Especially for the older nursing student – it’s not about what you know

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Nowadays nursing is a popular choice for older students, whether it’s a person who already has a college degree (and is going for Master’s Entry into Nursing, or MEPN), or an LPN going back to get the degree, or somebody who needs to change careers.

Nursing school is a shock to the system

Regardless of how you got to nursing school, you find yourself back in college, back on the treadmill of studying, exams, seminars, group projects – everything. It’s a shock and a transition. For many, the shock is eased by the fact that you needed to take prerequisite courses before you finally got on the bus through nursing school, and this served to get you back into Study Mode. But it is still a shock as you learn what it is that nurses do.

through it all, there is something not to say.

“I already know everything I need to know, I am simply here to get the credential, sit for the NCLEX, and get a job. I don’t want to hear about all this theory. Just tell me what I need to do to pass the exam.”

(yes, I have heard actual students say those exact words.)

I would be the first to admit that getting a job is an okay motivation for choosing nursing, though it takes more cleverness right now than it did a year or two ago ( and yes, the job market will improve in a year or two, by the time you graduate). But if you repeat this statement in front of a faculty member, don’t be surprised if they raise an eyebrow… or two. Usually the response will be “Oh Really?” but that is not what the faculty member is thinking…….

What the faculty knows, that you don’t know

Here is why. Nurses are not paid for what they do, nurses are paid for how they think. This is such an important motto, it ought to be a tattoo (which is of course, the best way for The Youth of Today to study it).  Oh yes, we are teaching you how to insert a foley catheter, how to prepare a medication, how to start an IV, and a pile of other skills. But the skills in and of themselves do not compose the nurse. Don’t get me wrong – you need to be excellent at those skills and more. But, you need to learn how to think about patients in a wholistic manner, and also learn when not to do the skill, or when & how to change the way you do it to fit a given situation. this is the thinking part. Assessment-Plan-Intervene-Evaluate. A nurse is not a Junior Doctor; no matter how much we teach you about medicine that is only part of the nurse’s role.

for the older student

It’s possible that your faculty member may not be familiar with the term “Role Socialization” – but that doesn’t mean you can ignore this concept. Some people look at it and focus on the socialization part – thinking that maybe we mean you should be friends with your classmates. No, that is not even remotely what it means. Role socialization is the way a sociologist would describe the process of becoming a Nurse with a capital N.

Ask Yourself: How would a real nurse deal with whatever situation you are now facing?

The flip side of the coin

Here is a hint: if you ever want to impress your faculty member, ask them “How am I doing with role socialization?” and see what they say. They will most likely be impressed at the sophistication with which you are approaching the work.

If you are having difficulty getting it, the lack of role socialization will show up in your work. When you do patient care, you will miss things that you shouldn’t, and people will give you negative feedback about your “priority setting.” Or else, “lack of caring behavior” – which is of course, a dagger to your heart. A nurse’s number one job is to “care.” – we’ll go into that at some future date.

One solution? just do a websearch on the term.  You will find that there is a whole other universe out there among nursing scholars. The process of role socialization, and it’s success or failure, is a strong current in nursing education. Most of the links to it are to be found in scholarly journals. Looking for a research project?

One small Jedi mind-trick that real nurses use

Here is one tip: if a patient ever asks you a question, resist the urge to give them the answer. Always continue the dialogue by asking a followup question to clarify what ever they just said.

Boys vs Girls

I have two daughters. My wife and I, being children of the sixties, thought we would raise them in a gender-neutral way. Yes, we taught them to enjoy sports and boisterous play, such as throwing a football and go camping, and (later) to drive a stick. I built them a sandbox and got them a toy dump truck and a toy back hoe. But, even without our prompting, the two young ladies would spend time playing with dolls, doing hairplay with each other, and the like. To have kids is a fascinating experience in how girls learn to be girls and boys learn to be boys. Gender roles. the best example of socialization. Hey, I didn’t create the system, I simply bow to the fact that it exists.

Just for Men

Now, for the male student:

There are special challenges in role socialization for men who enter nursing. My best advice is to find the book “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” by Deb Tannen. Yes, it was published twenty years ago.  But it is still a classic. It’s a guide to clear communication when gender roles are different. It’s kind of book you can pick up and read from randomly yet you still will get something out of it. And on Amazon, you can get a copy for less than a dollar, plus shipping and handling.

Whenever I have a male student who is having trouble adjusting to nursing school, I lend them this book. Right now, I have no copies left…… hmmmmmm…..

Just one excerpt:

JUDGMENTS ABOUT WHY PEOPLE TALK AND DON’T TALK.

“For girls, talk is the glue that holds relationships together. Boys’ relationships are held together primarily by activities: doing things together, or talking about activities such as sports or, later, politics.” (pg. 85)

“Women and men are inclined to understand each other in terms of their own styles because we assume we all live in the same world. [A] young man in [Thomas Fox’ college] writing class noticed that his female peers refused to speak with authority. He imagined the reason to be that they feared being wrong. For him, the point was knowledge, a matter of individual ability. It did not occur to him that what they feared was not being wrong, but being offensive. For them, the point was connection: their relation to the group.” (pg. 179)

If that hasn’t whetted your appetite, I don’t know what will…… remember, it’s not about what you know, but how you think….

Do you know anybody who needs to read this? click on the “share” links below and send it along. Let’s take it viral.

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1 Comment

Filed under nursing education

One response to “Especially for the older nursing student – it’s not about what you know

  1. Rebekah

    While I am a nurse educator now, I was a ‘seasoned’ (older) student when I entered nursing school. I remember the feelings of ‘what in the heck is theory going to teach me’. Just gaining my footing in nursing school was challenging enough. Now, 10 years later, I can appreciate the idea of role socialization. It really is true that every situation is different. How we act and react in each situation is paramount for our patients. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

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