flickr creative commons/by krassy can do it

Relearning the Details of Clinical Nursing

After being away from bedside nursing for over 11 years, I recently returned to this role on the same medical-surgical floor I’d worked on 11 years earlier. The impetus behind such a drastic transition was, in part, my return to nursing education as a clinical nursing instructor. As an educator, I felt the need to update my own clinical skills as I instructed young nurses eager to enter my profession.

The other reason for returning to clinical nursing had to do with a spiritual pull I felt in my heart, a hope that I’d be able to to show patients the compassion, empathy, and patience they all deserved. I’d come to realize that I’d sometimes lacked these qualities when I was a younger bedside nurse. Now I felt that God was giving me a kind of ‘do-over’—and I had to at least try to live up to this expectation.

Within the first week of orientation, I quickly realized how different things had become in the nursing world. The last time I’d worked as a clinical nurse on this very unit in 2005, the hospital was still using paper documentation, private community physicians still rounded on their patients, and there were no ‘computers on wheels’ or in patients’ rooms to access patient information quickly. In addition to these changes in nursing, I was now in student mode with my preceptor and experienced the same anxiety that my nursing students felt in clinical. As a seasoned nurse, I didn’t lack critical thinking skills, but retraining my mind to think at the detail level of a clinical nurse was a scary and exciting challenge.

I approached this return to clinical nursing with an eagerness to have a positive affect on my patients’ lives that I hadn’t had 11 years ago. I was able to bring not just additional years of nursing experience, but much-needed life experience that I hoped would make me a better bedside nurse. Specifically, I was able to bring my experience as a mother, wife, a nurse case manager, a compliance auditor, and nurse educator to this new role.

Sidelined by Rheumatoid Arthritis

I was also able to empathize with my patients in a new way because I’d been a patient myself many times over the past several years. In 2009, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), just six months after having my first child. After living with this draining autoimmune disease for almost eight years, having to inject myself with medicine weekly for five of these years, returning to bedside nursing was something that I believed I would never be able to do again. The fatigue, joint pain, and inflammation that comes with having RA is often unseen, but I felt them every day of my life. Even working in nonclinical roles during these years, there were days that I could not make it to work because a flare-up of my disease prevented me from getting out of bed.

A Decision

In the summer of 2015, after failing four different injectable treatments, and countless visits to specialists, I was tired of being poked, prodded, and questionably diagnosed. I hadn’t felt any better physically for a long time.

And so . . . I stopped. I stopped taking my medication, stopped going to see my rheumatologist, and took a leap (of faith), praying and hoping that the quality of my life would be amplified when I wasn’t focused on why the medicines weren’t working or why my sedimentation rate would never go down to a normal range. I chose to trust God to heal me and sustain me physically, mentally, and spiritually.

And after a time, my symptoms abated. For me, the mere fact that I could physically work the 12.5-to-14 hour days that came with the return to bedside nursing was a miracle in and of itself. Some might perhaps say that the remission of my rheumatoid arthritis was ‘self-induced,’ or just another manifestation of an unpredictable disease’s waxing and waning. But I refer to it as being ‘God-induced.’

A Renewed Vision of Bedside Nursing

My experiences of chronic illness have had two significant effects that influence my current work as a nurse. For one, they’ve given me more insight into the uncertainties and limitations of modern medical treatments more than any number of years that I could have spent as a bedside nurse. In addition, I no longer shy away from conversations about faith with my patients, as I have in the past. I welcome these conversations when my patients express their faith beliefs. I spend a little more time listening; sometimes there’s even an opportunity to share a part of my story with my patients, in hopes of encouraging them that better days are coming.

I pray every morning on my way to the hospital for God to reveal which patients need a little extra love and attention on my patient assignment. And now, every day that I work as a bedside nurse I do my best to show patients what hope, faith, and determination can look like in the wake of a health crisis.

Melody Sumter, MSN, BSN, RN, is also the author of the Reflections essay in the March issue of AJN: “A Place for Faith: My First Experience of Cultural Competence in Nursing” (free until April 1).