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This site is for student nurses or nurses starting out. Letters to a Young Nurse are blog posts written like letters to help you find your way and make your journey as a nurse less difficult. 


Trust and Pay Attention

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Every year Americans are asked about the most trust-worthy professions. Nurses always score in the high 80's and 90's out of 100. A Gallup poll has rated nurses as the most trusted profession for 20 straight years. And nurses rank above physicians for their trustworthiness. But how do you become a competent and knowledgeable nurse in your first job? “The public recognizes nursing as the most trusted profession because of the care we take to provide the best support possible to our patients, their families, and each other,” said Dean Ann Kurth MSN, PhD, CNM, MPH, FAAN.

Like Rilke to the young poet, I offer these lessons from my journey to help other new nurses out there. The opinions expressed in these posts are just that, MY opinions. I do not pretend to think I know all the answers or that I am perfect. I am as imperfect as anyone. But my intentions are always good, and I share them in the spirit of the song “Humble and Kind” by Lori McKenna (made famous by Tim McGraw)

The words from the song that ALWAYS makes me cry are in the last verse:

Don't take for granted the love this life gives you,

When you get where you're going don't forget to turn back around

And help the next one in line

Always stay humble and kind.

This website and blog posts are my way of leaving the world better than when I started as a nurse. I have learned so much that I want you to learn without making the same mistakes I made in 30+ years. If you are just starting out as a new nurse, please take these letters with you as you get your first, second, 15th job.

Tip: PAY ATTENTION! As Iyanla Vansant so aptly puts it, “shut up, sit down and listen” But to pay attention and listen you must put the phone down, stop scrolling through the latest social media craze, take deep breaths, and listen to the underlying truth in the situation. It is imperative that you quiet your brain and be present for every patient, or co-worker encounter. Rainer Marie Rilke wrote in Letters to a Young Poet that we must "Live the question".

We have to get quiet and wait for the answer to arrive. By paying attention we are able to ask ourselves, is this situation, event, incident, etc. my lesson to learn? Because every encounter with anyone has the potential to be a lesson. Pay attention to the clues you see, hear, feel and intuit. But do so with a "monkey mind". A "monkey mind" is a Buddhist term meaning that you stay non-judgmental and are present with an open mind and open heart. Remaining in the chaos and drama of the event by playing it over and over in your mind with a negative mindset is not paying attention.

A trick I learned early in my career when I found myself in the middle of a "storm" was to practice a modified form of mindfulness (before we called it that). I would go to a quiet corner of the unit, close my eyes and imagine I am on my doorstep. At home in the corner above the door hangs a windchime. Before I go through the door, I hit the windchime ever so lightly. By hitting the windchime the signal would go from my fingers to my brain and back down to my ears and signals a dividing line in my day. The sound symbolizes an ending of work and the beginning of pleasure (or not work!). By envisioning my doorstep before walking into a patient's room, my breathing would slow, and the voices of negativity and doom would become quiet in my mind.

As nurses we must find ways to care for others without losing our way in the tornadoes created by the experience or conflict with another. Sometimes we are required to remain silent, wait out the storm and find a useful solution when the skies are calm and quiet. Sometimes we get caught in another person’s lesson and experience the effects of the collateral damage. Getting up after we fall is the only way to survive and thrive. We have a choice in how we feel and react to stressful situations. Did you know that when you are listening to another person's negativity about a situation your body releases the same chemicals (neurotransmitters) released during a violent physical attack? Study after study has proven that your brain experiences the same rush of chemicals and hormones whether the event is real or imagined. Soldiers returning from the Vietnam War exhibit the same emotions and brain chemistry at home in a safe place as those they experienced in the middle of a battle. The only way we can change the chemical rush is to stop, listen and think without a bias or judgement about the situation or experience. By "reliving" the experience in a safe environment our brain turns the experience into a non-threatening memory. Changing your perspective helps to get your mind to a quiet place. A tornado or a hurricane has a calm place in the center of the swirling winds. Pay attention to what thoughts are swirling in your brain. Pay attention to what your body is feeling. Where in your body are your muscles tense? Is your breathing even and unlabored or shallow and fast? Taking deep breaths slows everything down and refocuses the negative loop in our brain that we are so used to hearing. As Brandi Carlyle sings: "you can dance in a hurricane but only if you are standing in the eye".

The next time you are walking into a difficult situation or going into a patient's room for the 100th time today, take a deep breath, clear your mind and expect only goodness. There are many free apps out there that can help you learn how to meditate. Meditation is just breathing with intention. It is focused attention and active listening. When you slow your breathing down your brain slows down. And it allows you to silence all of the voices in your head. You can then pay attention to what your patient/family or other staff are really saying. Pay attention to the energy in the room. Pay attention to what your patient doesn't say because it can reveal what is below the surface that they are afraid to talk about. And most of all listen to what your brain is telling you about the situation.

My favorite mediation is led by Sylvia Boorstein. She is an older Jewish Buddhist and shares the Metta or Lovingkindness Meditation. You can find the recording here:

By paying attention to your breathing you can pay attention to your patient with lovingkindness.

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