University, exams, writing and reading have all been my priority for the last few months. I am still living off the buzz of meeting new people and proudly stating to whoever asks, that I am a student nurse. It is, at that moment, all about me and if I am good enough to pass exams and do essays, or ‘fit in’ to the lecture theatre. It is a status, it is a word – ‘nurse’. Although I have my reasons for wanting to become a nurse and have had some relevant experience, I still don’t think at that moment, I have faced the reality of what all this means.
I ask myself: “am I good enough?” At that moment, it is for me.
Placement day is approaching. It’s the day we go out to learn and be a part of this wonderful career we have set our minds to. We know why we are doing it, we have told many why, but we know until we do it, we will wonder, am I good enough?
It’s the night before and I have made all my arrangements. I have sorted my uniform – it’s neatly ironed and set aside – ready for the morning. I have made my breakfast, lunch and dinner, all ready to go with me. My badge, my ID, my watch (because of course, I can’t forget the nurse’s watch!). I have everything I think will make me feel and look prepared, because at that moment it’s still about me and ‘am I good enough?’
I wake up after a nervous sleep. The day has arrived. At last, I am going to be a nurse. I wash, I dress, I eat; I do all the things I want and need to do to get me ready for this day. I hope, as I make my way while it’s still dark and my body is still in shock at the rude awakening because it’s still just me, it’s all good enough. I arrive and it’s a newly built building, all fresh and shiny. I am beaming with excitement because I am here, and as I walk the corridors, and it’s still just me, to the ward where I will be for the next seven weeks, I feel great because so far, it looks good enough.
I get changed into that clean pressed and organised uniform. It’s all strange and slightly scary at this point, but it’s what I wanted. I chose to do this. So, I go ahead into the ward. I walk in and put on a brave face because it’s still at that moment, about me. I wonder, as I walk to where everyone is, can I do this? Am I good enough?
I am there. I am stood with all the nurses – real nurses – some are tired, some are bouncy and full of life, and some just look at me. I can see the look. “It’s another student”, they are thinking. “Will she keep up? Will she want to help? She has no clue about this job.”
And I am thinking, they are thinking about me and thinking, “is she good enough?”
I meet my mentor, who is lovely, I really like her. She talks to me, includes me and really wants me to learn. I am following her about like a little duckling – watching her every move, tensely listening to everything she says. And although she is good to me, she has drug rounds to do, paperwork to finish, patients to assist with, worried families to talk to. She is at the end of her long shift, and probably tired, but she is hardworking. There I am, stood there, still me, wanting her to think that I am good enough. Finally, I am introduced to patients, people, a person – either in bed or sat in a chair – they all have their own reasons for needing to be here.
I walk in full of smiles because of course I want them to like me. I chose to be there, I wanted to be there. I note that not many smiled back, the look in their tired fed up eyes, but I’m still in that moment of thinking, do they like me? Am I good enough?
I have been asked to assist the patients to start their day; to help them wash, dress, get breakfast and a lot of the things I did for myself before I arrived. The things I chose to do, the things I was able to do. It’s obvious, as I start to help, that these tasks which I had already managed, were not so manageable for some. And as I am helping them in a shower or to brush their teeth, sharing their most personal and vulnerable moments, I am hoping that I am good enough.
Some have almost given up, but others still have this fight, this light in them. But mostly, I can see, that they have no choice. They can’t do it themselves as much as they try, as much as they want and as much as I am there trying to be as dignified and polite and as positive for them as I can. I know it’s not just me. I have to stop asking if I am good enough. I don’t need to know, because they deserve that I should be good enough for them.
Once all the morning routines are finished and there is a bit of time to chat and get to know these patients, these people, humans just like me, I hear their stories. I share thoughts and they tell me about this life they have outside this room, this life I did not see when I first walked into their room. I find out who the people in the pictures are, who brought their clean clothes in or why for some, there was no one to bring any clean clothes. One patient is telling me proudly about their marriage of 60 years, and I ask: “Will they be visiting today?”
There is silence and I can almost see their heart break in the expression in their face, and tears in their eyes, because no, it’s not possible. They are also in a building like this one, with their memory slipping away and unable to remember the life they had together.
It’s at that moment I realise that this is about them. They are the reason I got up this morning and did all those little things I take for granted, which I have just had to assist them to do. They are the reason I have chosen to be here. I can walk in and out of this building. I am able to still make my memories. I have choice.
This is not anymore about the lecture theatre or the uniform, or any of those things that mattered up to that moment. It is not about me or if I’m good enough. It’s about that person, sitting in that bed or chair. It’s about whether I can make even just a moment of their life, more dignified. I don’t need a smile back, I need to keep smiling at them. I need them to know I want to be there because now I know it’s not about if I think I am good enough. Now, I know I will do everything I can to make sure I am good enough for them.
Nicola Phillips is a year 1 BSc Nursing student at the University of Stirling. You can find out more about studying this course here