More recently, I have been reflecting on my time spent as a floor nurse. I know that on many levels I needed a break from the highly intense job that I was in, but I wouldn’t change my first experience as a nurse for anything. Those eight years both taught and reinforced invaluable life lessons. Here are a few.
- Be compassionate. Working 12 hour shifts can be exhausting, but they give you the time to really get to know your patients. You see patients and their loved ones at their most vulnerable, in need of help and care. It is only fair to show them compassion at such a time in their lives. Whether it is holding a hand, giving privacy, or a listening ear, these acts of compassion will not go unnoticed by your patients.
- Be grateful. With cancer comes loss. Loss of health, loss of work and financial stability, loss of self, loss of relationships, and so on. Working with patients who endured unimaginable loss and who were able to still put a smile on their faces taught me to be truly grateful for the little and big things in life. When contemplating my own hardships, I quickly am reminded that life could always be worse and that others in this world have it much harder than I do.
- Self-Care. This lesson, which I am still working on, is a huge challenge for nurses. It is challenging to find a balance between your own needs and those of your patients. Nurses, please remember, go to the bathroom and eat. Those two things will help your body and mind function better so that you are able to care for your patients. When you’re not working, take some time to have a good cry, go out with friends, buy yourself a treat, whatever will bring you some personal fulfillment.
- Ask for help. There is no way that you can know everything. If a patient asks you a question, or you have to do a task and are unsure of yourself, ask for help. It is just as valuable to know where to get help as it is to know the answer.
- Faith. Seeing suffering makes you question a lot about life. For me, it at times made me question my faith, but ultimately strengthened it.
- Trust yourself. In my nursing career, there were times when I would get the feeling that something was just not right. Follow that instinct, your gut is not often wrong.
- You are human. This may be the most important lesson. You can’t be right 100% of the time. You will not always make the right decisions. If you make a mistake, learn from it and do your best to move on. Let yourself feel your emotions. It is normal.
I don’t know where my nursing career will lead me, but I do know, these lessons will never leave me.