Winding Down

I opened my computer yesterday and up popped a little calendar alert that read, “3,” as in, three more weeks of class until the end of my bachelor’s of nursing program at the University of Maryland.

There are plenty of activities to keep me busy between now and the last day of class on May 5th. I have 48 more hours of clinical time on the books, a debate exercise as part of NURS 403: Community and Public Health Nursing, a handful of exams, and the PICO presentation I mentioned in my last post. After the 5th comes the Universities at Shady Grove’s graduation celebration, followed by four whole days of Kaplan-provided NCLEX (that’s the licensing exam) preparation classes, and then, finally, graduation up in Baltimore on the 15th.

While this list is perhaps a little bit premature, I have a few pieces of advice for future nursing students.

  • Wash your hands.
    • This has become a running joke among my classmates. The nursing curriculum has changed somewhat since we started in the fall of 2013, but during our first semester we were required to pass a series of “validations” in which we demonstrated the ability to perform a nursing skill – think inserting a foley catheter, administering a subcutaneous injection, transferring a patient from a bed to a wheelchair, etc. One of the simplest ways to fail the validation and be forced to repeat the exercise was to not wash your hands upon entering the room. (It was an automatic failure.) As patient simulations have become more complicated, the answer people frequently blurt out when stumped about the next step is “wash your hands!” Of course, there’s the whole keeping yourself healthy and germ-free part of hand washing outside of validations. And, at almost every facility I’ve been to for clinical, staff members are assigned to do hand hygiene audits – don’t be the student who isn’t washing her hands, they’re watching.
  • Take the nap.
    • Or go for the run. Or watch 3 hours of Netflix. Or go out to dinner. Or sit in the park with your dog and think about how if you had been born a canine your biggest problems would be eating and sleeping, not pathopharmacology. My point here is that it’s important to find something you can return to that gives you the chance to recharge and remind yourself that there’s a great big world outside the library. (A word about sleep deprivation: failing the aforementioned validation feels catastrophic on 3 hours of sleep, it feels much less so after a full night’s rest, and downright trivial after you realize that, unlike your dog, you are not at war with the mail carrier six days a week.)
  • Remember why you started.
    • Maybe someone you loved received excellent nursing care, maybe you yourself were a patient and benefitted from a wonderful nurse, maybe you look really, really good in scrub pants. The bright idea that brought you to nursing school is going to look awfully dim at the intersection of final exams and mystery-stain-on-my-school-uniform-scrubs, so keep your motivation handy. Someone in the admissions office thought you were capable of succeeding in the nursing program. You are, and even if you feel that you aren’t, there are a million and one resources available at the Universities at Shady Grove available to help you. Don’t be afraid to use them.
  • Push yourself.
    • I think one of my biggest regrets is not being a little more aggressive during my clinical rotations. It’s difficult because as a student you’re absolutely a guest on someone else’s medical floor at the hospital and you certainly don’t want to do anything that would compromise patient safety. Yes, it’s your responsibility to show up to clinical up-to-speed on your patient’s diagnosis, medications, etc, but if there’s a procedure you’re dying to see, or a skill you would like to practice, speak up and tell your instructor. Even if there’s something you DON’T want to practice, I think it’s even more beneficial to share with your instructor that, “X skill is something I’m not very comfortable with, if there’s a chance for me to talk it through with you/see/do it at clinical I would really appreciate it.” I felt like I misfired a handful of insulin pens before one of my clinical instructors was kind enough to pull me aside and give me the opportunity to practice. It seems like such a small thing, but confidence comes at a premium, and feeling like I was even just slightly more capable at one nursing skill gave me a real boost that day.
  • But not too hard.
    • At clinical the other week I was reading a note a doctor had written and realized that a year ago the letters on the page would have been meaningless to me – and I do mean letters, it was 80% acronyms. Give yourself some credit for the things you have learned. Yes, there are so many things you haven’t learned (I’ve thought to myself “how did I not KNOW that” roughly 1,000 times since starting my final senior practicum), but every once and a while, take a step back and give yourself a little smidgen of credit.
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