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What nursing school doesn't teach

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I wish I had known when I started my course that by the time I got my first nursing job, I would still know only a fraction of what it means to be a nurse.

If you do it right, being a nurse is more than a job. A change occurs in you when you hold a dying patient’s hand, cry with a parent whose child is sick, and speak to a patient who has just learned how long they have left to live.

Nursing lecturers and mentors cannot prepare you for the change that happens when compassion becomes an integral part of your character. Compassion is not what a nurse has to do under law, but what a nurse feels compelled to do. Compassion becomes your whole entity as a nurse.

When you qualify, you will find yourself on the floor with an assignment of 4-6 patients. You’ll know which medications are due and how to dispense them but, while you’re trying to be a good nurse, problems come up. Family members will call during the busiest time in your shift wanting to know everything. While you’re patiently answering their questions and addressing their concerns, in the back of your mind you know you need to get busy or get behind. At the same time, call lights will be going off, a doctor will appear wanting to review his orders with you, the pharmacy will need to talk to you, and the unit secretary will be irritated that you’re too close to her space.

I wish I had learned in nursing school that I’d have to hold my own urine for at least six hours and to gulp my lunch down in 10 minutes. Those 15 minutes breaks you’re allowed by law? Forget it, there just isn’t time.

I wish I had learned how to deal with grouchy and demanding doctors.

I wish I had learned that no matter how much you do for your patients, sometimes it’s just not good or fast enough.

I wish I had learned how to start an IV - a basic task every nurse should know. And I wish I had learned never to let patients know you’ve never started an IV before…

So you may be asking yourself: “What have I got myself into?” “How do nurses do their job and love it?” It’s simple: compassion.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines compassion as “a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”. The word compassion is in the top 1% of words looked up on the internet, yet despite all the theories in the nursing profession, there is no “Theory of Compassion”. 

A compassionate nurse has the ability to feel empathy for their patients no matter how “nice” or “un-nice” they are.

Possessing compassion makes a statement not only about who you are as a nurse but who you are as a person.


Joanna Hysler is a graduate student

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