The top 10 things I’ve learned after my first 10 years of nursing


iStock | Steve Debenport
iStock | Steve Debenport

Nurses, some pearls of wisdom from Aunt Aggie…

The top 10 things I’ve learned after my first 10 years of nursing:

1. If you have to mess with it, it’s wrong. Everybody’s heard the story of the nurse who connects this to that to this other thing and ends up giving oral contrast through an arterial line. If you have to go through that many steps to make something work, it’s wrong. If you have to be that creative to make it work, you’re doing it wrong. Stop and look and see where your mistake is.

2. Conversely, if there’s a way something can be screwed up, you may manage to screw it up. This is called “death by decimal”—making a mistake so simple it’s hard to see. This is why double-checking things is important. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.

3. You will have miscommunications with people. Don’t take it personally. The better you know somebody, the more likely you are to make erroneous assumptions. If you have miscommunications, clarify and move on. Don’t get your undies in a perpetual twist over it.

4. People who raise their voices in public haven’t a single, solitary leg to stand on. Never raising your voice will automatically make you look and feel like the bigger person. Plus, it’s kind of fun to be the person who never, ever yells, even in emergencies. That way, if you ever do have to let loose, you’ll have everybody jumping.

5. Keep your head down when management comes around. Don’t give them any ideas for process improvement. Every improvement suggested by a management type creates an equal and opposite amount of B.S. Don’t be anybody’s inspiration.

6. Being a manager can be a noble endeavor. Just make sure you understand the job you’re asking other people to do. You wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix your car, so don’t volunteer to head a cardiac unit if what you know is kidneys.

7. You are not “too good” to do anything. This should be higher on the list. Always remember that you are not too posh to wash, and that jobs should be delegated on the basis of need, not because of your own personal dislike of the chore.

8. No matter how stupid the question, somebody somewhere has asked something stupider. I promise.

9. Abandon your self-centered attitudes, unreasonable pride and silly ruminations and you’ll be a lot better at your job. No other job teaches you to think about yourself less. Have reasonable pride—like in your work—but not the sort that makes you beat yourself up for mistakes.

10. Take nothing seriously except your patients. They’re all that matters, and it’s a lot more fun that way.

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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