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It took a very long time for me to find a program that would allow me to shadow a healthcare professional.  I contacted every hospital in my area, I visited doctor’s offices and midwives and they all said the same thing: you’re not a nursing student so we can’t have you shadow.  Something to do with accountability to the public’s health; we can’t let anyone walk in and help us out (cause people who are hired full time in medical settings are always, definitely safe… *cough*…)

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If I may interject a side note here: you may wonder why I didn’t volunteer instead.  I did look into it and even went to the orientation and training but my experience during training with another volunteer left me extremely doubtful if I would really be getting a “true account” of what RN life is like.  Not only did the absent-minded, huffy volunteer call me by the wrong name all day long (after I introduced myself correctly, mind you) but her haughty & indifferent attitude toward other medical staff and patients who didn’t speak English left much to be desired.  When I expressed my concern about this to the volunteer coordinator, she told me I could work in the gift shop instead.  I told her, “No, I want to be on the floor but I also want to make sure your volunteers are trained by someone who is actually good at training because if they’re not, how good of a volunteer do you think I’m going to be?”

*Yes, I already know that my fight for justice and free-speech will get me into a lot of trouble once I start nursing.*

But right before I had to settle for a seemingly sub-par volunteer position, I got lucky.  The program director at a local health education organization got in touch with me and she set me up with a shadowing experience at a nearby hospital.  HOORAY!  I borrowed a friend’s scrubs, showed up bright and early at 6AM on a Wednesday (yes, I took off work for this) and followed a male nurse around until 4PM.  Here is my journal entry from that day:

September 7, 2011

Today was kind of boring.  But I did learn some useful things.  Overall, I’m so glad I had the experience.  It gave me a boost of confidence and opened my eyes to the reality of nursing: it ain’t so scary.  Hell, it’s not even that hard as long as you are reasonably competent.  Tiring?  yes.  Stressful?  Yes.  Worthwhile?  Sometimes yes.  Boring?  Sometimes yes.  But not all that difficult, skill wise.  So here’s what I learned:

  • The nurse I trained with had been a nurse for 30+ years, had a Master’s and offered a unique & relatable point of view.  Best of all, though, he was a guy!  I’ve decided male nurses are way cooler; less drama, more point blank, less emotions, more “do it right & get out” attitude.  I like that.  Whenever the female nurses on the unit came to talk to me (like during lunch or in between slow periods), they just got too mushy and depressing for me: “well, this is what being a nurse is all about; we care” or “god, I haven’t eaten all day” or “where is Rebecca, ugh, gheeze, she’s never working.”  I. Don’t. Care.
  • The med/surg floor is quite surely the most boring place to work & I hope I never have to do it.  Yea yea, the experience is good but who cares?  When the only thing we got to do all day was look at the computer, grab a basket, go into the medical supply room to get all the medicine you need, then take your basket to each of your patients and then do it all over again every 3 hours.  B.O.R.I.N.G.  Even he said it was the most boring place but sometimes you want that after working as a nurse for as long as he did. 
  • I had a chance to see how he handled a mistake relating to doctor’s orders.  “Someone” (either the doctor or pharmacist) had made a mistake on the dosage of one of the patient’s meds.  Since My Nurse knew the doctor and the patient, he gave the patient a lower dose (or rather, the patient’s “normal” dose) and waited to confirm the suspected incorrect dose with the fat cats (who, in this case, admitted that their original order had indeed been wrong).I found this kind of self-confidence in one’s expertise and independent critical thinking refreshing.  Some people would probably look down on this but I think there are certain people who are perfectly capable out of intelligence and experience to make that kind of judgment call.  If My Nurse had not made that judgment call, it would have taken 4 hours to give the patient his medicine (because that’s how long it took for the doctor to get back to us about the dosage).  More importantly, if My Nurse gave the original, incorrect written order without thinking first, it would have put the patient in a dangerous condition.  I understand the “doctor’s orders are law” rule is in place for the very reason that we can’t always know who the capable people are but in My Nurse’s case, he was capable; I know that.
  • I witnessed an amusing moment with a patient.  My Nurse was called in to help with an aggravated older patient and when we went in, the old man was yelling, annoyed that the nurses were getting him up for his exercise routine. The Old Man said, “Stop, you damn fools!  It hurts!  Besides, I have to go fight!”  My Nurse said: “If you’re fighting on the front lines again, Mr. X, you need to stretch your legs first, like so…” at this point, pushing down on the old man’s knees.  Old Man: “Damnit man, I don’t have time.  It hurts!” 

    My Nurse: “I’m sorry Mr. X but we have to do this.  For your sake.  Don’t you want to be able to be strong for your next fight?” as he pulled the man’s right arm across his body toward the left side of the bed. 

    Old Man: “AAHHHHH”, pain noises and mumbled curses.

    My nurse came out of the room, shook his head once and said, “Let’s eat lunch.”

  • Over lunch and the rest of the afternoon, I really got to know My Nurse better, which was the best and most helpful part of the day.  He talked about his education and experiences in nursing, what he thought of the healthcare industry (the pros, the cons), his viewpoint on the issue relating to doctor’s superiority over nurses, and why he did nursing.  He was so blunt and honest; I loved it.  He said things like, “I do nursing because I can work 3 days a week then leave,” or “I have always gotten in trouble for being honest but that’s just how I am,” or “there’s always something to learn in the healthcare industry.”  It was all things I really wanted (and needed) to hear.  He was the first nurse I spoke to who didn’t say, “it’s the special moments with the patients that make all the other terrible things worth it,” or other pish-posh, emotional things I’m not interested in.

What did I take away from the day?  Well, besides hating med/surg, I learned that I’m more interested in the technical side of nursing.  The skill-based side.  The side that says, “I’m good at this and you will get the best care, period, because I know what I’m doing.”  Not the side that says, “I’m here because I care,” or “I’m the angel of the healthcare industry.”  I could never relate to that side & that side wasn’t exciting or intriguing to me.  I am a compassionate person and of course there are moments when compassion is important to include in patient care but above all, I care about being good at what I do.  And if you came into the ER and one nurse says, “You may not get the best quality of care but the support I give you is the best in the country” and another nurse says, “I can’t say I will always be there to support you emotionally but I will give you the best quality of care in the country,” which would you really want?

Yes, ideally, if you can provide the best quality of care PLUS good emotional support (which some people might argue should be the same thing), then you will truly be a good nurse (or any healthcare professional for that matter).   But if I had to choose… hell, give me the best, damn quality care you got!  I’ll get my support from an online group, family, friends, volunteers, meetup.com, church, work colleagues and anyone else who can’t provide me with the one thing a nurse can: healthcare! Besides, I think it’s high time nurses gain a reputation for skill and knowledge over their image as “sacrificing angels” and the “giving hearts” of healthcare.  Doctors aren’t the only competent ones with mad skills!