A nurse’s intuition: Learning to trust my gut

Tricia Munnerley RN
Registered Nurse Tricia shares how learning to listen to her instincts helped her become a better and happier clinician.

Nurses Intuition

It wasn’t until much later in my nursing career that I stopped to acknowledge my nurse’s intuition.

I’m talking about that gut feeling, that sense of knowing, often abstract and intangible, supported by evidence or not. It guides you to places you may not wish to go, but to an inevitable conclusion. Sound familiar?

Looking back, my intuition has been with me my whole life — not that I knew it back then. Nor did I have a name for it. That came later, after much scrutiny from my inner critic.

I didn’t set out to be a nurse. When I finished school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, let alone who I wanted to be. I had always enjoyed science and art, but how could I marry these into a sustainable and rewarding career? It was a mystery.

After years spent travelling overseas, a desire to study crept up on me. I looked into doing a science degree but found myself drawn to subjects in a nursing degree — subjects that connected the art and science of nursing but with the added human element of clinical placements.

My intuition, however small and unrefined, was starting to take shape.

Fast forward a few years, as the end of my graduate year fast approached. I couldn’t shake off the rising anxiety I felt, demanding my attention with increased urgency: “I don’t think I want to be a nurse!”

None of my clinical placements had felt like they fit. I didn’t fit — or so my inner critic was saying.

I’d like to say it was here, while plagued with this thought I stopped to pause, to acknowledge my intuition and thank it for pointing out professional areas that may not have sustained me. To tell myself: “It's ok. Listen to your gut.”

But I didn’t.

Not until I completed my final graduate year placement in the Intensive Care Unit. I loved everything about ICU. It felt right, an excellent fit. My intuition confirmed this, quietly confident in the background. I realised then just how powerful it was, this instinct of mine. It was time to tune in to it, to sit with it, to understand it better, and it had to start by tuning into me.

I recently spoke to a nurse who was caring for an elderly patient.

Their daily playful banter helped reduce some of the anxieties the patient was experiencing at the time.

One day he noticed the patient was slightly off. Their usual playful banter was not reciprocated. Something wasn’t right. His gut feeling was telling him so.

He conducted a neurological assessment, noting nothing significant. Yet, he couldn’t shake the feeling. So, he contacted the patient’s treating practitioner, who ordered a head CT that showed a small intracranial haemorrhage. Medical and nursing interventions were swift and the patient recovered to banter once again.

Thankfully the nurse trusted his gut!

A nurse or midwife’s gut feeling is much more than just a feeling! Whatever you call it: go with it, tune in, follow your instinct. It could save a life.

How to listen to your gut

If you’re not sure how to let your intuition speak to you, journaling is a good place to start. Check out Tessa Moriarty’s guide: Case Notes on Self: The benefits of journaling as self-care.

Need to talk about it?

If your nurse’s intuition is giving you mixed messages and you need to talk it over, the Nurse & Midwife Support team is here for you — free, confidential, 24/7. Give us a call on 1800 667 877 or email us.