If you're considering a career as a nurse - or are actively pursuing nursing education - it's easy to get caught up in the details, in all the things you need to know or need to have. But truly, your patients won't care if you remember the 12 cranial nerves or every single bone of the body, and they won't even know if the stethoscope around your neck is a student special or a top-of-the-line Littmann®.
What Patients Need
Your patients will assume your proficiency; they will assume that you will competently assess their heart sounds and other physical symptoms and deal with them appropriately. What your patients really want from you is compassion and information.
Patients do not want to be judged when they enter the healthcare system. They don't want or need nurses (or other healthcare professionals) who whisper behind their backs about their need to lose weight, stop smoking, or quit drinking. More than likely, they know they need to do these things; if they don't, there's little chance you'll convince them of it in one clinic visit or hospital stay. What your patients want and need from you is your willingness to meet them, person to person, exactly where they're at.
Can you do that? Can you look another human being directly in the eye and ask what's wrong? Listen with an open mind? And then ask, "How can I help?" If you can, nursing needs you.
Novice to Pro
Of course, no one becomes an expert nurse overnight. That's okay. The letters RN behind your name can feel a bit weighty at first. When I initially got my license, I remember wanting to tape over the RN behind my name on my name tag, because I felt it conferred an expertise I didn't yet have. But with time, experience and the help of some amazing people along the way, I grew into those initials. You will too.
Reach out to the smart people around you, and never, ever be afraid to ask a question. As a nurse, you will deal with people's lives on a daily basis. The medication you administer and the procedures you perform can help - or hurt - living and breathing human beings. If you're not sure what you're doing, ask. There's no shame in admitting that you want to be sure you've got it right.
Embrace information and opportunity. Every single one of your co-workers has something to teach you, including the janitors, dieticians, unit clerks, therapists and other personnel at your place of employment. Take advantage of employer-sponsored education offerings, and whenever possible, attend professional networking and educational conferences. Subscribe to nursing magazines. Keep up on the latest medical research and nursing news.
And be kind to the nurses who will follow you. Someday in the future, you may be asked to mentor a scared student nurse or new grad. Say yes. Look into your mentee's eyes and remember, for a minute, what it was like to be a new nurse. Introduce yourself. Put your mentee at ease. Ask about his past experiences and current goals. Then ask, "How can I help?" Because in the end, nursing is all about helping people.