A Letter To Future Nurses

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Dearest fellow colleagues of mine,

I would like to extend a warm congratulations for having taken the first of many exciting and scary steps. These steps will see you take life head on, discover many reasons as to why you think nursing is for you and why you think you should drop out of college and nursing*.

The steps of your journey will teach you many life lessons valuable to surviving college and the industry that sustains fellow nurses and us. They will help you recognise if the bones in your body are made up of 100% determination or 100% procrastination. Something of which in my bone structure is 90% determination and 10%…. oh look, coffee!

At the end of your journey when you shall reflect back upon your life as a college student, nursing student and the person at the bottom of the leader board. You will see the obstacles and hurdles you’ve overcome. Something we won’t notice until we are on that stage, staring down the camera barrel and hearing the cat calls of our loved ones as the realisation ‘we’re graduate nurses’ hits us.

I can speak of history and knowledge in this matter because I have been in similar shoes to the ones you are currently wearing or about to wear.

Four years ago in a small rural town located in South East Queensland, I found myself and my brand new shoes standing in a puddle while fighting a mad case of butterflies in my stomach.  All the while wondering if I had just made the smartest decision of my life and would it be too soon to back out. After pulling myself out of the puddle and trying to dry myself off under the hand dryer in the ladies restroom, I began my journey of becoming a college and nursing student.

Like I, within the first year of college you’ll discover so many things. Some of these things will be what expectations college has with assignment/assessment writing and referencing. But also, you will discover tricks and traits of yourself that you’ve never known of and in some cases, you’ll be left stunned. Both in a good and slightly worse off for wear ways.

Word of warning fellow colleague of mine: the next 366 days will teach you lessons about who you are as a person, whether or not your relationships will survive or become strained under stress and how you’ll balance the delicate art of college, studies and work. Not to mention, trying to have a social life.

There will be more than one occasion you’ll find yourself overwhelmed and hysterically crying in the corner at the library because you’ve got a 2500 word assignment due tomorrow.  And your bestie has just sent you a text saying, ‘Beyonce is outside performing Single Ladies!’ My suggestion is: Have a really good cry, blame yourself for being a complete and utter failure and than pull yourself together man!

One of the many reasons why I was found hysterically crying in any corner when I had an assignment due was because my time management was shit. In my first year of nursing and college, I’d sit down at my computer desk and research everything I needed for my assignment before typing it out. 48 hours later, I’d hand in my assignment than drive to work, complete a 10 hour night duty shift and only than would I collapse into a tired ball.

As someone who has picked up her time management over the last four years, I’d recommend not doing this as it causes sleep deprivation and terrible mood swings. Think PMS but several times worse. For time management, this will be gained over the next few semester as you will discover things that work and don’t work for your study and assignment writing preferences.

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By now, everyone from the little old lady in the deli to your twice removed cousin knows you been accepted into college and are studying to become a nurse. When you least expect it, you will receive a call in the middle of the night or have family members come up to you and ask you, “what does this itch mean?”.

The whole rule of not being able to diagnose friends and family will be thrown out the window the moment someone shows you something entirely gross but yet, disturbingly awesome. Trust me, you will want to take a photo of it for future viewings.  It will make you wonder as to why they aren’t seeing a professional.

Talking about the weird, wacky and incredibly disturbing, you will come across a variety of different people from all backgrounds of life when you’re on placement.  There are doctors who expect you to address them as God and get down and kiss their feet while other doctors and nurses are willing to take a few minutes, to answer questions and give you medical homework. If you’re given homework than find that doctor/nurse the next day, introduce yourself as the student from yesterday and tell them what you’ve discovered.

These doctors and nurses will not only hold you in a different aspect of viewing but they will be more likely to include you in decision making and patient handling.  You, Dearest Reader, have just proven you’ve got a set of balls and are more than capable of handling your own sh*t in a professional manner.

With the good comes the bad and you’ll discover nurses who can be described as b*tches.  These are the nurses who don’t want to teach you or any other student nurse (it’s not you, it’s them!). These are the nurse who’ll leave you alone while administering medications.  I suggest stopping administration, put the medication somewhere safe and wait for them to return as you inform the patient as to why you have stopped administering the medication.  The patient more than not is willing to comply with your reasoning and if not, tell them it’s for their safety.

#1 rule of nursing: Advocate for both yourself and your patient/s.

