What working as a nurse’s aide taught me

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Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve been pretty certain of my calling to be a nurse. In high school, I made sure to take all of the right science courses as electives so I could apply to nursing school at the local college.

And, in order to be absolutely certain that nursing was for me, I enrolled in a 6-week nursing assistant course at the local vo-tech school that summer. We were instructed by a veteran RN and most of us were hired by the local hospital. Having already been accepted into the 2-year RN program at the local college gave me a leg up.

Like all nursing assistants of the time, my job was to be wherever I was needed in the hospital on my 8-hour shifts. The uniform was a pink dress, beige stockings and white Clinic shoes! The only jewelry allowed was a watch and a plain wedding band if you were married.

We got report along with the nurses and were given patient assignments, as well as general floor tasks such as filling water pitchers, serving and clearing meal trays, etc.

But the best part was learning from the nurses. On every unit, there is usually at least one RN who is approachable.  These were my first mentors. They were the ones who knew stuff and shared it with others. They were trusted by the docs and respected by management. Over the course of my career, I’ve tried to be that person for students and others.

Today, the nurse’s aide has transitioned to more technical skills, and their certifications and titles have changed to reflect this. In my day, the portable blood sugar and ACT testing machines didn’t exist and blood was drawn only by a lab tech or RN. Today’s nursing assistants are a vital part of a unit’s strength in its staffing. Many times I have made the decision to keep my regular nursing assistant, rather than to give her up for an RN who doesn’t know the unit.

Having started at the bottom of the ladder, I’ve pretty much done it all. I believe very strongly that no one should ever ask or expect another person to do what they themselves are not willing to do.

I believe it’s always important to keep learning new skills and the principles that go with them, and to be the kind of person who’s willing to share hard-earned knowledge with others. I believe in helping others overcome their fears and anxieties about trying something new, and always reminding yourself AND others that the only stupid question is the one you do NOT ask!

The truth is that the best way to get good help is to teach them how to be all they can be!

Some of the best lessons are learned from past mistakes. The error of the past is the wisdom of the future (Dale Turner).

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