Working with “lifers”

new-nurse-and-mentorLately I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between seasoned nurses, whom we call lifers because they will likely retire on our floor and have been around a long time, and new nurses. This probably has something to do with the fact that, in my new job, I am working with nurses who have been in the profession and specialty for 10+ years—there are not many newbies around. Some of these nurses will retire in a few years having been on the same unit their whole career!

The other night I watched a 25+ year nurse as she calmly took a verbal berating from a doctor only to put him in his place using some evidence-based jargon that had my head reeling!

This is so different in that I am coming from a hospital where new grads moved up the ranks and ran the show at three to four years in, only to burn out and move on. In fact, when I was hired as a new grad, my previous manager told me that the unit had a “burn-out rate” of one year—new grads got their initial experience then moved on.

So, what does my future look like as a seasoned nurse? Here are some common traits I see in nurses with loads of experience:

  1. Lifers are calmer in emergencies. Whereas I tend to still freeze up a bit during true emergencies, the experienced nurse moves with a fluidity and assuridity that is remarkable. They don’t seem to question their actions and I can see how refined their critical thinking has become.
  2. Communication is more effective. These nurses say what they mean, concisely, clearly and accurately. When they are questioned—by docs, other nurses or patients, they answer without hesitation and seem so sure of themselves.
  3. Nurses who have been around know when to admit they are wrong and take responsibilty for their mistakes. They also rely on the nurses around them as sounding boards when things are questionable or difficult.
  4. Advocation comes more naturally. Standing up for a patient takes some bravery and some skill—especially when advocating for a patient in front of a doctor (or doctors) who believe the nurse is in the wrong. I am getting better about this, but have noticed that seasoned nurses win more battles for their patients because they are better advocates. They have so much knowledge to draw on!
  5. The long-term nurses I know have their education—many of them have master’s degrees—and they have tried out other specialties and other avenues of nursing. Most of these nurses are where they want to be, on the shift they like, and they are going to stick it out. They know what they know, they continue to learn and teach, and they like where they are.
  6. In general, they take care of themselves. I am one to skip breaks and meals when I am in a rush, but the nurses I am working with know to take their breaks, to 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 they sleep, go to the doctor, work out.
  7. Nurses with longevity know how to handle management, the doctors, and the patients. They have become interpersonal experts and can navigate all the drama of the hospital in order to take good care of their patients. I 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!

Experienced nurses are an example of how to avoid burn out as they have found ways to cope with and love the profession for the long haul. And yes, I believe that time makes a good nurse even better!  There of course is always an exception to the rule, but for the most part I am in awe of the nurses I am working with and am enjoying watching them in action. As always, I am realizing I have a lot to learn—much of which will take a lot of time. One day I hope to be a “lifer” who is an example of the excellence our profession has to offer.

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Amy Bozeman

Amy is many things: a blogger, a nurse, a wife, a mom, a childbirth educator. She started her journey towards a career in nursing when she got pregnant with her first child. After nursing school and studying "like she has never studied before" she entered the nursing profession eager to get her feet wet. The first years provided her with much exposure to sadness, joy and other complex human emotions. She feels that blogging is a wonderful outlet and a way for nurse bloggers to further build their community. Traditionally, midwives have handed down their skill set from midwife to apprentice midwife. She believes nurses have this same opportunity: to pass from nurse to new nurse the rich traditions of this profession.

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4 Responses to Working with “lifers”

  1. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    Wow. I’m speechless at your keen sense and understanding. So many new nurses take the ‘lifer’s traits and turn them into something dark and dreary. You have seen the forest through the trees and I congratulate you.
    I’m ‘seasoned’ and I’m still striving to be like the ‘lifer’. It’s a foundation we all should work towards and build upon.
    GREAT blog post.

  2. Pingback: I Wanna-Be A ‘Lifer’! | My Strong Medicine

  3. This was a really great, very well written post! We can all learn from “lifers,” and we should all be excited about being a “lifer” someday! :) Again, thanks for the fabulous post!

  4. cbender

    Thank You. I am one of those lifers, I guess, been around the unit a time a or two. I have 25 years plus in ER, acute care and home health and hospice, and I do a lot of preceptorship for new grads. I never cared for it. The preceptorship, that is. I felt like ‘why me’, and the answer was always, well you know how to orient people, your good at it, blah, blah, blah, it’s extra work and it took away from my patient care. That is why I didn’t like it. But the last bunch of grads, 2 or 3 I ‘ve trained have actually told me things I didn’t like hearing. Like I want to be like you when I grow up. I hope I can be the nurse you are. This bothered me. I knew I did OK, but this really bugged me. Was it the age thing? I didn’t realize until long after they had gone on to other avenues, that I felt like this because, I would go through all this work, pour my heart into those kids and they moved on. Ha, want to be like me, no way, you left. Then I realized they are taking something of me with them, somthing I taught them that they didn’t get in school will be with them forever, throughout their careers, wherever that may be, and suddenly, I feel so much better about teaching new grads, a piece of my nursing, my heart may reach so many more people and patients than just the ones I touch. My moment of clarity after 25 years of nursing. WOW.