How to recognize a seasoned nurse

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It’s the age-old debate: Seasoned nurses vs. new nurses. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and their own traits that make them unique! Can you recognize a seasoned nurse when you see one?

Following are some common traits that are seen in nurses with loads of experience:

Lifers are calmer in emergencies. Experienced nurses move with a fluidity and assuredness that is remarkable. They don’t question their actions and their critical thinking is refined. Critical thinking, in my experience, is an acquired skill; when the brain starts to punch out a response based on all of the information that one has taken in, facts, observations, and feelings all come into play.

Communication is more effective. These nurses say what they mean and mean what they say-concisely, clearly and accurately. When they are questioned—by doctors, other nurses or patients–they answer without hesitation and project with complete confidence. This confidence is contagious and makes others relax when things get hairy. Trust is borne of this.

Nurses who have been around know when to admit they are wrong and take responsibility for their mistakes. They also rely on the nurses, doctors, techs and others around them as sounding boards when things are questionable or difficult. This is the essence of team nursing, the best and most effective model for patient care in which each person brings his/her strengths, experience and knowledge to the patient-centered effort.

Advocation comes more naturally. Standing up for a patient takes bravery, knowledge and skill–especially when advocating for a patient with a doctor who believes the nurse is in the wrong. I have noticed that seasoned nurses win more battles for their patients because they have so much more knowledge to draw upon (often more than the docs!) and can give solid reasoning behind what they are trying to accomplish.

The long-term nurses I know have educations. Many of them have Advanced Certifications and not necessarily a string of university degrees. They have tried out other specialties and other avenues of nursing. Most of these nurses are where they want to be, on the shift that they like and in which they are able to do their best mentally and physically, and they are going to be there.

They know what they know, they continue to learn and teach, and they like what they do. They have the respect and trust of patients, family members, doctors and the staff. They get their strokes from making a difference when they work.

In general, they take care of themselves. They know to take their breaks, eat lunch and go to the bathroom. They know that “the work will always be there.” They also take care of themselves outside the hospital and make sure that they sleep, go to the doctor, work out, indulge in a hobby, and do whatever it takes to separate the job from their personal lives.

Nurses with longevity know how to handle management, the doctors, and the patients. They have become interpersonal experts and can navigate all of the drama and politics of the hospital in order to take good care of their patients. You will see seasoned nurses at staff meetings, on committees and in charge. They have learned that in order to effect change, they have to take an active part in what’s happening—on and off the unit.

 Good times and riches…I’ve seen more than I can recall! (Jimmy Buffett).

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