During the next few years, you shall come across many different scenes in nursing but the same thing you will come across is: life and death.  Welcome to the 50/50 club of ‘are you going to live or die?’ Having personally joined this club and survived, I have accepted death to be a factor of life and in a way, welcome it.

You on the other hand are a completely different person and story and may not have witnessed/experienced death.  When it comes to watching and performing your own CPR on a patient, you will experience a mixture of thoughts and reactions. There will come a time in your career particularly as a student, where I suggest offering to help a fellow nurse with a deceased patient.

It shall not only give you an opportunity to confront death in the face; but you’ll also make a vow that’ll have a positive influence on your life and those under your care. After confronting death and attending to nursing cares for a deceased patient, it has made me appreciate life just that little bit more.

Losing a patient who has been in your care is emotionally and psychologically draining but there will be moments when you shall come in contact with this person’s family members. Family members will request to have privacy to grieve and if this person has been your patient, tell the family you’re sorry for their loss. Also, if the family is going to be at the hospital for a duration of time always offer coffee/tea/water, blankets and see if your hospital does a bereavement tray.

Nursing isn’t just about attending to solely the patient’s needs but attending to the wider community around the patient. This community being the patient’s immediate family and extended family members, those affected in their community and if they are Indigenous decent; you’ll discover everyone in their home community shall be affected.

Finally, live in the moment as you will wake up one morning, discover it’s your graduation and you will be wondering where the time went. You’ll sit there along beside me and admit those sleepless nights of study, endless assignments and having reference down pat was totally worth it. Because right here and right now: We Are Nurses.

Before I send you off into the wide world of college and nursing, my final words are:

  • Make friends with fellow nurses as they’re life and balance all wrapped into one.
  • Having nursing friends means you can talk about shit (pun intended) without dealing with people throwing up.
  • Buy tissues, chocolate and warm fuzzy socks.
  • Call your loved ones once a week!
  • Referencing: 10% of final mark lies in that bibliography.
  • Tutors/Professors are normal people, say “hello”.

With that, welcome to the first and last day of the life you’ve known.

Good luck, have faith in yourself and the abilities you’ve got, will gain and….

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Until next time,

Cheers xo

*Come back every Wednesday & Sunday for more Back To School: College Edition guides on how to survive college.

5 thoughts on “A Letter To Future Nurses

  1. Karen, you also hit the nail on the head by mentioning the fact that nursing is not just honorable and fulfilling. In the +35 years in the business, general & mental health care, I’ve seen changes that do not have anything to do with primary care. Insurance companies, government institutions and management require extensive reports, filling out forms and administrate almost every single move you make. I don’t exaggerate when I estimate that on certain days 60% or more of our shifts is spent behind the screen and keyboard instead of with our patients. I’ve made it an almost personal quest wether or not all this paperwork does anything significant to the patients wellbeing.
    Fortunately we always have a few student nurses running around on our floor and coaching and tutoring these young people on their way to become a graduated member of our professional society is offering me a lot of satisfaction. More than filling out forms or gazing at screens do.

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  2. Wow, you sure hit the nail on the head in soo many ways. The typical student, like yourself has that youthful innocence, the drive to get beyond that overwhelming urge to have the eyes snap shut mid page. Some of us were forty when we began, and wondered ” were we amazing or crazy?” Jury is still out. After a twenty year career, I was laid off. That’s not the worst thing that can happen, unless it coincides with your husband’s death just two months earlier. CPR, as you know is not usually successful. Yeah, it was shit for awhile.
    But I know this. You will doubt that you have WHAT it takes to do what is asked of you. And many times those people are not doing it in the best interest of the patient. It is the business of sick care these days. You will realize it is not health we exist for. It is sickness, and drugs, and policies that direct us. Oh, you thought it was supposed to be so honorable, and worthy, and fulfilling. Some days it is. Many days it is nothing but the same old message from admin- do more with less, stay late, and we don’t care that you already did it twice this week. Nurses are tough, and too soft. Guilt is used against us. Don’t fall for it. A tired nurse makes mistakes. A tired nurse is a lousy wife and mother. A tired nurse burns out……and then there is no nurse. So I ask that you love your fellow nurse, help him/ her to get it done. Stick together to preserve your sanity. It’s a great profession. It’s not just a job. But you will always hold dear those nurses you did time with- and the lives you changed. One of them might be your own.

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