“I don’t know” is a simple and effective phrase, but one many of us find difficult to say.
Usually it’s because somewhere, deep down, we feel we should know and rather than admitting that we don’t know, too many of us will nod along while the voice in our head desperately hopes for clues as to what exactly everyone is on about. In the study of nursing this can frequently happen. On some wards staff will discuss cabbages while you wonder what exactly fruit and vegetables have to do with patient care. The fact that it’s a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) will probably elude you unless you ask. Staff can forget that you’re not as experienced as them, it’s easily done, so it is important to remind your mentor what is common sense to them isn’t to you quite yet. Regardless of how hard you study, nursing is a huge, changing and expanding field - you’ll never know everything there is to know. This makes it essential to question that you’re not sure of.
On the ward, you’ll likely hear terms and acronyms you don’t understand during a handover. You don’t have to ask about them then and there, but rather make a note of that you’re unsure of and raise it afterwards. The beauty of asking lots of questions is that it doesn’t make you look stupid. On the contrary, it makes you look “enthusiastic” and “keen to learn” (terms generously included in many, if not all, of my final reports). Additionally, when it’s a patient asking you something that’s over your head don’t pretend to know. That’s the worst thing you can do - they might ask you more questions! It’s alright to admit you don’t know, but offer to find out. Ask your mentor or another member of staff, read the BNF (the British National Formulae, a book that will become dearer to you any holy text) or ask your classmates.
When it’s a task you’re unsure of, ask to be shown - it’s bad practice not to. Patients aren’t test dummies, so know what you’re doing prior to doing it. I recently had to be shown how to do the perfect 45 degree folded bed corner which is, by all accounts, a basic skill. In my defence though, all my placements have used fitted sheets. I’m not too proud to admit I found asking that one a touch embarrassing, but it had to be done.
In lectures, asking questions is necessary too. I don’t know if you’re much like me, but in school I was always the sort who surreptitiously packed away his pencil case and workbooks a few minutes before the bell and vaulted over desks and fellow students to reach the freedom of the outside world. So the “any questions?” at the end of lectures in university was very definitely seen as a delay to me getting my lunch. It took the brave individuals who ask ‘silly questions’ for that opinion to change. These questions are not often silly, but sensible queries held by three quarters of the class, none of whom are quite bold enough to ask. I often learn more in the last ten minutes of question time than in two hours of lectures. So, for all our sakes, raise your hand proudly.
So, in short, it’s okay to ask questions, it’s normal to not know. You are definitely not alone - every student goes through it. You’ll still have plenty to find out when you’re qualified and that won’t change even after a number of years. We never stop learning and developing.
Which leads me to the question I’ve had since the start of this blog - how exactly do you end one for Student Nursing Times?