What Can’t Be Taught in Nursing School

JanuaryReflectionsBy Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

The January Reflections essay in AJN, “A Special Kind of Knowledge,” is a revised excerpt from a forthcoming book, Crossing the River Sorrow, One Nurse’s Story, by Janet L. Richards. (The book will be published in June by Vantage Press.) In the essay, the author remembers an encounter she had several decades ago as a nursing student caring for a newly paralyzed young woman. Here’s a paragraph from near the start:

I stood by Carrie during those first harrowing hours in the ICU as she awaited surgery, everyone still hoping for the best. As a brand-new student, I was a silent observer, unsure of how to participate. Her young husband also watched, slumped against the heater under the window at his wife’s bedside. His eyes blazed, wild with fear and disbelief as he struggled to make sense of his sudden immersion into the alien world of disability. I could identify. Pressure sores, urinary catheters, bowel programs, and spasms—these were now part of my new and ever-expanding medical vocabulary. A spinal cord severed at C6 meant life as a quadriplegic. Suddenly this book knowledge seemed all too real.

And here’s a few lines from near the end, to give a sense of the crucial insight the author gained as she struggled to bridge the gap between herself, her patient, and the patient’s husband:

Pain can be palpable as it moves across the space between two people, molten, unrelenting. Like joy and laughter, it’s quite contagious. This is the special kind of knowledge I wanted, even craved going into nursing, and yet it’s not at all what I expected.

But take a couple of minutes and read this short, powerful essay in entirety. Just click either the image above or the essay title (for the best reading experience, click through to the PDF version). We welcome comments.

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Janet Richards RN July 27, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Crossing the River Sorrow, One Nurse’s Story was published by Westbow June 2013 and is now available online in Kindle, Nook and paperback formats.

  2. Peggy McDaniel January 21, 2013 at 1:48 am

    Whew. I had to take some deep breaths after reading that. I’ve been in almost that exact same place. I look forward to the book as well. Thank you.

  3. Marcy Phipps January 17, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    I loved this and can’t wait for the book.

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