I still remember my first shift going solo as a new nurse. A green 21 year old starting my career as a brand new nurse. After shift report, a seasoned nurse handed over the keys; a symbol that I was now in charge of thirty-four patients and two CNA’s. I stood there, very still, trying to take it all in. I looked down the cold, dark hallway and felt very alone embarking on this new journey. Looking for insight and wisdom, I turned to the seasoned nurse, and she could see the uncertainty in my eyes. “You got this!” She said as she embraced me in a hug. “We all have to start somewhere. You will do great.”
As she disappeared out of the front door, I sat there stunned for a few minutes. I began to organize my thoughts and long list of tasks that must be completed in an 8 hour shift. Then, call lights started buzzing. The shift officially began. The night shift RN that I would be working along side was not fond of working with yet another new nurse. I was getting the cold shoulder from her immediately and realized I was on my own.
So, off I went passing meds, bandaging wounds, correcting critical blood sugars, collecting labs, and charting until my fingers grew calluses. Literally running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I was literally on my own. I felt as if I had no support. No one to turn to for questions. As the overwhelming night progressed, some of the self doubt started to fade. With one task merging into another, I hadn’t eaten lunch and my only break consisted of sitting at the desk to chart. Finally, the night came to an end. It felt as if I crammed one thousand tasks into a drop of time. My head felt as if it could explode at any moment. I eagerly gave report to the oncoming nurse and instantly felt relief. After my shift ended, swiping my badge to clock out never felt so good! I bolted to my car. For the first time all day I was able to breath in a sweet sigh of relief. I had officially made it through my first night alone as a new nurse.
As the time went on, I made a few mistakes and learned some very valuable lessons. I vividly remember the first time I administered a wrong medication during a hectic shift. As soon as I realized what I had done, I sucked up my pride and sought out help from the RN that had given me the cold shoulder.
As I walked up to her with my tail tucked between my legs, I told her what I had done. I was shaking nervously. I was scared for my patient’s wellbeing. I felt ashamed and embarrassed of the mistake I had made. She quickly took me under her wing and respected my honestly. We took the necessary steps to rectify the situation. The patient was fine. The outcome: a lesson was learned, respect was earned, and a friendship was made.
In that role I learned many valuable things. By swollowing my pride and reaching out to my fellow nurses, I was able to learn an array of skills. I learned how to administer IV fluids and how to correctly flush picc lines. A seasoned nurse walked me through my first blood draw and assisted in starting an IV line. I learned how to unclog g-tubes, insert ng tubes and how to insert a catheter, just to name a few. After many agonizing phone calls, I learned quickly when it is and is not appropriate to contact a doctor after hours.
Only a few months into my nursing career, I lost my first patient. A patient on comfort measures only. I still remember it like it was yesterday. I had a feeling of defeat because I could do nothing to help. With a frog in my throat, I tried to muster up the courage to call the family to deliver the unsavory news. I made the dreaded call with a crackle in my voice and a tear in my eye. The shrill that came from the other end of the phone sent a shiver up my spine. With a seasoned CNA’s by my side, postmortem care commenced. I tagged the patient’s toe, zipped up the body bag, and the coroner wheeled them out to the hearse. They don’t prepare you enough for that in nursing school, but these are the things that make a nurse strong!
After I outgrew that position I decided to spread my wings to a more critical role. I applied for a job at a long term acute care hospital and was offered the position. There I would have an abundance of very sick patients. Very skilled patients. For some of them, this Hospital was there last option as no one else would take them. There I cared for a variety of patients. Some right out of surgery, some on ventilators and cardiac monitors and a variety of wounds. Oh what an adventure it was!
It was there that I really put my critical thinking and nurse training to good use! I called/witnessed more codes than I care to remember. It was there that I provided CPR for the first time. With the help of my coworkers I was able to learn crucial skills and became proficient in assessing my patients and identifying abnormalities to report to the doctors. After becoming comfortable in my skills, I was able to slow down and actually take some time to show compassion to my patients. Dealing with someone when they are at their weakest and showing them empathy and also providing encouragement was very fuffilling and rewarding. I started to feel like I was actually making a difference. I became a great asset to the team, a true team player, and a strong leader. It was there that I really gained my confidence. It was there that I felt like I became the true definition of a nurse.
Throughout my nursing career, I have learned so much. I have felt emotions I didn’t know I would ever feel. I made friendships that will last a life time. I learned the true meaning of what I feel a nurse really is: compassionate, confident, caring, knows their limits, and when to ask for help.
At almost 30 years old, do I feel confident 100% of the time? No, and I am ok with that. What’s important is that I know when to ask for help. There will always be something new to learn in the ever changing healthcare community. There will always be challenges and obstacles. I may not always know the answer, but I am confident in the skills I have learned thus far. However, there will always be room for growth as a nurse, and that is one thing I can say I am 100% confident in!