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Did you have a “trial by fire” orientation in nursing?

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Trial by fire: A test of one’s abilities, especially the ability to perform well under pressure.

I’ve discussed a previous learning mantra in nursing before: The “see one, do one, teach one” mentality, which is often used to help nurses acquire, learn and master a hands-on skill. While I wouldn’t call it traditional by any means, that mentality has proven very effective within our nursing circles.

Another “tradition” in nursing, handed down by our predecessors and those before them, is the concept of “sink or swim.”

While classroom education is, of course, necessary and required to understand your job, there is quite a difference between knowing how to do your job and actually doing your job.

“Trial by fire” is a colloquial term that seems to describe the transition from orientee to colleague well. It’s that moment (or a series of moments) when the nurse is on their own. Whether a new grad or seasoned nurse is starting a new job, the concept is the same. You’re done being the orientee with a preceptor by your side; you’re running the show on your own now.

Now, of course you’re never really “alone” per se. You always utilize your resources, your co-workers, your colleagues and other personnel. This is just the time when you no longer see your name next to the preceptor on the schedule. This is the time when you start flying solo.

All of a sudden, those experiences you may have had during orientation take on a very different meaning because you’re no longer the co-pilot. You’re in the driver’s seat.

Trial by fire is a GREAT way to learn. It’s when your mettle is truly tested. Do you have what it takes to navigate through whatever storm has crossed your path? Or are you going to fall flat on your face? Will it make you or break you?

Don’t be mislead here. When the storm comes–and trust me, in our line of work there is always a storm–did you keep your head above water? Or did you give up and drown?  Did you figure out how to swim, or were you too afraid to go out into the water?

Whether it’s your first code, your first admission, or your first bedside thoracentesis, it’s always your “first” something. Did you dive in headfirst, or did you run and hide?

That’s what trial by fire is. It doesn’t matter whether you did great or failed miserably. Chances are you probably didn’t do that well. You aren’t expected to. I mean, let’s be realistic here…that’s why it’s referred to as a “first.”

Everyone remembers their “first” everything. And I’m almost positive the majority will tell you how horrible it was or how horribly they did. What they won’t tell you is that it was their last.

Trial by fire means you survived the storm and are more prepared for the next one that’s around the corner.

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Sean Dent

Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing. After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital. He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).
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One Response to Did you have a “trial by fire” orientation in nursing?

  1. saturn567

    always love your articles, I have been a nurse for 2 years now, and have had a few orientations, the first one was the craziest cause we ended up having two rapid responses in the same bed one in the beginning of the shift and one and the end, I really did my best to dive in but I didn’t last there very long