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10 things they don’t teach you in nursing school


iStock | Szepy

You never stop learning. Ever. I am still pleasantly surprised at the notion that I can learn something new every day, no matter how small that “thing” may be. I think as nurses, no matter what stage of our career, we never truly step out of the “student” role.

The funny thing is we constantly revert to and are reminded of our traditional schooling every time we’re out there doing this job. How many times do you hear or utter the words “I didn’t learn that in school”?

As lifelong students, our heads will always be swimming with facts, evidence-based research and good old-fashioned tradition, but there are just some things they tend to forget to teach you in nursing school. Here are 10 of them that I think are pretty darn important.

1. Must be able to mouth-breathe

Wow. This has to be at the top of the list. No one can hold their breath the entire time they are in a patient’s room. And you sure can’t breathe through your nostrils with the aromas we smell. Trust me—learn to breath through your mouth.

2. You will never be able to call off from work ever again

Not because you physically can’t or won’t. But you will never call off work again without some sort of regret or guilt, whether imposed by yourself or your colleagues. Let’s face it, understaffing is never going away.

3. If you don’t have a type A personality, you will develop one

I haven’t met a nurse yet who doesn’t start to unravel a tiny bit when they don’t have things lined up the way they want. Sure, most days never go as planned, but we always have a backup plan. It’s when the backup plan fails that we start to get a little tense.

4. You will never look at your health or healthcare the same way ever again

Especially everything related to medications! Since we administer the care that we also receive, we tend to look at everything through a magnifying glass. The good thing is that the fear factor most people have about medications doesn’t apply to us anymore.

5. Hollywood medicine entertainment has been ruined for you forever

I know we talk about this one a lot, but sometimes Hollywood really misses the ball. I’m not even going to discuss how patients go through and recover from surgery so eloquently and in the nick of time.

6. You will forget what life was like before nursing

Seriously. I’ve only been a nurse for the past 10 years of my life…and I have a tough time remembering how things were. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed?

7. Your emotional bank will be forever empty

It’s exhausting sometimes. In one single day, you will travel the spectrum of emotions, both for your patient and yourself. You will laugh your hardest and cry your loudest in a single shift. And you’ll do it often.

8. Getting out of work “on time” is just a myth

Just because the schedule says I leave at 7 p.m. does not mean I physically will leave the premises at that time. More like an hour or two later. And that’s on a good day! Our nonmedical friends and family have a hard time understanding this one.

9. Catlike reflexes and hand-eye coordination 

Everything from catching a falling patient to dodging sputum that has taken flight, sidestepping projectile vomiting or having that steady hand when placing an IV—you need to have great body awareness.

10. Poker face

Whether it means not crying in front of your coworker (or that not-so-nice provider), not laughing at your patient or family when they’ve made a humorous mistake, or keeping an emotionless look when you walk into that cloud of toxic-waste smell in your patient’s room, professionalism means looking the part just as much as acting the part.

Care to add anything that you’ve discovered?

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One Response to 10 things they don’t teach you in nursing school

  1. Linda Garriott

    No matter how long you went to school or how “smart” you are; there is a good chance your patient knows more about his body that you. Listen.

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