If you are a nursing student, I would like to welcome you to the fabulous field of nursing! There is nothing more rewarding than serving in this meaningful profession. I anticipate you plan to practice in this arena upon graduating and passing the state board exam. However, be cognizant that one of the most challenging transformations your nurse educator will be responsible for will be in assisting you to become a professional in the medical field.
I know that you think that your instructors are always nagging you about your appearance, but at the end of this process, you will understand how important this transition is in order to socialize you. You have certainly heard educators discussing first impressions and how important they are in establishing credibility and rapport with your patients and with the health care team. As health care professionals, our demeanor affects everyone around us while we are on duty. Since I am a nurse educator, I would like to disclose some of the dos and don’ts of your daily conduct that you should be aware of as a student entering the nursing profession.
Let us start with the basics: punctuality. Have you ever heard the statement that when you are on time, you are late and when you are early you are on time? This applies to both the classroom and clinical setting. It is disturbing and disruptive as latecomers arrive to the classroom once lecture or testing has begun. As you enter the room tardy, open and close the door, remove extraneous clothing (coats, scarves, etc.), retrieve necessary items from your book bag… Well, you get the idea. While you catch up with the rest of the class, your colleagues have preceded you in doing so. Consequently, the energy in the room shifts as you now settle in for a long day of studies. Have you considered how your lack of punctuality affects those around you? Maybe it is time you do so.
You may ask, “How about makeup? How much is too much?” My answer for this is that if you are putting false eyelashes on before attending class and clinical, you clearly have too much time on your hands. Why not spend those extra 10 minutes reviewing notes taken during lecture or take a quick peek at those index cards? Why not work on those intravenous drip calculations you have been struggling with? It only takes a few minutes out of your day to commit to tackling the less desirable tasks. Facial makeup now takes second place once you realize that the extra minutes you use to embellish your outward appearance would be better spent on nurturing critical thinking skills.
Do you ever have downtime? By this I mean the time you have during breaks and lunch. How do you spend this time? Watching kitten videos, catching up with the celebrities, or perhaps finishing a movie or television show? I tire of overhearing the latest on the pop stars—the Kardashians, etc. You must know that your instructors are observing you and that we are very much aware of what occupies your time. No, we are not telepathic. We know by the incomplete homework you turn in (or not) and by the multitude of excuses you have for late assignment submissions. We know by the test scores that you feel are acceptable, even when we, as instructors, know you can perform academically better. I implore you to spend all the time that you have honing your skills for nursing. There is plenty of curriculum to embrace, so do so every moment you have. I promise you will not be disappointed.
It is not cool to have your shoelaces or velcro straps untied. This look appears anything less than professional. It is hard to take anyone seriously who has not taken the time to attend to such details before entering the clinical arena. Another detail worth addressing is gum chewing. Along with the former offenses, it is difficult to accept that the person who is chewing gum is focused on anything other than smacking idly while passively listening or speaking to their audience. In my profession, potential candidates for employment were simply dismissed during an interview because of gum chewing. Do not let this be your fate while seeking employment.
Confine all cracks, cleavage, tummies, and tattoos for activities aside from nursing. Let me be clear: cover all external crevices at all times while in uniform. Having these body images in view is unprofessional and if you want to be taken seriously, save this look for socializing (e.g., dating, clubbing, or spending weekends with friends). Your patient nor your instructor desires to be distracted.
While we are noting external appearances, there is a reason for us to request that you not wear jewelry larger than stud earrings and a wedding band. The focus on you should not be about your taste in jewelry. Jewelry is a vehicle for the transmission of germs, and while I am addressing the chain of infection, allow me to broach the topic of nails. Remember your lecture on infection control: hand washing in between patients, before and after meals, after smoking and toileting? You discovered how microbes harbor under long nails and in cuticles. The studies have been done, and the results are in. Nails are to be no longer than one-quarter of an inch. You cannot effectively palpate or percuss body contours and abnormalities with long nails.
Uniforms: the glorious look of a uniform, but only if it is clean and ironed. No wrinkles are allowed on uniforms or lab coats. Your first impression from your mentors and patients should exude professionalism as noted in unsullied and tidy apparel. Your patients want to know that they are safe with you—that you will protect them, not infect them. Not only does appearance count but so do scents. I will take the fresh aroma of antiseptic soap from thoroughly washed hands any day over the stench of cigarettes. While you are observing your patients, let it be known that they are observing you, too. Leave them with an impression you can be proud of. Think about your appearance this way: when you are practicing in the clinical setting, you are interviewing for potential employment.
When you are in class or clinical, you are in a work zone. No cell phones allowed! Please stop checking them. Instead, check the cell phones at the door and place them on silent, in your pocket, or in your car. I am looking forward to the day when administrators will mandate that cell phones be left with the instructor or outside of class and clinical altogether. I am aware of the potential family emergencies, children, health-related issues, etc. There must be arrangements for emergency calls. If a protocol does exist and despite this, we find our students clinging to these electronic devices making it difficult for instructors to maintain our students’ attention. For example, during clinical orientation (I am ashamed to say) students and educators are now being in-serviced regarding prohibiting cell phone use. Cell phones are not to be used in the facilities while practicing. It should be common sense that when you are at work, you should not have time for texting, checking emails, or Instagram. You should be working, which means meeting the needs of your patients.
In meeting patient needs, how do you communicate with them? Do you use “honey,” “sweetie pie,” or other affectionate terms with your patients? This is unacceptable as it is highly probable that your patients are older than you and as such, deserve your utmost respect. Along with respect for your patients, I would also like to add appropriate communication to use with your instructor: never use obscenities. You will develop a plethora of new words in this profession, none of which is profanity. Good communication skills entail proper dialogue with your instructor, among colleagues, patients, and health care providers. Using the last name with the prefixes Miss, Mrs., or Mr. is acceptable unless your patient has given you permission to call him or her otherwise. And how will you know how you should address your patients? If the patient does not inform you that they would like to be called by another name, simply ask them after having addressed them formally. You will always gain the respect of your patients by being respectful.
Did you know that your posture and gait say so much about you? Walk like you have purpose. Strut up that hallway and answer those call lights as if it were necessary, because it is. Exhibit energy and enthusiasm as opposed to being lethargic. You may be tired, but keep it moving! Your patients want to know that you have the vigor required to take care of them. For this emotionally and physically exhausting profession, I would advise you to follow the Beatitudes: be well rested, be fit, and be well nourished. Nursing is a taxing profession. Take care of yourselves so that you can take care of others.
About Michelle Tanner, MSN, RN
Michelle Tanner, MSN, RN, has 40 years of nursing experience, which has been derived from a diverse background. Over the course of her career, she has practiced in the acute care setting, long-term care, and management and presently teaches in New England.
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