The last few weeks have been a turmoil of final exams, graduation balls and completion ceremonies for final semester nursing students. This is always a special time of year when we reflect on the success and accomplishments of our students and wish them well as they embark on the next stage of their journey. Among the hundreds of students who are completing their nursing degree this year at my university, is my son. So this year’s celebrations have been particularly meaningful and exciting for me.
It’s been a privilege to be part of these students’ journeys and I’ve watched in awe as they have developed into amazing nurses. Although they no longer need my guidance I can’t help but think about the things I wish I’d known at the beginning of my nursing journey. So, before you leave, here are some final words of advice for all soon-to-be registered nurses …
Dear students, please remember:
- Make your own health and well-being your first priority. Unless you care for yourself you’ll soon experience burnout and be unable to provide quality care to your patients. Each day take time to do what makes your soul happy; and practice habits that sustain resilience such as being grateful, reflective, vulnerable, authentic and mindful.
- Always volunteer to take the ‘difficult’ patient. They are the patients who need you most. Their so-called ‘challenging‘ behaviours are a call for help and indicate unmet needs. This is your chance to really make a difference as a nurse.
- Make empathy a deliberate practice, empathy for yourself, your colleagues and your patients. Empathy is transformative and will sustain and energise you. And remember, kindness is the direct expression of empathy. Kindness is the language that the blind can see in the deaf can hear. Be the person who practices anonymous random acts of kindness wherever you work.
- Be brave, demonstrate moral courage and speak out against poor practice, bullying and issues that undermine social justice and patient safety. Remember what Martin Luther King Jr said, ‘For evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men to do nothing’. Or as Dr Seuss explained it ‘unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better it’s not’.
- Lastly, as you begin your careers as registered nurses keep in mind that it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Don’t just turn up to work, be fully present. Remain optimistic and passionate about nursing and know that each day you can make a real difference in people’s lives … because this is the privilege now bestowed upon you as a result of your hard work, determination and success.
A few years ago Erin Scaturchio, one of my previous graduates, wrote and performed this song for her fellow nursing students at the end of their degree. ‘Head up High’ is an eloquent tribute to the next generation of amazing nurses’ dedication to being ‘a voice for the lonely, hands for the broken and strength for the weak and the frail’. https://erinscaturchio.bandcamp.com/track/head-up-high
‘If … for nursing graduates’ ~a mediocre re-interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ by Tracy Levett-Jones
If you have a sense of wonder about the uniqueness of each human being
And recognise the vulnerability of those who seek your care
If you work in ways that are authentic and wholehearted
And empathy, kindness and compassion are your prayer
If you value each person’s culture, religion and life history
And do not judge them by their colour, creed or world view
If you see the beauty in the weary eyes of older people
And with patience listen to their stories as if each were new
If you seek harmonious team relations
But possess the moral courage
To speak up when confronted with poor practice or injustice
And stay strong and do not become discouraged
If, despite the challenges you encounter
You remain positive and passionate about your role
If you lead with purpose, passion and commitment
Seeking to inspire and empower, not control
If you value what you have learned
But have an appetite to learn much more
If you recognise that nursing is dynamic and evolving
So keep on learning even, when time poor
If in two years or in ten or twenty
You still see nursing as a privilege and an honour
And can with pride in your profession stand tall
And never ever lose your sense of humour
If you recognise that success is more than career progression
And that sometimes accolades are just a myth
If you finish each shift knowing that you have made a difference
Both to the people you care for and those you work with
Then you’ll have the joy that comes from knowing you’re the nurse you were meant to be
And – which is more – you’ll be the type of nurse who I’d be proud to call my friend ….