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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. 

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Learning is not easy!



I was a nursing instructor for 5 years. I taught various subjects; pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, psychology, cardiology, clinical fundamentals, blood collection and IV access. Then I went back to college to learn how to teach. Not only do I know how to teach but I also know how to study. I have always loved learning and read something different every day in the areas of medicine, nursing, psychology, physiology, philosophy and general knowledge. Every time I get a new job I find resources to help me in my job. And if I am presented with a new diagnosis or condition, or medication, or topic that I am unfamiliar with I learn about it. I refuse to know less than my patient about a topic. How can I help him/her if I do not have the basic knowledge about the topic? How can I teach if I do not know the subject?

So let me give you a great big hint:

I found this information when I was researching websites for nurses. On the nhcps.com website I came across this information about studying.

"Let Your Instructor Guide Your Focus

You may find yourself overwhelmed with the amount of reading you have to do. But keep in mind that every instructor will guide you toward certain information for a reason. This is the information that’s most likely to be on the test.

Do any required reading. But put most of your attention on the key points your instructor covers in class, on slide shows, and in other online resources."

ABSOLUTELY! YES! AMEN!

When I was preparing my lectures I always looked at the quiz first. And then I made sure there was a slide for every question. If I did not review the information then it is not fair to ask a question about it. I also would think about what the nurse would be presented with in clinicals and on their job. For example, in Pharmacology when I reviewed Diuretic medications I remembered the medications I saw most often AND I looked at online lists for the most common 100-200 medications. Why teach about an obscure diuretic that is never used when the most common are what nurses will see the most often in their career? And then I would focus on the most important medications.

Pharmacology is a tough subject. And yet a nurse will spend 75% of their time passing medications. In the span of their career a nurse will administer over 90, 000 medications. I said that in class once and a student, with a look of horror on her face cried, "we have to learn 90, 000 medications?" No, you will give a few duplicates but you better know, at a minimum, the mechanism of action and the side effects of every medication that you give a patient.

The unofficial 3rd cause of death in hospitals is medication errors. It is unofficial because hospital administrators and Big Pharma wants that information to be kept secret. And yet, the number one reason a nurse leaves the nursing profession forever is related to a medication error. If you killed a person because you gave the wrong medication, could you return to that unit?

I became a nursing instructor not only because I love learning and teaching but because I had met a few uneducated nurses and I wanted to ensure that if I ever got sick there were nurse in the community who would not kill me with the wrong medication!

As Iylana Vanzant says, "shut up, sit down and listen!"



And then focus on the key areas in the lecture. I would put **** beside a title or on a subject if there was a question on the exam that asked about this subject. That was not only a reminder to me to spend extra time on the subject but it was also a hint for students that this might be on the quiz. Midway through Pharmacology 2 I had a student approach me at the end of class. With a twinkle in her eye, she said, "I got you, teach! All I have to do is focus on those **** and I ace the exam every time!" It was my hope that by focusing on those important and often seen medications the student would remember those when she was passing them to a patient. And by focusing on the prototype of the classification of medications the nurse sees that many of those drugs have the same mechanism of action (MOA), side effect (SE), interaction and contraindication.

And another important tool I used in teaching was to recognize that learning cannot be done by reading only, or taking notes only, or listening to the lecture only. It takes all of those ways and more to learn. The nursing student will only learn 5% of the information. That's depressing to realize as a nursing instructor. I am given another 20% by providing memorable audiovisuals. That is why I never only had a PowerPoint. I had videos and handouts and online resources for students.



Teaching others is the best way for you to learn. That is why in clinicals your instructor should be making you teach the patient. One of my best teaching tools had nothing to do with me. I brought in a willing patient to our clinical group room. She had to be taught different procedures or had to be taught about a medication or treatment, etc. When the pair finished the other students and the patient critiqued their work. It was a great success because the patient had been a teacher and understood how students learn.

Another way to teach is to use study guides in a group setting. My best students would go over the study guide before every test. But not by themselves. Each person had to explain the specific subject in their own words to the rest of the group. Let me tell you why this is so important beyond learning for the test. Nursing requires you to teach others. You might be teaching patients how to perform a procedure at home. You should be teaching patients on how to take their medications and how to be safe taking them. You could be orienting a new nurse to the unit. You could become a nursing instructor or educator. And just because you have LVN or RN behind your name does not make you a good teacher. Practice makes you a good teacher. On the job training makes you a good teacher. As my favorite writer and poet Maya Angelou says,



I have learned the knowledge needed so I will teach you. I have the information so I will give it to you in the way I think you will learn best.

And remember, it takes more than 1 way to learn a subject and it takes more than 1 way to teach a patient.

See Part II of Learning: Teaching.

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