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The face: Reflections from a new nurse

By: By Christian L. Ellis

Unlike many, I never had the vision or lifelong desire to go into the nursing profession. It was not something I had ever thought of considering or pictured myself doing. Instead, my passion for healthcare was acquired—or rather, stumbled upon—during my undergraduate career obtaining a different major in cellular, molecular, and physiological biology. Little did I realize that this different degree would lead me into my future calling as an RN.

In my time at Christopher Newport University, I became exposed to phenomenal professors who took a previously loathed subject by myself—science—and turned it into something that enthralled my attention. During my coursework, I took a human anatomy and physiology course, which became my personal favorite. To put together the foundation of molecular science that I had previously gathered with the intricacy of the human body was an amazing combination. It was around this time that I began to realize that a career in nursing was meant to be in my future.

After graduation, I returned to my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and was faced with the dilemma of where to pursue a nursing degree, so I could obtain an RN license. Because I had just finished a bachelor’s degree with a public university, I decided to opt for a slightly more financially friendly nearby community college. Two years later, I graduated with my nursing degree and accepted my first full-time position as an RN on an intensive care unit at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While my coming into the workforce as a critical care nurse was at a chaotic and unprecedented time, I believe it was the most defining events of my life to date. I not only had to learn critical care as a new graduate at what felt like lightning speed, but I also was watching experienced nurses leaving my unit and taking travel contracts. I felt I was left to tread water alone as I navigated researching and answering questions that I still had as a new nurse.

But although many evenings I returned home feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, there were also an equal amount of—if not significantly more—times that I felt my confidence in my abilities and myself grow. I grew from considering myself as a follower into a leader, and as the year continued, this newfound identification became further confirmed to me. I adjusted to routinely responding to rapid codes throughout the hospital, began precepting new hires, and learned charge-nurse duties as previous charge nurses continued to leave the hospital. This all was still occurring in under a year from when I had first begun.

However, I have always felt that while being able to demonstrate leadership and initiative is important, being able to be a team player also is crucial to the nursing field. Working in a highly critical environment makes it especially important to both be—and have—good coworkers who will jump in when more hands are needed. There have been countless scenarios in which I would have been sinking if I had not been willing to accept help from another nurse, and vice versa.

One example happened during a shift when I was given an unusual and intense assignment, due to the interventions the two patients immediately required. One was in emergent need of dialysis, and the other required a rapid blood transfusion to correct critically low hemoglobin, but had no working I.V., and the only rapid infuser was malfunctioning. I felt extreme pressure, as both patients needed immediate attention for interventions that merit constant vigilance. Thankfully, another nurse on the unit had a simpler assignment and was able to jump in. Together, we tag-teamed the two rooms and were able to get both procedures done and both patients stabilized.

As this scenario demonstrates, it’s crucial in the nursing profession to be able to display strong independent leadership, but also to recognize when to accept help for the greater good of patient safety. Pride should never be a factor that is allowed to get in the way of ensuring the safest and best care of a sick patient.

Another characteristic that’s important for nurses to embody is being creative in adapting to circumstances. Many times this last year I’ve had to think outside the box to improve situations for me, my coworkers, and the patients in my care. A nurse’s care is holistic, addressing the needs of the body, mind, and spirit. Each patient brings their own diverse and individualized needs within each of these areas. It remains the duty of the nurse to anticipate patients’ needs and seek to address them in order to promote holistic healing for the patient.

Because of their constant efforts to help others, it’s not surprising that self-care is a serious obstacle for most nurses. In order to fully promote the holistic health of another individual, a nurse must put their own life, concerns, anxious thoughts, and other feelings, aside to focus solely on the patients’ needs for the entirety of each shift. The outside world must melt away for those hours to avoid distractions that may interfere with the care a patient receives.

But, as Bratton notes, when nurses become burnt out from not having their own needs met, they’re more likely to experience regret in their clinical decisions. Therefore, it’s vital to the patient’s well-being that nurses addresses their own needs, as well their patients, so they can make sound decisions related to patient care.

For many, hospitals and doctor offices are uncomfortable environments to be in. People are sick, in pain, or irritable or scared. Procedures and tests previously only seen on television and in movies are now someone’s fear-ridden reality. I have come to believe that it takes a special type of person to choose a career in which they show up every day to voluntarily enter these offices and buildings, in order to help alleviate anxiety and promote the health and well-being of total strangers. Furthermore, the experience this last year and a half of showing up as other healthcare workers consistently left their units and hospitals imprinted a deeper meaning on my heart regarding the nursing profession.

I know that this newfound philosophy will also continue to guide me as I look forward to what lies ahead in my nursing career. That to show up and choose to be the face present in someone’s most dire time of need—that is being a nurse.

Christian L. Ellis is a student at the James Madison University School of Nursing in Harrisonburg, Virginia.


Bratton B. Self-care for the caregiver: What are the risks if we don’t care for ourselves?

J Ped Surg Nurs. 2018;7(1):3. doi:10.1097/JPS.0000000000000163

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