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Life lessons I’ve learnt as a graduate nurse

I would like to tell you all about one of the most challenging situations I’ve experienced in my career so far, as well as some important life lessons and realisations.

It is true what they say that it’s easier to dwell on the bad things and forget the good, or even worse, the question that haunts you at night, “Could I have done something more for my patient?”. Now, to paint a picture for you all, I would not describe myself as an emotional person, though my boyfriend would probably say I cry a lot (even if it is only over a sad movie). Well I think I have proved him wrong (not that it’s a bad thing to cry), as I am yet to cry at work, after work, or anywhere in between, though there have been many times when I thought I might. This is not an easy job and it’s easy to be more critical of ourselves than we would be with others. I still haven’t cried, but I’d like to tell you about a particular day I thought might break me. I think a lot of graduates have probably experienced days like this.

I’d worked a pm shift that hadn’t finished until late, something all shift workers will understand (and a crucial part of nursing). I’d also suffered a family emergency, where a family member had been brought into the ED while I was working. I’d gone home feeling muddled and didn’t get much sleep. I started work at 7am the next day with only adrenaline keeping me going. The morning was constant, similar to every other day, manageable but not too hectic. Suddenly, 11am hit and this was to be the busiest shift I have worked so far. It wasn’t because ED was busier than normal or people were waiting a long time – it was because my patients were sicker and needed more of my time and attention.

I received a patient that was suspected of having had a stroke. I hadn’t dealt with many patients with this presentation, but I knew what I needed to do. A stroke call was made, and the team was quick to handle it. They found the issue and started conversing with another hospital, but my patient was deteriorating before my eyes and I was concerned. I was doing 10 minutely observations with IV medication administration. I tried to avoid the fact that I was beginning to struggle with the work load and that I was neglecting my other patients. I was afraid to admit it to myself and voice my concerns for fear that I wasn’t performing as well as others would have in the same situation. I went and spoke to the nurse in charge and explained how frequently I was doing observations and that I was very worried. The patient’s mental status had changed and I felt she was slowly declining. Not for one moment did the nurse in charge question my judgement – the patient was immediately moved to a more acute section and was nursed 1:1.

My shift soon ended and it was time to head home, however I soon began to question everything I had done – had I done enough? Was there anything else that could have been done? Could I have escalated sooner? What if something had happened to my other patients?

This was the feeling I was left with for the rest of the night. Over the next few days, I debriefed and discussed the incident. Other nurses, including the nurse in charge have told me I had done the right thing and did everything that was expected of me, but as I said, we are always more critical and judgemental of ourselves and our own actions. I have taken this as a learning experience and endeavour to improve my practise.

This may have been the hardest experience I have had as a nurse, but I think it has been the biggest learning curve for me and something that will probably stay with me forever. For everyone out there, take a breath and give yourself a break. We are all doing the very best we can and even though we may not see it, or bad days might over shadow it, patients appreciate us and what we do. Nobody is perfect, but all we can do is learn from the hard days, reflect and improve the next time the same situation comes around. To everyone else out there, give your colleague a compliment –we too often only hear the negative things.

Have a great day, stay safe and keep warm. Flu season is coming, don’t forget to protect yourself with a flu shot (and you might even get a lollipop and sticker).

Till next time,