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Nurses and their sixth sense


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Nurses do indeed have a sixth sense. No, I didn’t misspell “sick” sense. I mean, we have an instinct that civilians don’t have.

The nursing “sixth sense” is that moment when your gut gets those “butterflies,” or when A plus B does not equal C.

It’s a part of that ever-important skillset of critical thinking, but it’s also a separate entity altogether. Maybe you can call it a form of ESP:

ESP is also sometimes casually referred to as a sixth sense, gut instinct or hunch, which are historical English idioms. The term implies acquisition of information by means external to the basic limiting assumptions of science, such as that organisms can only receive information from the past to the present.

So. ESP. It’s one of those skills that seasoned nurses just “have.” I’m not sure if it’s something we witness, repeat, learn, see, or simply acquire through experience. Maybe it’s just that tried and true “learn as you go” skill? Honestly, I really don’t know how it’s acquired, I just know it exists.

In fact, I’m more sure than ever after this past semester of classes. This “instinct” was referenced several times during my clinical rotation and during a couple lectures in the nurse practitioner program I’m attending.

The question was posed, “Does the patient look sick?” Ask any nurse, in any area of nursing, and they understand this statement. You just know when something is off. It’s a hard concept to describe, let alone teach.

I also had a physician explain to me that she values this skill more and more each time it is used. When a nurse gets that sense that “something is not right” from her patient, she takes it seriously. So seriously she makes that patient a priority. The physician confessed that nine out of 10 times, the nurse’s instinct saves the patient from something serious.

I think all nurses eventually possess this skill. I guess I’m just wondering how we get it, and why? This isn’t to say that this sixth sense only comes with time. The more experienced nurse will definitely have a sharper sixth sense, but even a new nurse has the ability to “know” when something is not right.

Do we learn it in nursing school? Maybe, but I’d be hard-pressed to find it in any textbook, lesson plan, skills challenge, or written exam.

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