the awareness.

Do you remember the moment that the light went on for you? Tell me about it. If you are faculty, do you have any interesting stories of the light going on for your students?

Smile, Breathe, Relax.

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

What a GREAT post!!  Thanks for sharing.

Hopefully, others will come along and share their experience when the light came on for them.

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

Mine is a little different and may not be what you're describing...but at some point in my early years I realized that my value as a nurse is in thinking. Assessing. Analyzing.

My value is not putting in foleys, or starting an IV, or other psycho-motor skills. Most of those could be delegated to trained personnel.

It's seeing patterns and connecting the dots. Noticing an ever so slight increase in heart rate for no apparent reason. A drop in temperature. Looking for a source of infection, and realizing I'm seeing early signs of sepsis.

Anticipating. Knowing the "Look-Good" and the "Look-Sick".

I always said a lack of codes on a floor means the nurses are preventing codes- because there's most always warnings.

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