5 life tips every nurse needs to know


Thinkstock | Fuse

Thinkstock | Fuse

Now that fall’s almost here and the dog days of summer are waning, everyone starts thinking about productivity again (sigh). Even though many of us aren’t heading back to school, we nurses still could use some helpful life hacks to make our shifts–and lives–a little easier, smoother and/or better, right? Here are five of mine:

1. Get a dog.

No, seriously. If it’s at all possible, get a dog. A dog is always happy to see you at the end of shift, is willing to snuggle while you tell it all your troubles, and, if properly trained, never poops in the bed. That’s more than you can say for most patients and partners.

I was a Dogless Nurse for a year and now wonder how I survived. Even on the worst day, my guy gets me outside and makes me glad to come home.

2. Always carry tape and an extra pair of hemostats.

No matter how many pairs of hemostats rattle in your pockets, you always need one more. Those things are the opposite of wire hangers: instead of breeding in the dark, they disappear to wherever single socks and earrings go–usually right in the middle of your shift.

And tape can get you out of a jam. Use it to flag lines. Use it to label pumps. A roll of tape is life itself to a nurse.

3. Never, ever, EVER take anybody’s word for anything.

Double-check the pump settings and the drugs you have hanging. Make sure IVs flush well and you can draw from central lines. Reread the doctor’s order; she may be distracted and didn’t order what she said she would. Review your active orders more than once a day–sometimes something totally bizarre can sneak in, like when a doc puts orders in on the wrong patient.

4. Bring your own food to work.

Getting off the floor to get food can be nice, but really, aren’t you a better cook than the hospital’s cafeteria? If your food service is like mine, things mostly come out of big bags anyhow. Make your own stuff: It’s cheaper, fresher and you know whose hands have touched it. The exception to this rule is if your cafeteria has theme days like mine does. I skip the brown bag and eat their Indian, Thai and Vietnamese food.

5. If you have to mess with it, it is WRONG.

This, in a less-polite form, has been my First Rule of Nursing for more than a decade. Everything in medicine, from order entry to setting up IV drips, has been made so idiot-proof that if you have to finagle a solution, it is the wrong solution. If you find you have to MacGyver a tube feeding, double-check that you have the right tubing and, more importantly, that you’re putting it into the right line. If something doesn’t feel right, or feels like too much work, look again. It’s likely you’ve put the wrong tab into the wrong slot. Things should be logical, even if they’re complex.

Nurses, what would you add to the list?

Agatha Lellis
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

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