8 Things I Wish I Knew As a Nurse 10 Years Ago

I know I’m probably half the age of some of the nurses reading this, but I’ve been in the nursing world for a long time.

My mom was a nurse, and I’ve been volunteering in hospitals since I was 14.

I’ve worked in dozens of hospitals all across the country; from stand-alone ERs to trauma units to recovering open heart patients.

So, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years.

And while I have zero regrets and this is definitely not a “living in the past” post, this is about taking what I learned and continuing to apply it in my own life as a Nurse Coach.

I hope something here may benefit you, my fellow nurse, as well.

Take Care Of You For You

So much of the self-care, self-development movement in nursing is about increasing patient safety and satisfaction. I say, screw that.

The truth is that nursing is one of the most demanding jobs in the world. We deal with traumatic situations on a daily basis. Hell, when I was only 22 years old, I was literally trying to cover up someone’s brain with an ABD pad (huge piece of gauze).

I’ve seen enough people take their final breath to last me a lifetime, and never once was I offered more than a 5 minute “debriefing” in which we talked about what could have gone better.

Then, they’d order us pizzas, topped with tons of meat. They’d give me candy and hop me up on coffee. I’d work for 12-16 hours without more than a 20 minute break during which I was still asked questions about my patients’ care.

So the point is this: As a nurse, prioritize your own wellbeing. Tell your leadership to stop feeding you garbage food that is processed and nutritionally devoid of any goodness. Ask them to preemptively bring in a chaplain, a Nurse Coach, or a counselor for after traumatic situations. Make that the new norm.

No one is going to take care of you for you, so be proactive about it. Ask for what you need to be your healthiest and best, and increased patient safety and satisfaction will come as an inevitable side effect of that.

Integrative Approaches Are Powerful

If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I was going to be working as a holistic Nurse Coach, I would have been rolling on the floor in uproarious laughter, calling you a hippy and finding things to rhyme with “woo-woo.”

But after a 15,000 page literature review, analyzing tons of research, and working with hundreds of clients, I can now laugh at my former naiveté.

While people heal in all sorts of different ways, the most powerful medicine for the majority of the population begins with the day-to-day choices that they make in their lifestyle behaviors.

No amount of medication or surgery can make up for neglecting our mental wellbeing, feeling isolated, smoking, eating food that makes us sick, etc.

In fact, coaching your patients to move towards wellness by helping them redesign their lifestyle is far more powerful than the latest drug, $100,000 of surgery, or fancy new technology.

Here’s why:

You’re treating them as creative, resourceful, and whole human beings first, then bringing in the more complex, allopathic approaches.

A nurse coach takes the road less traveled

I Would Stop Lying To My Patients

This is a continuation of the above, but with a different twist.

I can’t tell you how many times someone would come into the hospital for something that was so clearly preventable, and I’m not talking about accidents with the wood chipper…

Granted, I worked primarily in acute care settings, but I still had thousands of opportunities to tell my patients that many of their ailments were reversible with simple lifestyle changes.

If I could go back, I would empower them with that knowledge. I would make it very clear to them that, if they chose to, they could turn much of their illness around. They wouldn’t have to be coming in to see me every month for a “tune up,” while they changed absolutely nothing about their lifestyle outside of the hospital.

I would coach them to come to the realization that they don’t have to live in the cycle of illness, and they can probably get off many of their medications if they have the professional support to do so.

Now, I’m not downplaying chronic illness here.

What I am saying is that, as a profession, we haven’t challenged our patients to step up to the plate.

And I also know that acute injuries and exacerbations require interventions before you can get someone to a position where they can come from that place of empowerment.

I worked in the ER for 8 years. I get it.

The moment they come in the door, we say, “Hey there. Can I have all of the responsibility for your wellbeing, please? Yeah, just hand that over. We’ll tell you what to do. What pills to take, what surgery to have. You don’t have to worry about a thing. Want some pudding?”


Why aren’t we making our patients the most important person on the medical team?

Why aren’t we empowering them to take full responsibility for their health and wellbeing?

The truth is, many of our patients can turn their lives around -lose weight, get off meds, and live vibrantly by changing their lifestyle.

As a nurse, not speaking to that truth is borderline unethical, and does an incredible disservice to the patients you are caring for.

I Would Dream Bigger

Now, I’m not talking another master’s degree or becoming a Chief Nursing Officer.

While those aspirations are admirable, with your nursing license comes the ability to practice in so many different avenues.

