Taking My Time

One of the luxuries of being a student nurse is how much time you can take with patients. Sure, there’s a lot of running around—my feet can definitely feel it after a clinical. But unlike everyone else working on the unit, I don’t have a time limit in the back of my mind of how long I can stay with a patient before risking not meeting the needs of all the others. If I want to take an hour (or longer) to get a single patient’s health history, I usually can—because I have the time.

This Tuesday’s clinical at Franklin Square was generally wild and hectic because it was the first day of moving the hospital into a newly constructed building. The logistics involved in moving a hospital were enormous and it was really interesting to be a part of the process. We gathered up every patient’s belongings, put them on portable O2 tanks and, charts under our arms, rolled their beds one at time into our new unit. It was also my team’s first 12-hour clinical rotation. TEDs were worn and cold pizza was eaten. Passing that 11th hour felt like a little rite of passage.

Because of the hectic, unusual day, a classmate and I were asked to do a half a dozen different bed baths and as many bed changes in the morning before the move. Partway into the work, I was struck by the recurring patient comment: “You must be new…no one else takes so much time with a bath!”

Part of the amount of time my classmate and I took with each bed bath was our simple lack of efficiency—we’re still awkward and new at even these basic nursing actions. I don’t always bring everything I need into the room on the first try, or even know where to find everything I need. Still, though, I was struck by the realization that, even on my busy days as a student, I have more of an opportunity to truly take my time with people than I ever will as a nurse. Some of that will be mitigated by the alacrity that comes with experience. Some if it, though, is the simple reality that the average nurse usually has as big of a patient load as she can handle.

At some hospitals, that busy workload has been stretched to the point of contention. Back home, at the hospital where I was born, 833 unionized nurses are striking primarily because of allegedly unsafe nurse-patient ratios. An action this large underscores how serious of a problem chronic understaffing of nurses has become. The importance of sufficient nursing staff and the opposing need to cut down on the cost of healthcare rival each other in hospitals nationwide.  These are areas of hospital policy that all of us future nurses can begin to look at and consider now, if not become involved in.

As Prof. Rosemary Mortimer said to us in a guest-lecture last week on nurses in politics and policy, “If you’re not at the table, you’re going to be on the menu.”

Whatever the patient-nurse ratio may be in my future place of employment, I have a lot to learn about efficiency, time-management and speed. Until I become an RN, though, I’m enjoying the opportunity I have as a student nurse to spend 30 minutes together in a single patient’s room.

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