Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We Want You As the New Recruit

A big surprise you get when you go to nursing school is that there are rules......lots of them. They are given to you in orientation and they're as long as your arm. Sometimes it feels like we've been drafted into the military. For adult learners, um, non-traditional students, er, okay old farts like me, it has been a long time since anyone has told us what to wear, how to behave, where to stand or how to talk. The good news is that for those of us who have been on this planet awhile, we have learned that rules are a part of life. Some are good. Some are worthless. The trick is finding out which rules can be gotten around without a problem, and which ones can be violated at your own peril.

There is a level of discipline needed in nursing school that is a bit overwhelming. For example, for clinicals there is a dress code.
I'm philosophical about the rule. Maybe I'm just too old to waste energy on rebellion, but more than that, I understand why they have this rule. I figure that reason they have the rule in the first place is because someone somewhere doesn't have the sense enough to know how to do the right thing. One day, many years before I got into school, someone showed up for clinicals not wearing the right uniform, wearing purple polka-dot undewear under white pants, popping their gum, reeking of cigarettes and B.O., sporting a tattoo down their arm that says "Born to Be Wild". This won't do much to put a patient at ease or to develop trust. I don't know about you, but if this person was coming at me ready to shove a Foley catheter in my wee-wee, I'd have a heart attack.

The path to nursing school is paved with pre-regs. We spend lots of time in classes in the sciences, math, English and so on. Some classes have attendance policies and some don't. Most of the time when we're mixed in with the wet-behind-the-ears youngsters, the rules for turning in assignments are pretty relaxed. I suppose this is to keep the helicopter parents out of the professor's hair. "Trevor can't turn in his homework because his alarm didn't go off today? No problem. He can turn it tomorrow. Oh, he can't turn it in tomorrow because he's going on vacation and won't be back until next week? Okay, well just have him turn it in whenever he gets around to it."

This won't fly in nursing school. It requires a different level of discipline that some students are acustomed to - and not just generation Y. People of all ages, if they've never undergone a challenge this intense, sometimes fall down and never get back up. See the point is to get us to make the transition from "employee" to "professional." Nursing school isn't just job training. It's a transformation. Sometimes students don't understand that the way you do things in high school and community college won't go over well in nursing school or in the hospital. There are deadlines. There is pressure.
There are tired, hungry cranky nurses waiting to go home and they need you to show up on time so they can. Turning in homework on time is a way of driving the point home that things need to be done on time, and if they aren't; there are consequences. The point is to get you to develop some integrity; to be able to do the right thing because you're supposed to without someone standing over you to make sure you do it.

As nurses we will be taking care of people who are vulnerable. The people we take care of, their families the agencies that employees us and the state board of nursing need to know that you can be trusted to not cause harm to this person. They need to trust that we won't steal from them, molest them, refuse care because of differences in opinion or take advantage of them somehow when no one is watching. How can they trust you to hold yourself to that high standard if you can't get your homework done on time? If you cheated your way through pre-regs - fuhgedaboutit! You won't last long in nursing school. First of all, your classmates will be working their butts off too hard to let you scam their work. Secondly if you never learned how to think, you'll be lost very quickly.

At first I was frustrated with students who couldn't step up and do what was asked. This problem took care of itself fast enough. Students who can't conform to the rules don't make if far. The rules aren't there to irritate you. The rules are to get you ready for what's ahead. There are greater expectations and bigger responsibilities. A person's life is in your hands.


SurvivingTeaching said...

Thanks for the wise words about nursing school rules. I am an LVN instructor, 5 years - at a new school that is trying to establish rules. I am generally a pretty easy going person but as an instructor - I can understand why nursing instructors get tough. It is to make you employable and a good nurse - so people will trust you more easily and you will be trust worthy. I enjoyed your commentary - Thanks.

License Pending said...

Thank you.

I don't know if it's a generational difference or I'm a born butt-kisser. Maybe it's years of working in different environments that gave me a clue about what's expected on the job.

Best of luck with your career as an instructor. We NEED you!