It was 20 degrees in the surgical suite but I was sweating in the cheap blue cotton scrubs I changed into an hour earlier. I had read all the textbooks and passed all the exams. I was filled with knowledge but I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know what to do with my hands and why all the surgical instruments looked exactly like scissors (I still think they all look like scissors).
I was in way over my head. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying and I kept frustrating the nurses by opening the door.
As a student, my most anxiety-provoking clinical practicum was my theatre placement. Coming into my fourth semester, I still found nurses in general intimidating, but theatre nurses invoked a new kind of fear in me — possibly it was the way their eyes stared below their scrub caps and masks, or their slightly fearsome reputation. Whatever it was, it made them especially scary for me.
My introduction to the theatre did not help matters. Before anything else, I had to pass a test. That test decided whether or not I was allowed to do anything at all.
Fortunately, I passed and was allowed to scrub in, but it left me with a lingering anxiety. Over the days that followed, I felt like I was the baby elephant in the room. Everyone knew I was there, but it felt like nobody looked at me or spoke to me, except to point out when I was doing something wrong.
I was trying my hardest to be useful and show that I was an enthusiastic student. Of course, nobody said anything, but I couldn’t help but feel like everybody really just wished they didn’t have to babysit me. I tried not to complain or be a nuisance. I learned a little in that first week. I got to assist in a few procedures. However, I didn’t feel comfortable.
I met Nurse N on day 5. She looked at me, actually looked at me. She asked my name, she asked me why I wanted to be a nurse. She asked me if I was ok. I told a half-truth and said that I was finding my time in theatres to be challenging. She read between the lines. Nurse N was warm and engaging. When we spoke, she listened. She told me about her time as a student and graduate nurse, sharing stories of all the mistakes she had made along the way. I felt calmer and more relaxed by the minute. Here was someone who I could relate to, and who wanted to relate to me.
Nurse N joked with me. She knew the reputation that theatre nurses had and she was constantly working to change that reputation. She explained that whenever students were working, she asked management to be paired with them.
Nurse N took me under her wing, showed me kindness and helped me learn in a nurturing environment. She introduced me to the other staff, the orderlies, doctors and anaesthetic technicians. She knew everyone and everyone responded to her in the same positive caring way. It wasn’t that Nurse N was any less busy than any of the other nurses, nor did she have a specific position of power that demanded extra attention. It was simply that she treated everyone equally, with a kind compassionate tone, actively listening to what others had to say and making those around her feel validated.
I began to look forward to my shifts in the theatre, I feel excited to learn and to be a part of the team. Every time I saw her face, Nurse N would check in on me, asking me what I had learned and how I was doing. She gently mentored me in such a way that I didn’t even realise it. And the beauty of it all was that she didn’t need to go out of her way or spend much additional time to make me feel as though I belonged alongside these amazingly competent theatre nurses — she just practiced intentional kindness alongside our normal interactions. She was a truly inspiring nurse leader and I feel fortunate to have been given the opportunity to learn from her.
My theatre clinical placement ended up being a fantastic learning opportunity. Because of Nurse N and the kindness she showed me, I was able to feel validated and learn in a supportive environment.
As I prepare to start my new career as a registered nurse next year, I find myself thinking a lot about the kind of nurse I want to be. I want to be able to inspire others. I have been fortunate to have been given a leg up along my student journey, and I can’t wait to be able to offer the same helping hand to new students coming after me. I hope I always remember what it felt like to be a student, seeing everything for the very first time, and how it felt to find a smiling face below the scrub cap and mask.
If you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness or frustration, give Nurse & Midwife Support a call on 1800 667 877 — they can offer the kindness you need to decide what’s next.