Last week I had the opportunity to interview a critical care nurse who's been in the profession for thirty years, so I really couldn't pass that up. I had so many questions for her and couldn't wait to get started.
We sat down at Starbucks together and talked for several hours. Here are some of the questions I asked her, along with her responses:
1. Do you enjoy nursing, or is it just a job that pays the bills?
"I love nursing," she said, "No, it has never been just a job for me. I always wanted to be a nurse, even when I was a little kid. I used to play hospital and I would be the nurse to all my dolls and teddy bears."
"I can't see myself doing anything else. I was born to be a nurse."
2. Do you think nurses are paid well enough?
"I think that nurses in the US are compensated well, but sometimes not well enough. Our job is to be the nurse, waitress, maid, friend, mother, teacher, and psychologist for our patients. I Do nursing because I love it, not for the money."
3. What does your spouse think about you being a nurse?
"He's very proud of me but gets frustrated when I get called into work because we're short staffed. He knows I love what I do and he supports me, but he doesn't get to see me as often as he'd like and even when I do get home, some nights I just duck off to sleep the first ten minutes I'm home, because I'm so exhausted, so I'm not such great company at times. He's aware of how hard I work, so we split the household responsibilities equally. When I've had a rough week he's glad to take my on my workload at home, as well as his own. He's a great man."
4. What do you enjoy most about your patients?
" I guess I'd have to say that my favorite thing about nursing is knowing I've made a difference in a patient's life. When a patient comes through the door and I don't think they'll make it, I believe they're going to die, then they walk out the door and thank me on the way. There's nothing more rewarding than this. To know you've helped someone survive horrible odds and they've lived to tell about it.
5. What would you like to change about nursing?
"There are a lot of things I'd like to see changed in the nursing arena. One of the big things I'd like to see is lower staff ratios. It's not right when nurses are forced to take on too many patients because the facility you work for won't pay for more nurses to be hired. Then when a nurse makes a mistake cause she's worked 16 hours, she's disciplined and even the Board of Nursing gets involved sometimes, to discipline the nurse further. I believe the facility should be to blame for not hiring enough nurses, it's simply not fair."
"I would also like to see nurses treat their nursing assistants better. Your nursing assistant can act as your eyes and ears if you trust them and treat them right. I see nursing assistants being disrespected very often by nurses who think they're better than them. These nurses shoot themselves in the foot when they treat nurses' assistants poorly. It's teamwork and everyone's job is equally as important, it's a collaborative effort, so be nice to your helpers. They work hard and they deserve respect."
"I would like to see nurses have more say-so on issues that go on at the corporate level of facilities. Often, nurses are not included in decision-making processes that will affect them. Instead, people who run the facility and have never even stepped foot in the ICU, nor do they know what it;s like to be a nurse, yet they're the ones that make all the decisions. Frequently rules and regulations are adopted that make absolutely no sense when you actually have to carry through with them. In theory, they may work, but not in reality and so many higher-ups have no clue what reality is."
What do you love most about being a nurse?
"Well, of course, I like to make a difference in patient's lives, as I said earlier, but I also love wearing scrubs. In what other profession would you be allowed to go to work in your pajamas? I love that!"
"I also love the respect that people have for nurses. Knowing it's the most trusted profession makes me feel good. When I tell people I'm a nurse, they always treat me well. It's a nice feeling."
"I love the flexibility of my schedule. There's aren't many jobs that allow you to work three days a week and be off for four. Yes, the work is long when I'm at work but when I am off it makes it worthwhile."
What advice would you give to a new nurse?
"Being a new nurse is difficult. Nurses tend to eat their young and some have pretty large egos. The best thing you can do is be humble. Don't act like a know-it-all or no one will want to help you. Instead, find a nurse that you like and ask them to be your mentor. If they agree, then listen to everything they tell you and absorb it like a sponge. Nursing school never teaches you to be a nurse. It teaches critical thinking and textbook nursing. Unfortunately, very few patients are textbook. There are huge variables in the way patients need to be treated and there is also more than one way to skin a cat. Just because you've learned one way to do things, doesn't mean that it's always the best way. Seasoned nurses can teach you so much if you just watch and listen. Ask questions if you don't understand something and never act like you know something when you don't."
"If you make a mistake, own up to it and try to remedy it as quickly as possible."
"Go easy on yourself, you're not supposed to "feel" like a nurse right when you graduate nursing school. Be patient with yourself and accept that you don't know everything and you'll learn more every day. After thirty years of nursing, I'm still learning every day."
"Regardless of how busy you are, always be your patient's advocate and take time to talk to them and understand their needs. Have compassion and empathy for all your patients and enjoy your career. Nursing is a wonderful profession and it's extremely rewarding."
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