Monday, July 29, 2013

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Do Your Nurses Grow?

“Why, with silver call bells and bedpan shells, and electronic medical records all in a row…”

“Oh, but Contrary Mary, you know as well as I that there’s no such thing as an easy button in the realm of nursing!  Tell me truly, how do your nurses grow?” the eager seedling continued to probe.

“Ok, ok, perhaps there is a bit more to it...  So you want to know how to grow from a little sprout of a new grad into the beautiful petals of a professional nurse?  And not just a nurse with a few years under her belt, but a radiant, experienced nurse?  Come here and listen close.  There might not be any enchanted call bells or magical bed pans to get you through the day, but I’ll tell you just a few tricks of the trade to help you blossom into a stunningly talented and exceptional nurse.

Rich Soil of Learning

                First thing’s first, in order to grow, you must be in a soil that’s rich with the nutrients of learning. 
As a new grad sprout, you’ve got all the learning in the world stuffed into your leaves from nursing school, but it’s hard to remember it all.  With the passage of time, you gain new experiences and put that knowledge into practice.  However, even with more years under your belt, a nurse must continue to study to keep their skills and talents growing strong.  You must always be learning to be a strong, radiant nurse because, even if you think you’ve experienced and learned it all, medicine is constantly evolving and new research is coming out constantly.

                Now, how do you keep your soil rich?  My young sprout, enrich your nursing career by taking advantage of opportunities for advanced certification, by teaching your patients and nursing students the knowledge you’ve gained, by participating in stimulating professional organizations and taking leadership roles in your area of expertise and participating in nursing councils, by getting involved in new areas of nursing and by taking continuing education classes.  There are so many opportunities young sprout, even as you grow in your career.  Just remember, continue to enrich your soil with learning so that you’ll stretch out into a talented, experienced nurse.

Cool Water of Experience

                What’s learning without putting it into practice?  In order to grow and evolve as a nurse, you must water your career with a good dose of experience.  Not too much now or else you’ll flood your poor roots to the point of burnout, but not too little or else you’ll starve your petals.  Take advantage of different opportunities in order to learn through the lens of experience my young sprout, but remember to take care of yourself in the process too.

Bright Sunlight Reflection and Understanding

                Now, even with all the good nutrient-rich soil and water in the world, a flower cannot bloom without the sunlight of self-reflection and understanding.  As McHugh and Lake (2010) described regarding Benner’s theory about clinical expertise, “Expert nurses recognize unexpected clinical responses and can alert others to potential problems before they occur. Experts have an intuitive grasp of whole situations and are able to accurately diagnose and respond without wasteful consideration of ineffective possibilities.”  By looking at the intersection of learning and experiences with a good dose of reflection, understanding and intuition develop.  So take the time, young sprout, to reflect on the experiences that you undergo as a nurse.  Ask questions and seek answers so that you can learn what the best course of action would be in different situations and so that you’ll provide the best quality of care you can to those left in your charge.

                But beware the bugs and weeds that may come along such as burnout, nurse bullying, and fatigue.  If you’re not careful, they can eat away at your core and cause your beauty to shrivel up.  A nurse without compassion, patience and a good work ethic is like a rosebush without roses, left with just its prickly thorns poking out.

Characteristics of an Experienced Nurse

         Now, do you want to know what this elusive flower, this mysterious beauty in a garden of nurses, looks like?  Do you know what characterizes an excellent nurse?    In the words of nurses wiser than I, an experienced nurse:
  • Recognizes their need to be constantly learning
  • Knows their limitations and is not afraid to say I don’t know, let me look into it
  • Is less likely to get aggravated quickly
  • Has confidence, or appears confident even if they don’t feel that way
  • Knows what they are doing, willing to work hard and able to negotiate the emotional and interpersonal issues that confront professionals and patients alike while maintaining proper boundaries
  • Is someone with empathy, patience, good communication skills and is hard working
  • Takes personal responsibility for their work and sees nursing as more than just a job, but something that they believe in and take pride in
  • Knows when and how to advocate best for their patients and families
  •  Looks at the whole picture of what is going on in their patient’s life to coordinate care that will leave a lasting impact

              But don’t just take it from me young sprout.  There are many ways to learn and grow as a nurse so don’t stop here.  May your soil be rich with learning, your water be just the right amount of experience, and your sunlight be full of understanding.”

Additional Resources: 

Thank you to everyone who helped to describe the essence of an experienced nurse.  Couldn’t have done it without all of your expert contributions!

Do you have anything to add to Mary's advice?  What other characteristics do experienced nurses have?  Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!

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