8 Ways to Become a Better Nurse

One of the benefits of being away from bedside nursing is that I’ve had time to reflect on my own performance. How could I have been better? What simple precepts would have helped? Being out of the “fog of war” has given me a clearer view of what’s right and what’s wrong in health care. Our culture doesn’t offer much positive encouragement for the nursing profession. That’s a costly shame, as many Baby Boomers soon will discover. To help out, I’ve come up with eight ways to become a better nurse.

  1. Pay attention to how you perceive your patients
  2. Intend nothing but the best for your patients
  3. Speak the truth in a way that echoes your wisdom, not your darkness
  4. Act on the facts but respect your intuition
  5. Live your life as a connection to something greater than yourself
  6. Work through your hardest times, not against them
  7. Mind your mind: its power to destroy is its power to heal
  8. Focus on the moment, not the past

Some of us are cut for bedside nursing, some of us aren’t. I think if you’re in bedside nursing and enjoy what you do then you’re a Jedi Knight who commands more respect than you probably receive.

For those of you who don’t quite enjoy what you do, think about your reasons for what you do. Consider the eight precepts (or make up your own) and see if anything changes for the better. You have more options than you realize.

Feel free to add your own suggestions for becoming a better nurse. If I get to 101, I’ll post your thoughts here and promote the living shit out of the list.

I hope the list I’m offering here helps you to become a better nurse, a better person, a better part of our quickly-changing world.

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  1. And you too, Keri! Nurses tend to forget that they were once students. I love to teach but I also love to be taught new things, better way of doing things.. and please do not ever forget… you need to ask CNA’s also how the best way to do something… like transfers, talk to or deal with a certain type of patient. Yes, CNA’s can teach you alot if you will let them. I have had RN’s ask me… why don’t you become a Real Nurse? I am an LPN. So sad… I don’t take this out on the other nurses…. not your fault. Just pray for them but do not talk back to these that say those things.

  2. yeah, I know this is old saying but… never forget that some day, this just might be you in that bed. It probably will be and how do you want to be treated? I have had some state, “I ain’t wiping anyone’s butt!” Sad, but yes, they said it! Then why are you in nursing in the first place? Please go read Florence NIghtingale’s biography. She swept out dead rats, cleaned up bloody walls, floors and anything else that had blood on it, including people. If you genuinely want to be a nurse, you will then do anything to make that patient comfortable which means, cleaning them, emptying bedpans and urinals and changing soiled linens. If you don’t want to do this or can’t stand the thought of it, then please, Do everyone a favor…..please… DO NOT GO INTO NURSING. I have worked enough with these types of “nurses”.

  3. This is absolutely amazing .. Well done 🙂
    I’m a student nurse and i will sure be showing this to all my classmates and no doubt it will inspire!
    On my very first placement the ward sister brought me aside and told me if I put 100% into this ward I will get 200% in return, Iv done it in every placement I have been on and it has not failed me yet!
    Also I understand that some nurses get frustrated with students, but please remember we are learning, we find it extremely uncomfortable getting used to new places and all we ask for is a little time and patience. Nurses were student nurse first!

  4. Excellent!!! Just what I was wanting to read and thank you all for your comments and keep them comming.

  5. I agree with Keri. Tell me when Im doing something wrong so that I can correct it. So often, people will tell everyone else but not the person doing it. How is that helpful? Thanks for the list of encouraging thoughts. Keep em coming.

  6. Some of the best interactions I have had have been with a patient that the outgoing nurse labeled as “difficult” or “impossible”. It is usually the nurse’s own personality flaws that get in the way. Sometimes all a patient needs is for someone to care and listen. Be genuine and go in with a caring heart and an open mind, remembering why you do this for a living.

  7. I think this blog is awesome! I just wanted to add; Please, please, please, tell ME when I am doing something wrong, be nice about it, but please tell me, If I don’t know I am doing it wrong, how can I correct it?
    I am a new nurse and I may need a little direction, but I promise if you show me the way, I will have your back for life!

  8. Thanks for that post. Not believing a patients pain is also a pet peeve of mine. The last part of your statement was what really prompted me to reply, though (because I get on the pain treatment soapbox at work all the time anyway).

    Character flaws given in report can make or break a shift with a patient for me. I’m learning fast to note it in case there is a real issue, but to also understand to take it with a grain of salt. If I let a nurse convince me that I’m about to encounter problems with a patient or family, I usually have a really hard night with that patient/family. However, more often than not, what I find is that the problems or “attitude” came from the previous nurse’s own shortcomings and/or prejudices. If I can let all that fall away and take care of my patient on our own terms, just for that shift, then usually I will be happy to continue taking on the care of a patient who’s name makes everyone else cringe.

