I’m going to start volunteering at the local hospital this week in their NICU. I’m really excited, it’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was in middle school, and I’m a senior in college now. But I’m really nervous and scared. I’ll be (hopefully) going to graduate school next fall for nursing with a track in NNP. Do you have any words of wisdom or advice? And I’m afraid I’ll experience it firsthand and then for some reason I won’t want to go for my NNP and I’ll have no idea what I’ll want to do.
That’s great that you’re going to get to volunteer in the NICU and get a sneak peek of what that nursing specialty has to offer.
If you’re going to actually have the opportunity to do some nursing related tasks, click here for a post with some information that I typed out for another student.
As far as advice goes, I think for your situation I would tell you to just enjoy the ride. You’re either still in nursing school now or about to start it (sorry I couldn’t tell from your post) which means there are still a lot of experiences to be had. I truly hope that the NICU is everything you wish it to be, but it’s okay if it’s not. (Repeat after me: It’s okay if it’s not.)
The hard thing about nursing is that for so many of us it is a calling. It’s not just picking some major and going out there and getting any old job. It is a lifestyle. It has the potential to affect our lives just as much if not more than the patients who come under our charge.
So when you worry about not liking the specialty, it’s not the same as saying, “Hmm… I really don’t like working in retail. Maybe I’ll get an office job instead.” It’s saying, “Dear god, is this thing, this dream I have for my life a possibility? Is it going to be as beautiful and meaningful as I’ve worked it up in my mind to be?”
Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t. But remember with any nursing job there are going to be days where we turn our eyes upward and shake our fists at the heavens and scream, “Why the hell am I doing this???” But most days, when we’re where we’re supposed to be, we are filled with the peace of knowing that what we do makes a difference for our patients and for ourselves.
You’ll find your niche either way. I promise! I know this first-hand. When I started the nurse residency program I was just sure that I wanted to work in pediatric hematology/oncology. And guess what? When I had my shift rotation through that department, I didn’t like it! It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. But I fell in love with the NICU, (ironically enough, my first nursing love way back to the days of high school), and fortunately for me that’s where I landed.
Sure, I was surprised that I didn’t like heme/onc. I was already a member of the Oncology Nursing Society and I had volunteered in an adult oncology clinic before, so I felt I had a realistic expectation of what I would see. I had in my mind that I was going to work there.
But I didn’t know what I didn’t know! I didn’t know that I love being in a critical care environment. I didn’t know that I would love working with infants. I didn’t know that I would love the dynamic that is created between the families and the NICU team.
But getting out there and experiencing it with an open mind… keeping your eyes and ears and heart open… taking everything in… that’s what this experience can afford you. Many people don’t have this type of opportunity. So enjoy it for what it is. A glimpse into what your future may be. Learn what you can while you’re there. Talk to nurses and ask them what it is about their job that they love. What do they hate? What makes them come back shift after shift?
Stay in the moment, anon. Everything else can fall into place afterwards.
I really hope this helps. Write back and let me know how it’s going!
So this is the same anon from before, who posted about being in a NICU nurse residency program. It has been an awful, awful week where I felt so clueless and did a million stupid things at the hospital and I would appreciate any words of encouragement. Please? @_@
I’m sending you a virtual hug right now. Here, sit on my internet couch, with a cup of nice coffee or tea, put your feet up and let’s have a chat.
Let me share a story with you.
One time, when coming onto shift I was told by the outgoing nurse that although the infant already received a PRN Fentanyl dose that he was still agitated and she thought I should go ahead and give the PRN Ativan as well. I assessed the baby, agreed with her opinion and quickly drew up the Ativan, had another nurse do my double check (5 rights and all) and administered it to the infant.
Within 30 minutes of administering the dose, my patient had two significant brady/desat spells requiring me to bag him off the ventilator. He then became hypotensive. I was so confused. He hadn’t had this type of reaction to Ativan before. I decided to research the half-life of Ativan in conjunction to when I gave it to see how long I should keep monitoring for an adverse reaction. I pulled up the computer charting and saw IT. The prescribed amount was 0.025mL. I gave 0.25mL. Ten times too much Ativan.
Heart, meet stomach. I paged the NNP, my charge nurse, and used our self-reporting system to make the error known.
The next day I had the same patient, and in an unrelated issue he had a serum potassium level of 8! The team decided to give bicarb. An hour passed and the NNP came around again to check on him. She asked when the bicarb was started. I stated that I was still waiting for it to come up from Pharmacy. She looked at me quizzically and then stated that there was always bicarb in the Accudose on the floor. (Which the order also stated.)
I know what you’re thinking, “Oh gosh! What an awful couple of orientation shifts!” I felt so dumb… so incompetent… especially since this happened after being a NICU nurse for 18 months.
Anon, we are always learning and unfortunately that learning process is laden with mistakes that we have made. My preceptor once looked me square in the eyes and said, “You’re going to make a mistake one day; one that will really affect your patient. You just have to hope that it doesn’t hurt them.”
We are human. One of my favorite quotes is, “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” (– Augusten Burroughs) We try our best. We read articles and books about NICU nursing. We watch how more experienced nurses perform clinical tasks and talk with families. We confer with NNPs, and doctors, and RTs and countless other people because we cannot do this alone… we are never always right.
All I can really say is keep at it. Try not to make those mistakes again. You’re learning. So learn. Be okay with the fact that you are not an experienced nurse nor experienced in NICU care. You’re working in a field that nursing school really does not prepare you for, for a hospital that you’re still getting used to, with co-workers that you’re trying to forge new relationships with – all while processing the emotions of what it’s like to be a new nurse, in an ICU with babies who are very, very sick.
Relax just a little bit – forgive yourself for when you feel silly, or stupid, or like you should have known something. Imagine one of your friends going through this same situation. Repeat the kind words you would have for him or her to yourself. For every negative that you’re focused on I bet you could come up with at least one or two positive things you’ve accomplished.
You are a registered nurse. You save lives. You provide comfort to those who need it. You are a rock star!