Nursing is not like other professions. You don’t JUST go through school and get a job. To be a nurse you have to undergo a metamorphosis. In nursing we don’t officially talk about this transition.

I like to call it professional puberty.

Yup, I said, “puberty”.

Why would I use such a heinous word that is only whispered or joked about? Well. The transition from civilian to nurse is awkward. As you are going through you might think you’re crazy or wonder, quite often, if you are normal. Just like when you passed through puberty the first time.

So, what are some of the signs that you may be going through professional puberty?

The babbling phase: You begin to learn a new language.

Remember when you were going through puberty and you began to stammer or babble around people you liked or your voice changed octaves at the most awkward times? Well, welcome back.

As you progress in nursing you will learn all new medical terminology and medical turns of phrase that will replace your previous layman verbiage. For example: Renal instead of kidney; edema instead of swelling; erythema instead of redness. These are easy words. It’s the hydrochlorothiazide, arthrodesis, or cardiomyopathy that may cause you to stammer because the pronunciation is challenging.

There will also be abbreviations that you will be learning and throwing around. NPO, ASAP, BID, OD, PRN, etc.

Advice on Being a Good Nurse: If you don’t know what a word means, ask. Too shy? Write it down and look it up. Build up your courage to ask later. Don’t just throw around abbreviations if you don’t know what they may mean. You might be throwing around one that is referring to your mother as a relative of a goat. A good nurse knows when to ask and clarify.

Clinical Advice: Don’t try out your new words on your patients. They are still layman and you can act as the translator for them. They will appreciate that. Practice your new words with your clinical group and fellow nursing students.

If you are having difficulty with pronunciation break it up into pieces, sound it out slowly, and then speed it up. For example: Metoprolol. Met-op-ro-lol. It’ll give you more confidence when you say the word next time…and don’t worry everyone has trouble with the pharmacological generics.

The awkward touching phase: You have to touch people and get in their space.

Um. There’s no way around it. You will have to touch people. With a touch we assess, we comfort and reduce anxiety with various levels of touch, and we move individuals with the firmness of touch. This is one of the best tools that nurses have.

We also get in people’s space. A lot.

If this is something that you have an issue with then you need to practice to overcome the awkwardness. If you find that you don’t want to touch anyone, at all, or get within their personal three foot window then this may not be a profession for you because it’s what we do.

How can you practice?

Start slow. Reach out and touch people you are close to on the arm or shoulder. You may need to talk to your friends and tell them that you are going to practice touching their arms during conversation.

Practice touching your lab partner for assessments.

Practice leaning into other people’s space. Don’t be creepy. Do this with friends and tell them that you are practicing.

The inappropriate share phase: You will want to share EVERYTHING that you learn.

This leads to some very uncomfortable moments for people who previously knew you before nursing school.

How will this happen?

Because of the experiences you will have in clinical you will develop a new appreciation for uniqueness of the human body, the human condition, and the absurd. You will want to share because it’s like entering another universe.

The world you knew and the world in which there are no secrets slam together. In our everyday “normal” world we don’t talk about what nurses see and experience. We hide these things because they are “unseemly”. Essentially, everyone else lives in Disneyland and you are entering the world underneath the magic kingdom.

You are seeing how the world really works.

What am I talking about?

The first I’m talking about is bodily functions.

You will see someone pee for the first time. Yes, this could be in a toilet or it could be on your leg. You will witness the origins of an evacuation.

You will see a sphincter and it will give a whole new meaning to “puckering”. When I was helping a LNA roll someone over to clean them up the process wasn’t yet completed. Upon rolling over the movement stimulated more fecal matter to be expelled, as I watched. It looked like fresh sausage and it kept on coming. I was appalled and entranced that this is what it looked like. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at sausage the same way.

Then, of course, you have what comes out of people. This could mean crazy words, blood, puss, parasites, vomit, compassion, love, humanity, tragedy, etc.

Human experiences. How people cope with their illnesses or those of their loved ones. You will want to talk about the diabetic who hid several Coke cans under her pendulous breasts because she wanted to “indulge” despite blood sugars in the 400’s. Those cokes were supplied to her by her family because they wanted to make her happy. Even though she was in the hospital because of her diabetic ketoacidosis. Now, you have to search her several times a day to prevent her from harming herself through a tasty beverage.

We witness the most private of bodily functions and human interactions.

Advice on Being a Good Nurse: When “crazy” things happen try not to judge the actions of people. Be curious. Ask them why? People will tell you, if you are curious. This will help you care for them and teach them how to care for themselves.

Clinical Advice: If you find yourself in a situation that is unusual talk to your clinical instructor. If they are not approachable talk to your fellow students. Place yourself in the patient’s shoes. Ask yourself why they might be doing this. Are they scared? Losing control? Share these experiences with the people you trust.

Remember not to share personal health information and NEVER share online.

It is normal that you want to talk about it. It’s amazing how the body adapts and what it does. It’s normal that you might find some of the stuff funny. Humor helps us cope and puts things into perspective.

To be continued…

Is your humor changing? Are you losing friends? Feeling sexually awkward in clinical? All this and more in Professional Puberty Part 2.


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