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Nursing student table etiquette

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My family does not handle blood and guts well. I am the only one who has ever gone in to the medical profession, and so the things about nursing school that are really exciting to me are generally really disgusting and completely new territory for them. So if your family is anything like mine, here are some topics I learned to avoid (the hard way), and some alternative ways to tell them your very exciting news:

  1. The details of giving your first shot. They especially don’t want to hear about where, how you pinched the skin, what it felt like when the needle went in, and how you injected it. Just tell them you gave it, what it was for, and remind them that it’s a REALLY big deal that you did it. Along these lines, they don’t want to hear about IVs – AT ALL! My family doesn’t like the thought of needles, let alone needles in search of a vein. I’ve just learned to avoid the subject all together to prevent causing cringing faces, disgusted looks, and general loss of appetite.
  2. Inserting a Foley or performing an In & Out cath. For us, this is really exciting, but they don’t want to know about it. In fact, don’t mention the word catheter at the dinner table – EVER. Just tell them you got to help out with a very important “specimen collection.”
  3. Seeing your first C-section. When you get to your OB rotation, getting to see a C-section is really awesome. Mostly, my family is cool with talking about natural delivery, because well, it’s natural and a fact or life. But when I came home to explain what a c-section was REALLY like, that was a different story! Especially the details about pulling open of the abdominal wall, pushing the baby out, and cleaning/stitching up the uterus after, and how the uterus looks sort of like a raw chicken. They don’t want to hear that part (neither do your friends…I learned that the hard way too). There’s really no good way to explain it to them other than it’s really, REALLY different from natural delivery.
  4. Suctioning your patient. This is almost like a turning point in our student nurse careers, but your family will likely be disgusted to hear about how it works, what’s involved, or the color of the sputum. This has to be explained as another important specimen collection – “kind of like helping them cough” – only….not. And never ever use the word phlegm!
  5. Spare the details. This one should go without saying, but inevitably, I end up sharing way too much. Avoid any and all details about your patient’s explosive diarrhea and/or projectile vomiting, or any similar situation, no matter how crazy or interesting it made your day. To us, it’s a way of life, to them, well… they left that behind when we got passed age 4, and they’d like to keep those memories suppressed. Just don’t even go there….

Your family and friends are really excited for you, but I’ve learned that just because they’re excited, it doesn’t mean they wish they were in nursing school too. There are just some things the rest of the world does not want to hear about. So next time you sit down at the dinner table, mind your manners, say please and thank you, no elbows on the table, and whatever you do, do NOT mention theses gripping details of your day as a student nurse. Bon Appétit!

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Ani Burr, RN

I'm a brand new, full-fledged, fresh-out-of-school RN! And better yet, I landed the job of my dreams working with children. I love what I do, and while everyday on the job is a new (and sometimes scary) experience, I'm taking it all in - absorbing everything I can about this amazing profession we all fell in love with.
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4 Responses to Nursing student table etiquette

  1. Samson (N Shaughnessy)

    I have to completely agree with this – especially on your note about the C-section. Not only did I successfully halt any further eating but also created a prolonged awkward silence at the dinner table. This brings me to wonder – if ever faced in a situation with some undesired dinner guests (which we may, from time to time, encounter) would these topics of discussion seem entirely appropriate? Food for thought.

  2. Harry

    i hate not being able to say the different medical terms in chinese…haha i’d love to see the looks on my parent’s faces with some of my experiences….great article ANI!

  3. Allysha

    You forgot to include hand motions!

  4. Wendy

    My friend and I who are in nursing school and our boyfriends went to watch a movie together one night. During the previews, my friend and I were engaged in a conversation about a patient with diarrhea and all the other details that went along with it. We didn’t even think twice about the conversation until we looked at our boyfriends and saw the disgusted looks on their faces. haha. That’s when you know you’re in nursing school and should probably censor some things in a public place.

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