Nursing Insights: The Experience of a Chronic Illness as a Series of Subtractions

Illustration by Janet Hamlin for AJN. All rights reserved. Illustration by Janet Hamlin for AJN. All rights reserved.

Chronic illness is often experienced by patients as a series of subtractions. A progressive illness like Parkinson’s reveals this process vividly as the ability to move, speak, care for oneself, all gradually disappear or diminish.

The grief of lost freedom, lost abilities, lost agency, lost avenues of communication is easy to overlook. But it’s real, and can come out in uncomfortable ways. Here’s an excerpt from the start of this month’s Reflections essay in AJN, “A Room With a View.”

David was in his late 50s and had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease several years previously. Following a lengthy hospitalization, David’s wife agreed to a placement on the subacute/rehab unit in the facility where I was the instructor for nursing students during their older adult clinical rotation. . . . Although ravaged by the disease, David seemed to like having students provide his nursing care. . . .

One of his favorite activities was sitting by his room window, which overlooked the facility gardens and a play area for the preschool next door. For several weeks, I discovered a nursing student and David sitting by the window watching the outdoor activities in companionable silence. Students worried they weren’t providing nursing care, but I assured them that being present with someone can be just as therapeutic as a task-oriented intervention.

This is the calm before the storm. You can read the essay to find out what happens next. David’s reaction when he faces the next loss, seemingly a small one after so many other losses, is painful to read about, and traumatic for the nursing students and the clinical instructor who witness the event. […]

Seeing Potential: The Joys of Teaching Nursing

By Ruth Smillie, MSN, RN, associate professor of nursing at Saint Josephs College, Standish, Maine.

"Buck Up," by zenera / via Flickr. by zenera / via Flickr.

The day I come to class pregnant is one of my favorites. I really hate to be pregnant; I’m 55, grey haired, and way too old to be pregnant. My students are obviously surprised when I waddle in swaybacked with my sudden eight-month pregnancy. They snicker and smile, and then the magic begins.

As each one brings up the “change” they were assigned, I acquire the mask of pregnancy: larger breasts (made from paper bowls), kidney stones and gallstones (collected from outside), more blood volume (once, in a soda bottle), varicose veins (pipe cleaners or string), and so on—all carefully attached to me by duct tape.

I look and feel ridiculous and we all laugh a lot, but that’s not the point. The point is that they remember the changes of pregnancy. Embarrassing as it is, I would do it every day if it helped them learn. I love to teach nursing and it has been an amazing experience.

Students have no idea how incredible they are. Most of mine are just out of high school, young and unaware of their potential. But they have it, and I can see and feel it. I love watching students help change a newborn’s diaper when they are as nervous as a new dad fumbling with the wipes.

Chatting and gently holding those brand-new legs, connecting with the family, becoming a nurse—not any nurse, an amazing nurse, right there before my eyes. These are the moments I get to be a part of; while they are caught up in their inexperience, I can begin to sense what they will become: nurses who will connect with families, talk to patients, care about people. These are nurses who I’ll be proud to have known long before they realized who they would become.

Nursing education isn’t known for its stellar paycheck. In fact I could make more working at the hospital, lots more. Others are quick to point out that we get summers and holidays off. Great perks: time to write, research, and develop new classes and improve old ones. Now snow days, those are cool, if only it didn’t put us behind in the classroom! […]

May 6th, 2015|career, Nursing, nursing perspective, students|9 Comments

AJN’s Spring Break with the Student Nurses in Phoenix: Sunnier Job Outlook for New Graduates?

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief

PhoenixSkylineAfter a long winter in the Northeast, it was wonderful to visit Phoenix last week for the 63rd annual convention of the National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA).

Like other meetings, this one was packed from morning to late evening with educational sessions, exhibits, resume-writing consultation, and for some, deliberating over 60 resolutions at the House of Delegates. Keynotes addressed:

  • health care reform (Gerri Lamb).
  • progress on implementing recommendations from the Future of Nursing report (Susan Hassmiller).
  • clinical ethics and moral distress (Veronica Feeg and Cynda Rushton).
  • and, the closing speech, a charge to continue nursing’s legacy into the future (yours truly).

Concurrent sessions, most of them well attended by Starbucks-fueled students, covered nursing specialties, exam help, licensure and legal/ethical issues, and clinical topics. (Betsy Todd, AJN‘s clinical editor, who is also an epidemiologist, led a session called “Is It Safe: Protecting Ourselves and Our Patients from Infectious Diseases.”)

Changing job climate? Several students I spoke with who were graduating at the end of the semester didn’t seem to have the anxiety of previous years’ students over securing a job. Maybe this is because things are looking up in the job market for new graduate nurses, at least according to recent figures in NSNA’s annual survey of graduates.

