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How to Handle Tough Situations


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By Richard Ferri, Ph.D., ANP, ACRN, FAAN, contributor

While unmatched in the personal and professional rewards it offers, the nursing career also has its share of daily challenges, from day-to-day interactions with a variety of people—physicians, patients, families and coworkers—to the often difficult care nurses have to provide and the busy schedules that are frequently required.

Knowing you are not alone in facing these challenges may be helpful in overcoming on-the-job hurdles. Here are a few common scenarios nurses face, as well as some tips to handle whatever your day throws at you:

I am a new nurse looking for my first job, but I am nervous that I have not yet acquired the practical skills or experience necessary to competently handle patient care.

“New grad jitters” are not only relatively common, they’re also healthy—a realistic dose of nervousness as you transition from novice student nurse to clinically competent RN can help motivate you to keep asking relevant questions on the job, while continually striving to improve your clinical skills.

Many institutions have orientation and transition programs for new graduates. These programs should help you get acclimated to your new institution, as well as help you adjust to your new role as a registered nurse. When considering a position at a facility, it is wise to inquire about the orientation program it has available.

I am a new nurse manager and want to learn how to be a good leader.

Leadership skills—much like clinical skills—need to be learned. As a nurse manager, there are going to be hard choices to make, and not everyone will be happy with the outcome. However, the caveat to that scenario is to be fair. If you consistently demonstrate to staff that your decisions are made in an informed manner without favoritism, you will be on your way to a successful career.

Leadership also means that sometimes you have to “roll up your sleeves” and pitch in. While this doesn’t mean doing the staff’s job or filling in for an absent employee, a leader knows when to get involved and do the work that needs to be done.

I am thinking of entering nursing as my second career. I am closer to middle age than to “traditional” student age, and I wonder if it’s too late to shift gears.

More and more, nursing is being considered as an option for midlife career changers and for former health care providers looking for a return to the profession. Luckily, there are several places to turn for help in pursuit of such a noble quest.

Several institutions across the country offer refresher courses for former nurses wishing to resume their careers. Others offer Internet-based curriculums, in which students complete a theory portion online, and then arrange a clinical experience with a preceptor at a local hospital. Neither course includes a skills lab. This provides an ideal situation for those seeking to work toward becoming a nurse, but who have little time to go to class.

Another option for nursing school candidates who already have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline is an accelerated BSN program. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there are now more than 90 accelerated BSN programs, and that number has more than tripled in the past 15 years. These programs are designed to attract more second career people into the nursing profession. Usually, students who have another bachelor’s degree will not be required to take the typical liberal arts courses in a BSN program.

With all of these options and the security that comes from knowing nurses will be in such demand for years to come, it is never too late to pursue a career in nursing.

Communication between nurses and physicians at my facility is often difficult. Do you have some communication tips?

The only way to fix the problem is to institute a policy of open communication in all units, where nurses and physicians work collaboratively to provide quality patient care. Check out the article Enhancing Nurse-Physician Communication: Three Hospitals Step Up for innovative ways other hospitals are tackling this issue.

Refer to the book Speak Your Truth: Proven Strategies for Effective Nurse-Physician Communication by Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, for examples of techniques facilities have implemented to open the lines of communication among staff of all levels, or to Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler and Steven Covey to learn how to communicate effectively with just about anyone in the working world.

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