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How can we stop feeling afraid?

  • Comments (11)

However I had a crisis of faith not too long ago. I was listening to a conversation between two nurses on a ward and it might as well have been in a foreign language. I managed to pick up the occasional word that I recognised but beyond that I was lost.

I know many people have spoken about the fear of not knowing enough and getting to the last year and panicking because the safety blanket of being a student will soon be ripped away.

But I think this doubting of self-confidence affects students before they even get to graduation.

I’ll give you an example, I was in a clinic sitting with my mentor in between patients and I was asked a relatively simple question. If I remember correctly it was to do with the direction of blood in the circulatory system. I knew the answer, but I hesitated and said I wasn’t sure.

Obviously my mentor was fine and continued to teach me but I was surprised at myself. I began seeing other examples, not only from myself but from my fellow students.

I know that we all have a desire not to look foolish in front of others and I can fully understand why you wouldn’t want to answer the question in a lecture but even when I was in the safest and most supportive environment to answer the simple question, I faulted and stumbled.

To end this story, towards the end of this placement I made a conscious effort to ignore my anxiety. I read, I asked questions and I learned as much as I could and it all culminated in one final day in clinic when I was able to contribute in a conversation between nurses. Everything seemed to fall into place when I was liberated from the uncertainty I had felt just a few weeks earlier.

We all know more than we think we do and whatever the circumstances student shouldn’t be afraid to try.

  • Comments (11)

Readers' comments (11)

  • George Kuchanny

    Hi Adam,
    Your article brings into focus a very widespread problem. There is only one piece of advice I can offer. Become sure. A life may depend on you being sure. Easy to say and not very helpful advice some may think, so how to do this? If you have a poor memory, and let’s face it, medicine is not rocket science BUT there is a lot of it, I would suggest my own remedy - a very small pocket book with your own most often forgotten things written in it with a short memory jogging answer.

    He bigger problem that comes to mind is that people tend to attempt get out of ‘showing themselves up’ to use a common term, by to best guessing their way forward and hoping that they are right. I would strongly advise that this is the single most dangerous thing that you can possibly do. Evenbtually you will most certainly incapacitate someone and quite possibly kill them. This quite widespread habit has to be avoided. For your own peace of mind and naturally for the wellbeing of your charges. If you do not know - ask. Just amazing how nice another nurse who really does know the answer willl be to you for doing just that.

    Nursing is most certainly not about being seen as 'alpha nurse' in comparison to colleauges, it is about being competent to the best of your ability (but not beyond) and being a safe pair of hands. The urge to 'blag' your way through situations must be resisted. That is why I have a bit of a difference of opinion on your last sentence. Be afraid to try if you do not know young man! Ask and you shall be rewarded.



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  • Anonymous

    Well said, George! To Adam, I would say that the only stupid question is the one unasked. As George said, patients' lives are in our hands and you should never be afraid to check if you're unsure. I have gone to doctors and asked them to clarify a Kardex if I can't read it. I wouldn't risk my registration or a patient's life by dispensing a drug if I were not sure, To be fair, I've never had a doc question my judgement although who knows what they say behind my back? that doesn't matter - the patient's safety is unltimate.
    Carry on with what you're doing, Adam and I'm sre you'll make a really good nurse

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hello everyone

    I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for your comments, as always I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.
    George – I fully understand and agree with what you say. I have in the past tended not to put myself in the position of looking foolish because of my inexperience and lack of knowledge. However, part of my training is to ready me for the responsibility of being a nurse. You are completely correct stand lights may depend on my ability to be decisive and correct and hopefully there is still time to make that ingrained in me. Thanks your comment.

    Anonymous – thank you very much your comment, it means a lot. Also out the cause there are opportunities for students to gain confidence and to become more assertive. We have all of the time in practice as well as assess presentations to really switch up the heat. In fact my next assessment is a group presentation which will test my ability to become assertive.

    Thanks once again.

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  • George Kuchanny

    Thanks for reading the my comment and taking it as intended Adam. I worried for a moment that it might come across as a bit hard.
    One thing I forgot to say was this. As you get more and more on the job exposure your knowledge and confidence will expand. You are made of the right stuff for sure.

    One day, sooner than you may now think, you will point out a concern (without a sneer or arrogance naturally) when a junior doctor prescribes/decides on an intervention that is inadvisable and you will be rewarded not only by the though of protecting someone from harm, you will be rewared by the doctor saying "We do not know what we would do without you Adam!" a milestone in your career. A very rewarding one I can assure you. All founded on your early work of getting anything you are unsure about set in your mind!

    I wish you the very best for the future Adam - keep asking!

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hi George
    I read all of my comments, I may not get the time to respond to all of them in a timely manner but for me it's one of the joys of the job.
    I have seen first-hand a nurse correcting a doctor and I have to say it felt really good. It was done in an assertive and professional manner but it was still satisfying.
    I do look flawed to the time that I can be seen as an indispensable member of staff and while I have been thanked as a student it doesn't quite feel the same.
    Thanks once again for your comment and I hope you continue to enjoy my articles.

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  • michael stone

    'If you do not know - ask' - from above.

    And also, be prepared to admit that you don't know things.

    This is hard to do, for many people (I was the person in lectures who used to interupt the lecturer with 'I don't understand how you got that bit') but very often once one person says 'I don't understand this' then a whole forest of other hands will shoot up with 'me neither !'.

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  • Adam Roxby

    I have often found myself respecting those who ask questions during a lecture.
    Perhaps a New Years Resolution?

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  • It may help to ease reticence in asking questions when feeling that perhaps one ought by now to know the answer, that even the most knowledgeable and experienced practitioners have, in their time, needed to ask such questions - and may well have been just as hesitant themselves. Nothing ventured; nothing gained. Courage!!

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hello David
    Thanks for your comment, it does tie into an experience I had later on in the same practice location. I found that my mentor didn't know something and we both looked up the answer and learnt together. A very tangible example of how a nervous is always learning.
    Things once again.

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  • tinkerbell

    Adam agree with all above comments, keep asking, what, why, how. We should never stop asking/learning. I would be concerned about students who don't ask questions, how are they going to learn? I love having students who are 'thirsty' to understand and ask questions. If it is a pride thing of being scared to look foolish then that pride, as mentioned above, will cause harm to another at some point because it is arrogant to think we know all the answers or hide the fact that we don't. Learning and teaching are a reciprocal process, we teach one another. As someone said 'the beginning of wisdom is being able to say 'I don't know'. Just spit it out, no matter how foolish you think it may sound and sit with the fear, it will pass, and nobody will think any the less of you but probably respect you more for being able to ask the question that others have been too scared to ask or even they have never known the answer to. I think it was Steve Jobs who said 'if you're not living on the edge then you are taking up too much room'. You have nothing to lose, only ignorance, and so much more to gain. Go for it!

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