Reporting in the January issue of Dean’s Notes, researcher Veronica Feeg, associate dean of Molloy School of Nursing, and NSNA executive director Diana J. Mancino note that, in a September 2014 survey of NSNA members who were 2014 graduates, 78% reported they had secured an RN position by six months following graduation. This is an increase over the prior two years, when results were 76% for 2013 graduates and 66% for 2012 graduates. […]

AJN in January: Long-Term Complications of CHD Repair, Obesity Interventions, Nurses Planning for Retirement, More

AJN0115.Cover.OnlineAJN’s January issue is now available on our Web site. Here’s a selection of what not to miss.

Complications after cardiac repair. Nurses often encounter patients with complications that occurred years after congenital heart defect (CHD) repair. Yet many patients whose CHD was repaired in childhood have not had regular follow-up. Our CE feature, “Long-Term Outcomes After Repair of Congenital Heart Defects: Part 1,” the first in a two-part series, reviews six congenital heart defects, their repairs, and common long-term outcomes, as well as implications for nurses in both cardiac and noncardiac settings. This CE feature offers 2.5 CE credits to those who take the test that follows the article.

To further explore the topic, listen to a podcast interview with the author (this and other free podcasts are accessible via the Behind the Article podcasts page on our Web site, in our iPad app, or on iTunes). A video of an atrial septal defect device placement is also available in the iPad edition of this article.

Obesity interventions. Patients with obesity often face stigma and bias, even from the nurses who care for them. “The Obesity Epidemic, Part 2: Nursing Assessment and Intervention,” the second article in a two-part series, presents a theoretical framework to guide nursing assessment of patients with obesity and their families and reviews the most common lifestyle, pharmacologic, and surgical interventions. This CE feature offers 2.5 CE credits to those who take the test that follows the article.

Are you ready for retirement? Nurses might be retiring later than ever, but are they planning for it? “Preparing for Retirement in Uncertain Times” shows nurses how to optimize their future financial security before leaving the workforce.

Essentials for clinical instructors.Fostering Clinical Reasoning in Nursing Students,” the third article in our Teaching for Practice series on the roles of adjunct clinical faculty and preceptors, describes the importance of developing clinical reasoning skills and how instructors can help students learn them. […]

December 29th, 2014|Nursing, nursing perspective|0 Comments

Don’t Write Off Community College to Start a Nursing Career

By Karen Roush, MSN, RN, FNP-C, AJN clinical managing editor

KarenRoushMy daughter is about to start her nursing career. She’s got all her prereqs out of the way and she’s waiting to hear from the half-dozen colleges she applied to. Among them is the community college where I started my career 35 years ago. That’s right—a community college that confers an associate degree.

I hope she gets in.

Community colleges are seen by many as the bottom of the ladder of desired schools of nursing. Not only do they offer only a two-year degree, but they’re not seen as being as selective as four-year colleges and they don’t have the big name professors.

But community colleges can and do produce great nurses. Programs are rigorous, so a more liberal admission standard at the onset doesn’t necessarily change the caliber of student who graduates at the end. And once they graduate, they must meet the same standards as students from four-year schools to attain licensure as an RN—everyone takes the same NCLEX. At the time of my graduation, my school had a 98% pass rate, one of the highest in the country.

Community colleges even have some advantages over a lot of four-year programs. They may not have the big names—but really, how many of those big name professors actually teach full courses? At community colleges, teaching is the focus. Community colleges are affordable; students don’t leave burdened with astronomical debt to start a career that, while setting them down firmly, and often permanently, in the middle class, can also saddle them with a burden of debt on top of all the expected financial struggles. And in many places, community colleges are truly embedded in their community; this can provide a level of support and open up opportunities for students that is not possible at larger detached universities.

I agree that all nurses should have a BSN, eventually. There is a lot of evidence that it improves patient outcomes. But the two-year community college can be a great place to start—two years of reasonably priced education that gives you a solid base of skills and knowledge to practice while you continue to take courses toward a bachelor degree. I remember when I returned to school for my bachelor’s: the wonderful sense of discovery that I was not just a nurse but a professional, and part of a profession with its own history and body of knowledge.

We need more nurses. All the experts agree that there is a shortage just waiting for the rest of the Baby Boomer nurses to hang up their stethoscopes. An education that starts at a community college can take a nurse far. I know mine has, from acute care staff nurse to long-term care educator, from oncology to urgent care to the IV team. Here in the U.S. and in India and Africa. As a nurse scholar at the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, and as an NP in the Adirondacks of upstate New York.


March 26th, 2014|career, nursing perspective, students|12 Comments