I know Nurse Coaches who have gone on to run massively successful non-profits, or thriving private practices, or businesses that help other businesses be more healthy and well.

They say our profession is amazing because there is so much flexibility, but the truth is this:

Most hospitals are more or less the same, and most specialties within them do the same type of work.

They all practice within a reactive model of care, and we simply don’t need any more of that.

As a profession, we need to step up, y’all. Enough is enough.

And if you aren’t ready to start a business that will focus on prevention and wellness promotion, then get creative in whatever role you’re in.

Ask the tougher questions, and go to your hospital leadership and invent a position (do your research, talk some numbers, and make it presentable, of course).

Find out what everyone else is doing, and do the opposite.

Because let’s face it, continuing to react to disease processes that we know are highly preventable is the definition of insanity:

Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

Work the System

Admittedly, I was always pretty good at this. But if you haven’t done this yet for whatever reason, then I’m going to let you in on a little tip:

You are far more powerful than you think.

If you’re working in the hospital as a nurse, and you have more than 2 years under your belt in a specialty, you can pretty much get a job anywhere you’d like, and make a lot more money doing it.

For example, I worked for one organization full time for a while until I realized this:

If I switched to per-diem, and worked on weekends, they would more than double my hourly paycheck. Double. I was making close to $100/hour.

What that meant was a hell of a lot more free time to do whatever I want, because I only had to work half as much.

AND, if I averaged 20+ hours a week, I would get full time benefits and be vested into that organizations 401K.

Plus, there are so many amazing investment apps that charge such a low commission that you hardly need your employer’s 401K anymore to build a successful retirement fund.

So what I’m getting at is this:

You are so freaking valuable as a nurse, and opportunities are everywhere. Get creative. Remember that you are very expensive to replace, and opportunity is everywhere.

Walk My Talk

This is still a work in progress, but I’ve been 98% whole food, plant-based for the last 18 months. I have my morning meditation practices, and I workout all the time. I have great relationships that I foster and nourish, I laugh all the time, I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink in excess (ya know, except for the occasional celebration).

Yeah, some of those practices come and go, and I’ll die regardless of all of them.

But the direct result of walking my talk is this:

I am able to take advantage of every moment of life. I rarely get sick, my mind is clear, and I get to enjoy each moment with radiance and love.

And because I actively engage in those lifestyle practices, my work as a Nurse Coach is chock full of integrity. I can tell them, from personal experience, the benefits of these practices, and then provide them with the evidence to back them up.

Now, by no means do you need to be perfect, but you do need to be walking on the path towards wellness.

A nurse coach captures the essence of our profession.

Give My Patients My Full Presence

Before my Nurse Coaching practice really took off, I spent the last 6 months at the bedside of a cardiovascular ICU, recovering open heart patients.

Although I was still training to become a Nurse Coach, I had one of the most profound shifts of my nursing career.

I simply sat, listened, and was curious about my patients.

Who they were. What they needed. How I could support them. What their family was like. What was truly important to them.

I began each shift by slowing down. I would simply sit for 10 minutes in each room and be with them. No pills, no computer between the two of us. No agenda but the conversation.

And it was the most fulfilling 6 months of my hospital career.
Want to know the best part?

I didn’t get behind on my charting, handing meds, turns, etc. In taking the time to truly understand someone and their needs, you don’t invent things to do for yourself.

You design your care empathetically – which means that you design it based upon what your patients want and need, not what you think they need.

This not only makes your work more efficient, but also allows you the time to connect deeply as human beings and hold space for them to be vulnerable and authentic.

Lastly – Learn Entirely New Modalities, Not Just Specialties

I remember making the shift from ER to CVICU, thinking there would be a massive change in the state of my nursing practice.

Well, after I figured out what the hell all of this extra tubing and the 16 additional vital signs on the monitor were for, I realized that I was still practicing in the hospital.

Now, there isn’t anything inherently bad about that. But when you are practicing traditional nursing without incorporating what makes us truly nurses, then you are missing out on some of the most fulfilling and powerful work available to you and your patients.

Nurse Coaching is a great example of that. It is able to be integrated into any area of nursing and used effectively there. It’s like having an entirely new foundation upon which to build your nursing practice.

But that’s just me. While I would argue that Nurse Coaching is an incredible addition to any nurse’s tool belt, you need to find your own way.

I hope this was helpful, and leave me a comment to let me know what you think!



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