To My Students: Everything You Need to Know About Life, You Learned in My Class

A wonderful group of people is just about to finish their final final at my former nursing college. It’s been a two year slog for them, moving from being an LPN to an RN, but most of them succeeded admirably.

They will undoubtedly throw down a few adult beverages to mark that milepost and then sleep for several days. A couple of weeks later, they’ll walk down the aisle in cap and gown, get their hard-earned diploma and nursing school pin, take their nursing boards, PASS THEM, and then turn their full attention to the goal they have held firmly in their sights through it all–landing a job as an RN.

Long ago (eight months, really) they sat in my classroom, memorizing the extra pyramidal side effects of 1st generation antipsychotics, delving into the biochemical signs of anorexia, and discussing grief, depression and PTSD, many times from their own first-hand experiences.

To those students, I have a secret to share: everything you need to know about life from this point forward, you learned in my class.

1. When you don’t know what to say, use the all-purpose word: Wow. It buys you time and keeps you neutral, and in the world of hospital politics, you’re gonna need that.

“The doctors on the 5th floor are egomaniacs.” “Wow.”

“I’m sure the Director of Nursing bought her PhD. ” “Wow.”

“Our unit’s goal is to have zero nosocomial infections.” “Wow.”

2. Showing up early is always a good idea. You never know what might get thrown at you at the start of your day.

3. Ask questions, because assuming will usually spell failure, either for you or your patient. If someone tells you you’re asking too many questions, find someone else to ask. A grounded, caring mentor will never mind you asking questions.

4. You will encounter losses throughout your career. Grieve them all the way through…then drive on.

5. You will encounter systems that make no sense to you, that are taking advantage of you, that are poorly run. You have only two choices: work actively and bravely to improve and correct them or accept them as they are and drive on. You lose ground when you complain, so commit to never complaining. Either take action or be the center of calm in the storm.

6. Compassion is the key to saving this world. Compassion is what changes attitudes. A change in attitude changes behavior. A change in behavior can heal a wound. And the healing of one person is like healing the whole world. So strive for compassion, even when someone is giggling and whispering at something that is not real. Remember it is real to them.

7. You can do anything with this degree. Anything. Join the military. Try out home care. Get out there and do some Travel Nursing. Spend a summer being a camp nurse. Work in an ER. Give outpatient a whirl. Or rehab. Or cardiac. And grab any free training anyone offers you–you never know what advantage it might provide you in the future.

8. Remember that Nursing is THE most trusted profession anywhere. People rely on us to feel cared for and safe. So no matter where you go, if you are wearing scrubs or a nursing uniform, you represent all of us. Wear them carefully. Wear them proudly. We’re counting on you.

With love and respect,


Alison Miller

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