New Nurses, Give Yourself Some Grace: A Confession

When I began working after graduation, I fought an internal struggle for months because I wasn't meeting my own expectations on who I was as a nurse.

I was never satisfied after I gave report. I would beat myself up for missing things that my peers would catch. I was easily mentally and emotionally overthrown by personalities that were boisterous and louder than mine. I even got caught in some drama that resulted me in crying at home to Matt about. Nothing to do with nursing. Just a coworker who confronted me about something stupid. We concluded that she was simply a b*tch. 

I was caught in a circle of insecurity leading to actions that put my fragile ego in front of honesty. I thought it more important to have an answer to every question, instead of being honest and saying, I don’t know. I would nit-pick the ultimately unimportant details creating the illusion that I was on top of it - sometimes at the expense of actually important things. 

A perfect example of this cycle was when I decided to "reinforce" an external fixator dressing, instead of changing the entire thing. It was the end of another busy, highly stimulating day. The nurse before me - who was coming back - hadn't changed it either on their (night) shift. It was totally ok that I hadn’t gotten to it. But I didn’t have the skills or the confidence yet to say, “the dressing change is still pending. I got my butt kicked today and I didn’t get to it.” So when she barged in at shift change and saw me fumbling with the gauze, all she could do was give me a shameful look and say “Mariam, you know better.” Then proceeded to very angrily take the scissors from my hands and do the complete dressing change herself. You can imagine how the rest of report went. 

Did I know better? Of course. But it weighed more heavily on my ego to be seen as the new nurse that could “handle it all,” that could “handle working in the ICU”, that was worthy of being there, amongst the other amazingly perfect, impressively intelligent, never tiring nurses who banter with the attendings, are never phased by death or the dying, and crave those critical patients that make your head spin and your feet hurt. 

It weighed more heavily on my ego to be seen as the new nurse that could “handle it all” instead of the new nurse that couldn’t even make the time to change that pitiful ex-fix dressings. Honesty meant weakness. And there is no weakness in the ICU. Weak nurses get their names dragged through the mud. They are not worthy of belonging here. Someone please get them out. 

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This interaction plays in my head from time to time, even now during travel nursing. In these replays, I have decided to change that previous story. It soothes my heart for it to go more like this: when that nurse walks in and sees me covering the old dressings, she recognizes my behavior as not one of laziness or stupidity, and decides to not shame me. Instead, she walks up to me, puts a hand on my shoulder and says: listen, if you didn’t have time to change these dressings today, IT’S OK. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad nurse. It doesn’t mean that your time management sucks (and even if it does, it won’t be this way forever.)  It doesn’t mean that I’m going to spread rumors about you or think any less of you or belittle you. (Again, even if I did, learn to remove the value you have on my opinion of you.)  Give yourself credit and be proud of the work you’ve done today. You’ve been at this for a mere 3 months. Cut yourself some emotional slack and shift the weight of importance from how the oncoming nurse will react, and onto the wellbeing of your patient. Sometimes you’re not going to get to things, or you’ll miss things, or just plain forget things. But do not be tempted by shame and hide these things from the next nurse. Build a callous against the eye rolls, attitudes, and sighs. Your patients’ progress depends on it. And if that's not enough - your very mental sanity depends on it. 

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New nurses: give yourself grace. Honor where you are and realize that you can be bigger than your ego, you can be bigger than the need to be seen as a “good” new nurse. Build a foundation of honesty and transparency. It demonstrates that you are secure even within your novice struggles. Be a confident beginner. Every time you feel the pull to handle a situation that you know is above you - just to not bother someone, just to prove a point - let it go and get some help. And always hold a little piece of the person you are today in your heart because in a few years, someone just like you will need to hear those soothing words.

We've all been the eye roll nurse. Here's to putting that person away, and letting our true core-being lead our lives. 

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