Nurse's Watch: Conversations on contemporary nursing,
nursing education, leadership, spirituality and blogging.
~Start date February 2010~

Thursday, May 30, 2013

That old lab coat...

Often when students first begin nursing, the concepts can be rather difficult. I always try and encourage students because nursing is hard, very hard. Benner's work addresses the levels of nursing expertise and the arduous path one must take to become a nurse as she describes the novice, the advanced beginner, the competent nurse, the proficient nurse and the expert nurse (1984).

I love using word pictures to help explain ideas and concepts. So with students I equate this quest for knowledge and experience to having a brand new lab coat. Now, most people would think that a new lab coat would be nice. However, the truth of the matter is that a new lab coat is often stiff and uncomfortable. It takes wearing and washing the lab coat to 'break it in', much like a new pair of shoes, for the lab coat to become an accepted and desired part of nursing attire. The more this item of clothing is worn the more it is stained with experience! Of course, it will be washed but traces of the stain and the experiences that contributed to the stain remain.

So it is with nursing. In the beginning, the student is inexperienced and the tasks are new and difficult. The material seems heavy and cumbersome, combining this heavy material with stiff new tasks make wearing this coat hard. Then it begins, the change is almost in perceivable at first. You get the lab coat dirty in the process of caring for a patient, you wash it, but the next time you see a similar patient you realize you are familiar with the experience, you have a stain of knowledge in this area of nursing. Aha!

Over time the more the lab coat is worn, used, stained, washed... the more comfortable this coat becomes. The more experiences we stain the coat with, the more comfortable we too become. Time passes, knowledge expands... and that lab coat becomes drab but suddenly it is comfortable.

Now be forewarned, should I move to a new area of nursing, alas, it is as if I have purchased a brand new lab coat in some respects. I must wear it, wash it and gain experience in it also; only using the lab coat will produce the stain of experience...

So ladies and gentlemen, buy your lab coat, wear it, wash it and in due time it will become comfortable and familiar to you. And remember one day, before you realize it, you will find that slipping it on is like rejoining an old friend and you will feel proud and confident ... I promise.

But your lab coat, well it's going to look really nasty...

Benner, P. (1984). From novice to expert: Excellence and power in clinical nursing practice. Menlo Park: Addison-Wesley, pp. 13-34.