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'Completely clueless and in everyone’s way'

Starting your nursing course doesn’t always live up to expectations, whatever country you’re in.

I was accepted on to a two year nursing programme in August 2011. From the very beginning, we were told that if we follow directions, don’t kill anyone and pass all our tests, at the end of it they will allow us to sit for the Nursing Boards. On the first day they handed me a 300-page student nurse handbook that not only outlined the programme, but also listed all the different ways you can get yourself kicked off the course - I got the gist: work hard or they’ll show you the door.

The best thing about this programme is that after starting classes in August, by September you are already chasing patients around with a check-list and your very own stethoscope. I was ecstatic to be starting, I had visions of a professional version of myself making connections, saving lives and exceeding even my own expectations. I liked the way it sounded when I told people I would have “my own patient, my very own, all mine, all day”. I could hardly wait to get started…

As it turned out… I could wait.

Our first exposure to clinical experience was on a long-term care facility. I’d never been to one and knew little about them but when I showed up at 6:15 am in my crisp white shirt and blueberry scrub pants I felt ready for anything. I think at one point the word “savant” even crossed my mind, I was so sure I would be a natural at this whole nursing thing. My group showed up one by one and soon there were 10 of us.

Our first clinical day was an orientation day. Our professor arrived and shuffled us into a conference room to have a “pre conference” talk about our expectations for the course as well as what our professor expected from us: projects, what not to do, patients, what not to do, assignments, what not to do, getting a patient, attire, and most importantly what not to do… I sat with my eyes fixed on professor’s face, using an expression that conveyed interest while really I was somewhere very different in my head fantasising about how fantastic nursing was going to be. There were several moments when I caught myself comparing my professor to House and myself to whoever that super-thin, pretty character is. 

“Okay, you guys, ready!” said my professor with a clap and a wide smile. It wasn’t a question. We again shuffled behind her as she led us through the long cold hallways. Up until that point I hadn’t taken any notice of the facility as I was busy staring in my own House episode but as we continued to round one corner after another something hit me:

Our group was pretty diverse; there was a Filipino guy, an older white guy who knew it all, a young 21 year-old who was a bit standoffish, a Jamaican woman, a pretty 26 year old brunette, a cute gay guy and me. I began to envisage the beginning of every budget film I’d ever watched and forcefully moved myself closer to the professor - I know how this works.  First, one of the ethnic students will go missing and no-one will notice; then round the next corner another student will appear to be missing and we’ll be forced to notice the group getting smaller. “Oh” we’ll say, “so-and-so probably had to go to the bathroom, they’ll meet us up on the next floor”. When in reality they’ll have been kidnapped and are having their limbs removed as we speak.

The staff walked past us but no one smiled. There was a distinct smell of urine and I began to feel that all that time I’d spent on my hair and make-up had been wasted. The professor led us in to the elevator which was huge, old and dirty, and I felt was sure it would take us to the basement where…

Ding! “Okay, guys we’re here”. The elevator opened and it was at that moment that I knew… I just knew in my heart… I was not a savant. Suddenly I was incredibly nervous - what was I supposed to do? What should I say? How do I help people? What if I can’t help them? What if they know that I know nothing? I had flashbacks to last week when my professor had helpfully suggested I might have more luck taking blood pressure if I used the same stethoscope in my ears as the one under the cuff (I had two around my neck, I’m not sure why). My anxiety was in overdrive and suddenly I wanted to be anywhere but here – and I have a feeling I wasn’t the only one feeling that way.

Suddenly, in the short amount of time it took to get from the elevator, past the nurses’ station and down the hall we had all bonded, we all felt closer and not just emotionally - we had physically moved in to a tighter group.

To help us become familiar with the facility, we were given a treasure hunt list of 20,000 items we needed to find on the floor. We buddied up and ran off together in pairs, stopping just short of holding hands. Just like that we were let loose in this dark and lonely long-term care facility - here we were in this enormous place, completely clueless and in everyone’s way.

Emily Logan is a final year nursing student at Seminole State College in Florida.

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