The most surprising outcome of this first year as a Traditional BSN student has been the ways in which nursing school is changing me. I’m only halfway through my education to become an RN, and already, the knowledge I’ve acquired this year is spilling into my everyday life. Nursing knowledge, even at my level, has a basic universality to it that makes it impossible to “put away” for an afternoon. Health is everywhere. Topics that might have been idle conversation with my neighbors a year ago become puzzles, information that I can’t help engaging with. I notice the gait patterns of strangers. Even the way I listen to people has changed, if only in my awareness of it. I am more conscious of the questions I ask people, how I ask them, and how that might affect their replies.
All of this adds up to clarify what nurses told me before I started school. This isn’t just a trade that I’m learning, a skill set that I can pick up and put down again at will. Intentionally or not, we are all becoming nurses, and if I don’t practice for years, some of this education will always be a part of me.
It’s easy to focus on how far I still have to go before I’m ready to trust myself as someone’s clinician, but that denigrates how much we rising seniors have done this year. Stepping back and thinking about it, it’s incredible how much we’ve learned in two semesters. Before last fall, I’d never been in a hospital as a non-patient; I spent a lot of time during that first month of clinical wondering what I was and was not allowed to touch, far from knowing what to do with anything. The changes I’ve made in what I see when I look at a hospital unit have been enormous. I can only imagine what kind of a transformation the accelerated students go through.
More than anything else, I feel aware of people now in a way that’s different from how I looked at people as liberal arts student, a laborer, a traveler, or as a writer/journalist. I’m not the only one noticing this; other nursing students and RNs have told me that they’ve definitely seen themselves changed by their educations. One classmate noted that nursing school, particularly the coursework on aging, has changed how she sees her parents. Another student said she has more patience and understanding for strangers after interacting with people as patients in a hospital. An NP who graduated from an immersion MSN program agreed that a nurse’s observational skills never rest. “Just wait until you can spot substance abuse and hearing deficits by vocal tone,” she told me.
Before I started nursing school, I spoke of it as a new set of skills to add to my repertoire, tools and knowledge, but not necessarily anything more substantive than that. A nurse practitioner and friend of mine laughed at me. “You’ll see, when you get into it,” she said. “Once you become a nurse, you’ll always be a nurse. Even when you’re not working as one.” I think I’m finally understanding what she meant.
Do you feel like nursing school (or being a nurse) has changed you? If so, how?