  9. you guys are awesome! I’m in nursing school and find that there are way too many nurses who seem to be doing things arbitrarily or are scared for some reason so they project their anger. It’s a relief to see that there are genuine people who strive for the best for their patient. I will be finished with my LVN school in Feb and will continue further; this really is the outlook I’ve had and want to continue to have for my patients. Thank you again.

  10. 1. Respect your education; and learn more.
    2. Respect your limitations and know what you can and cannot handle.
    3. NEVER bad mouth another co-worker. (that includes NOT eating other Nurses!!)
    4. Advocate for each other and our patients.
    5. When frustrated; back away and breathe. (that one breath can save yourself, your sanity, and a patient’s life).

  11. Wow – just read this after posting my latest on my blog about feeling empty after caring for multiple manipulative patients.

    Another tip I would give is to keep your work life at work and your home life at home. In other words, leave it at the hospital door.

    Now all I have to do is take my own advice!

    This is a great post, btw.

  12. Wonderful list. Here's a few I'd add:

    1. Improve one thing you do every day. There may be a lot of things you need to do, but work on it by choosing one thing every day.

    2. Leave work at work. Unload before you leave the door. Your family will appreciate it.

    3. Find outlets for creativity in your work.

    4. Make patients smile.

    5. Be kind, especially to those in need, whether they're your patients, someone else's patients or your coworkers.

    6. Take care of yourself.

    7. Keep your eyes on the horizon. Look out for trouble that may be coming.

    8. Say please and thank you to everyone…and mean it.

  13. 1. Always act as if the patient can hear you. It doesn't matter that they are sedated, or even sedated and paralyzed, or in a coma, or whatever. Who knows how much they can hear and understand?
    2. Offer to help out your colleagues. You will be repaid kindly by their support when you need it. What goes around comes around.
    3. If you don't know, ask. This applies to new procedures, meds, answers to family's questions, etc. It is better to ask a question you think you know the answer to than to get it wrong.
    4. Respect your colleagues–not just other nurses, but RTs, techs, secretaries, docs, PAs, etc. You get what you give.
    5. Don't stretch yourself too thin. If you aren't comfortable in the ICU, change units. If you are so bored by the floor, challenge yourself & move to a more intensive unit.
    6. Don't be bitter. We all know we don't get paid enough, but we stay. Stay because you love it. If you don't, explore other options.
    7. Never complain without offering a solution. Even if the solution is crappy, at least you have presented a problem AND a possible solution. Nothing is more frustrating to managers than employees who complain ad nauseum about an issue but offer no suggestions to remedy it. Even if your remedy isn't feasible, or isn't likely to happen, at least there has been an idea thrown out there–which can lead to more feasible and likely solutions.
    8. Never stop learning.

  14. 8 Ways to Become a Better Nurse…

    One of the benefits of being away from bedside nursing is that I’ve had time to reflect on my own performance. How could I have been better? What simple precepts would have helped? Being out of the “fog of war” has given me a clearer view of what’s…

  15. Darn you! I found your blog just before I was supposed to go to bed…and now I can't stop reading! You have written some truly amazing stuff!

  16. 1. New nurses will become what you are, for better or worse. Act accordingly.
    2. You may not agree with or understand a patient's decisions, but always respect and
    safeguard their right to make them. Remember, It's not about you.
    3. Provide support to coworkers and they will respond in kind.
    4. Try to sit when you talk with patients and families, they won't feel like you are in such
    a rush (even when you are).
    5. Take the time to show you value your subordinates. It's the little things that count.

  17. Care for people! It doesn't matter if they are patients, family, hospitalilty, nurses, physicians, if you think and act as if you care for them all it will be notice, and positively impact them all.

  18. -Treat the patient, non the disease. That means the individual who is ill as well as the family.
    -No matter how 'difficult' caring for the patient may be, remember they are someone's family member (grandma, grandpa, dad, mom, sister) Treat them like they are your own.
    -Answer the family's questions as best you can. Do not let any rock go unturned.
    -Greet them with a smile.
    -Just because your short staffed and having a bad day, does not mean it's the patient's fault.
    I could go on.

  19. Ensure your patients have all the information so they can make informed choices about their care

  20. Try not to judge your patient's pain. If they say they are having pain, treat it, and treat it accordingly. This is huge pet peeve of mine.

    Don't let a report on a patient be the end all be all, especially the character issues that get brought up.

    Remember, your patients are sick. Sick enough to be in the hospital. And probably scared, too. No one is at their best when they are sick and scared. Throw 'em a bone!

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