Going through life you encounter a lot of firsts, and as a nursing student, your first clinical experience is something that is engraved into your brain. Thinking back on it, I can almost feel myself relive the nerves I was experiencing back then. All the preparations leading up to the day that we would finally step foot inside of our first facility to actually take care of a patient. Talk about a +4 bounding pulse.
Your first clinical experience is full of learning opportunities that will stick with you forever. A mistake you once made you will probably never make again. After you get the first day/semester of clinicals under your belt, you will begin to gain more confidence in yourself. Every clinical experience you walk away with learning something new.
First day of clinical be sure to have everything prepared the night before, such as uniform, supplies, and most importantly, coffee. The first thing that was to be done in the morning was a morning set of vitals. Having to perform vitals on a patient instead of one of our classmates possibly felt like the most intimidating thing in the world. These vitals were to be charted and taken into consideration before giving certain heart and blood pressure medications, so you better hope that you are being as accurate as possible. No pressure! I can also recall my first encounter with my patient, which was nonetheless awkward. I remember they weren’t fully interested in having a student nurse, and it was important for me to not let it affect my learning experience. If you’re ever being taken care of by a student nurse, remember that they aren’t there to harm you, I promise.
First meeting aside, it was time to actually take care of my patient. You mean I have to give baths/dress a patient that isn’t a mannequin?! Right away you start thinking of all the things you feel like you aren’t prepared enough to do. But that’s okay for your first day, because you only know as much as you learned in the classroom setting, and now it’s time to apply all those skills. You made it this far! After the first day, I remember feeling a sense of relief, and this wasn’t going to be so bad. I actually looked forward to clinical days, because it meant time to spend with patients and get to know them. I can never thank the patients that believed in me enough. Hearing a simple, “you’re going to be a great nurse,” really does stick with you. Words matter, so remember that when taking care of a patient.
I dreaded (still do) waking patients up at the crack of dawn to remove their arm out of their warm bed, and put my cold stethoscope on them to take vitals, to get them up for their 7 am medications even though they have been woken up periodically throughout the night from night shift. I felt so guilty. A comment an instructor once told me that has really helped with my guilt in waking patients up is that patients are in a hospital to get better. All those times they are woken up for medications or vitals are only helping them in preparation for discharge. Nurses only have a short time with a patient on some floors, and within that period the patient needs to become well and stabilized.
Giving medications and injections was something I was really excited about. Keeping conversation with the patient while giving something like an injection is helpful to them, especially if they don’t like needles. “Good morning sir, I’m about to stick you with a needle, so how about the weather?” After your first injection you feel like you could stick people all day. Ok, don’t do that, but nothing feels better than knowing you are helping your patient get better. Some patients were on 15 plus medications, and knowing all the facts about those medications helped me feel better about giving them to the patient. Knowing your medications as a student nurse could help you bring up an error that a doctor may have made. What stands between a medication and a patient, is a nurse.
Looking back now, I wish I had told myself to take my time with everything I do, and to not let silly mistakes get to me. Mistakes don’t reflect the nurse you are going to become! Always give each patient the proper care, and learn time management, for one day you will be taking care of several patients at a time. You will encounter nurses who want to help you, and you will encounter some who look at you as nothing but a burden. While it’s unfortunate, don’t let them get to you, and remember to always have confidence in yourself and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. You are there to learn! Stay engaged in conversation with your patients and talk them through things, such as catheter insertions, injections, or any other procedure. Most importantly don’t forget to smile, because sometimes it’s all a patient needs to brighten their day. Be the nurse that they never forget!