Many believe that the soul and essence of nursing is caring. This is partly true. Caring is not, however, simply being nurturing and making a person feel comforted and secure. Caring involves crucial actions and decisions that make a person secure, that enable that person to heal if at all possible.
Nursing in the modern clinical setting involves knowing key aspects of a wide variety of conditions, medical problems, injuries and preventive practices.
A solid science, math and humanities background lays the groundwork for key courses that are more clinically related. Anatomy, physiology, statistics, literature and languages all prepare the person who would strive to be a nurse.
The nurse must thoroughly understand principles of pathophysiology, psychology, pharmacology, and hundreds of direct patient care techniques.
The study of these areas is refined and focused when the nurse also studies core concepts of nursing for the very young, the very old, the traumatically injured, the chronically ill, mentally ill patients and the community.
Many students excel at academic preparation. However, the true challenge of nursing is not the book learning, but the ability to apply this learning to help patients or community members reach their best outcomes: full or partial recovery, with the best rehabilitation and follow-up available, or a dignified death for those who cannot recover.
This practical application of material learned in the classroom requires excellent people skills, clear, decisive thinking, good time management, physical strength and endurance, extraordinary patience, and capable, gentle hands.
As a new registered nurse, you will face many realities, not the least an early sense of being drowned in duties so diverse that self-confidence is shaken. Persistence and patience with yourself will ease the transition.
Continued learning is necessary in today's world of rapid changes in health care. The new nurse must also learn to take care of self this means good nutrition, adequate sleep, and great care with lifting patients. Use alternatives to the two-person lift. Proficiency and true confidence only come with experience. Persistence and diplomatic, effective persuasion are needed here.
Margaret Sanger fought for nearly 50 years before birth control became legal in the United States. Florence Nightingale wrote thousands of letters, as well as an 860-page report on military health care shortcomings to government leaders and major politicians of her day before she was able to persuade the British government to modify conditions for their enlisted troops. These were significant changes that took time. Take the long view and work hard. You too, can effect change.
Always remember that the less-glamorous parts of nursing are often the most privileged to perform. We have the responsibility and, yes, the honor, of touching people when they are most vulnerable. What is more vulnerable than not being able to clean one's own bottom after a bowel movement? What is more limiting than not having the strength to turn in bed? What is more frustrating than not being able to feed oneself?
Yes, nursing requires great clinical knowledge and careful decisions about medications, lab values and seeking help from others for your patient.
But the hands-on care and personal explanations of a kind and capable nurse are what the patient and family need and remember from their time with you.
Kathleen Kaufman is president of the Utah Nurses Association. She has 35 years of experience as a registered nurse. Nurses' Week runs through Sunday, May 12.