Sometimes when I really stop and think about my time in nursing school, and particularly about my time in clinical, I am struck by the incredible gift it is to be a nursing student and future nurse. Despite our newness to the profession, my classmates and I bear witness to the remarkable each week. Some moments are tragic, some are full of joy, and many are in between.
I remember the day in my first Adult Health clinical when my patient came in for a massive stroke, despite having no history of neurological problems. After spending a day taking care of her as she lay almost completely paralyzed, I was there when one of the staff told her about her stroke. Her blood pressure rose dramatically. “Of course we’ve told her before,” the staff member told me. “But this might have been the first time she really understood.”
I tried to imagine the worry and fear she may have experienced in those thirty seconds. It was almost impossible. But the staff member remained hopeful, telling the patient that we were all here to help and that she was safe here. A slight change in her eyes told me she felt hope, too – that she also suspected things might be okay in the end. Maybe her eyes seemed unusually expressive because they were the only way she could communicate at the time.
I was the first person in my clinical group to work with this patient. But as the weeks went on, other students who worked with her shared her progress during post-conference meetings. She was speaking by the time she was discharged.
Though I’m halfway through the accelerated program, I’ve only been studying nursing for about eight months out of my twenty-three years. I often feel like I’m still more of a non-nurse than a nurse – that my patient assessments are merely elaborate acts or my official “Johns Hopkins School of Nursing” scrubs belong to someone else, someone who knows more about all of this than I do. And I sometimes wonder that patients and their families are so brave to trust their care to us – complete strangers who aren’t even done with school yet. They trust us to bathe them when they can’t do it themselves, to advocate for them, to be there when they are at their most vulnerable. They trust us to support them during their first few steps after a major surgery, to be there when they hear that the diagnosis is as devastating as they had feared, and to help during the birth of a child.
But then I remember that though we may not yet completely deserve this trust, it is also not wholly unmerited. To each patient’s bedside, we bring years of experience in fields from case management to finance to teaching, understanding of what it’s like to be in unfamiliar and unsettling places, and our own compassion and sensitivity. We bring what we’ve learned from patients, peers, and nurses about maintaining and holding sacred that trust. We bring our knowledge that a good nurse constantly assesses for ways to help patients and is keenly aware of the power of a healing touch or sincerely-spoken words: “I will be here for you.”
I hope I can be such a nurse one day, and there is so much to learn. But for now, I know I understand how to make patients feel comfortable, safe, and – perhaps most importantly – heard. The confluence of our abilities and their needs can be beautiful.
Nursing school is preparing me to be a nurse, but it’s also preparing me for the present. It’s teaching me how to embrace the strange delight and burden of being human. By drawing on what I’ve learned in the hospital, I think I’m better at dealing with uncomfortable and distressing situations. I can more easily understand how to communicate in ways that are honest and empowering. I can more skillfully and intuitively anticipate the needs of others, and I know the significance of self-care.
As I graduate from school in December and move into my career, I hope I never forget how unique our roles are. I hope this knowledge is always humbling and never a source of unhealthy pride.
That I can enter a patient’s room for the first time at seven in the morning and, over the course of our brief time together, be allowed to enter into their life – that is an incredible gift.
Thanks to Laura, Pavi, and Eli for your encouragement and help with editing!