“Don’t mind my eating, ” Jessi says to me as we settle into our chairs, placing her muffin on the table. “I just got up.” Amazingly, Jessi looks especially well rested and refreshed having just come off of a graveyard shift with only a couple of hours of sleep. When I tell her we could have met at a different, more convenient time she says, “No, it’s fine. I have to do it like this on my first day off, otherwise I can’t switch back [to a normal sleeping schedule]”.
A nurse for less than a year, Jessi chose the profession because she witnessed her nephew’s experience in healthcare: “He was born with club feet. He also had a growth hormone that was chaotic, so he just kept getting bigger and bigger. He ended up passing away and watching his experiences in and out of the hospital, in and out of the doctor’s offices, I got to see good nursing habits and some bad, and I thought it would be really cool to be apart of.”
“I also hemorrhaged in the hospital after my second child was born, and the response to recovering me was so fast, so quick, so amazing, it left a spot in my heart feeling like I was being called into nursing.”
When I ask Jessi what’s it like to be a nurse, she smiles but not in an entirely happy way. ” It’s not what I expected. Everybody that I talk to says the first year to two years is just not what you’d expect. It’s a very different learning curve than most jobs. It has been rough. I had a very specific idea of where I was going to be nursing and what field I wanted to be in. They weren’t hiring at the time so I decided to go to a cardiac telemetry floor where the learning curve is even steeper there– you are constantly having rapids called and having to do CPR. Everybody on that floor is very very sick so it can be very depressing. You leave work and you can’t help but think about those people all the time. It’s a heavy weight job.”
So what did you expect?
“I expected to be helping people. I guess I didn’t expect people to be quite so sick all of the time–I know that’s silly because it’s the medical field. But I always thought I would be a labor and delivery nurse and there were going to be happy moments. I knew there would be a little sadness here and there but overall I thought it would be mostly happy.”
There is sadness and frustration in her voice as she goes on, “I feel like most people who go into nursing really have a heart to serve people, and they really want to help people, and to get into that job and just feeling like because there are so many patients and not enough nurses to care for them–you are just giving out the pills and just trying to do a real basic assessment–it’s very depressing and frustrating.”
“It would be nice to get back to a time when it was really about caring and serving people. This day and age there is such a loss of making it about patients and more about it’s a job that has to get done. You want there to be enough nurses that you can be able to care for the patients but also I feel like a lot of people go into nursing because it’s a good paycheck and that’s hurting us too because it’s not what it’s about. I just wish there were more nurses so that we could provide that care for people.”
What does that type of care look like to her?
“There was a time in nursing school when I was working in the ICU. There was a patient on a vent and she couldn’t really speak of communicate. We had been working with her all day and she would just get these moments of pure panic and anxiety. You could tell she wanted to say something but she couldn’t. The nurses were so busy, no one was really taking the time to try and let her write on a board anything like that to communicate. I went to the nurse I was assisting and said, ‘You know what, I am going to go find a communication board and see if I can try and have her write what’s going on. I feel like she is trying to communicate something.”
“The nurse said, ‘She’s been vented. She’s in the ICU; they get delirium. She probably won’t be able to communicate with you.'”
“I said, well, I’m still going to give it a shot. It took about ten or fifteen minutes, but it turned out she was trying to figure out how her father was at home. Apparently, before her big accident she had been taking care of her father. So the whole time she’s been in the ICU, trying to recover, she hasn’t been able to relax because she was so worried about him. So to be able to give her the answer, that he was OK, she started to cry. Her anxiety level went way down. Her improvement after that day, compared to the last five days, was unbelievable. And it was really cool to see how sometimes the littlest things we forget to do as nurses can make a huge difference in somebody’s recovery.”
“Another example happened to me last night. I was dealing with patient with a brain hemorrhage who is unresponsive. She’s basically on her death bed. It’s my first patient that we’ve had that was like that. We’ve been trying to prep the family that the time is coming.”
“A lot of people think that when you get to that stage that you can ignore them, and the you don’t need to worry about them. But if felt so rewarding to be able to go in there and make sure her skin isn’t breaking down, and turning her, and putting lotion on, just being able to check her vitals and talk with her through her assessment. Whether or not she can hear or understand doesn’t matter– there is a level of respect to a patient at that stage that when you can actually give it, especially when there is family around too and they can see that their loved one is still being taken care of until the very end–it was a very rewarding experience. The family’s gratitude and joy, knowing that even at the worst time, that she is still being taken care of. It was a really good feeling.”
I ask Jessi, being so new and with such fresh eyes in the profession, what she would change if she could.
“I feel like a lot of nurses put on a face of ‘I know what I’m doing. I’m not going to ask questions.’ and I think it’s silly because even if you’ve seen the same situation three or four times, people are different. Each person is different. I wish nurses were willing to be open and honest with each other, like, ‘Hey, here is this situation with this patient, and this is what I’m thinking– do you think it’s a good idea?’ I wish there was more interaction. We learn from each other. We bring all these different experiences to the table and I think we could benefit from talking about them.”
She explains, “In the NICU with babies, you don’t do something with a baby unless you have two nurses–you always have to have that double check. Why stop with babies? I think things would run way smoother.”
Another idea Jessi has that she the thinks would benefit nursing would be to have an ongoing schedule of skills classes that nurses could attend to stay fresh and comfortable on things they don’t have to do all of the time. “There are so many skills that we don’t do every day, on a regular basis. I feel like for the comfort of the nurse, it would be amazing if they had a rotation–Monday through Friday, you can come work on these skills at these times–that way when you are on the floor and something pops up, you know exactly what to do.”
I ask her if she would do something like that without pay. “I would. In a heartbeat I would. For me to know that if something comes up, I will know what to do is pay enough.”
A specific mentor has played a huge role in Jessi’s life as she’s gone through her first months as a nurse. “She is an unbelievable nurse. I’ve met a lot of good nurses, but she is hands down one of the best nurses I have ever met.”
“I requested her as a preceptor. I knew I had gaps in what I needed to know before I got onto the floor on my own. When I would try to address those issues with people it was sometimes a little bit overlooked. But when I got with her, she was like, “Absolutely. Let’s do this.” And we would come up with a plan and she would point me to the right areas of research.”
“She’s never stopped. That has completely continued on, even as I’m on my own. If I have a question, I can easily go up to her and let her know what’s going on and ask her if I’m thinking in the right train of thought. She has been incredibly helpful.”
Despite the the sharp learning curve of her first year, I can tell Jessi has the indispensable starting point of an amazing nurse because she has a heart that thrives on serving patients and their families. The compassion and empathy that exude from her as we talk is exactly the type of care I would want if my family or I were in the hospital. The confidence in her skills and experience will come, but for now, perhaps, a nap.
How about you? What was it like being a new nurse? Let me know below!