A Letter to My Nursing Class…

Dear Classmates,

Well…that was harder than expected.

I think we can all agree on that. The past two and a half years have been one big long grind to the finish line. Late nights, long hours, difficult tests, lack of sleep, loved ones who miss us, dishes that never got washed, laundry that was never folded (never), phone calls that were never returned, hours of studying just to squeak by with a passing grade, hours of studying that did not translate into a passing grade, leaving classmates behind that did not advance with us to our final walk across the stage at graduation.

You name it we’ve been through it.

From the beginning we were a special group but I believe we will all never forget the “med/surg massacre of 2015” when almost 25% of our class did not advance with us. The tears, the agony, and that feeling that our administration perhaps did not have the same faith in us that we had in ourselves. From then on we were a rag tag group of rebels, 75 strong, graduating quietly in December while an imperial march of 150 students in royal blue scrubs were clamoring behind us into auditoriums, filling up the study lounge, eating all the free pizza during dead week and demolishing bake sales like locusts. This group will graduate in May with confetti, fireworks and a tinker tape parade no doubt.

But as I said our class doesn’t need the fanfare. We’re non-traditional like that. We’ve got second degrees who have walked away from other careers to go back to school, mothers and fathers with families at home that they have had to balance along with full time class and clinical time, single mothers who did all of it alone, fiances trying to plan weddings on shoe string budgets in between studying and going to lab, partners trying to keep long distance relationships alive, out-of-towners who relocated their entire lives to be able to chase their dreams of becoming nurses, for some, English is a second language making the massive amounts of information we have to learn that much harder to absorb, one of our own even battled breast cancer (and won) while squeezing chemo and radiation in between rotations at the hospital.

Most, if not all, of us worked as nursing care techs to pay bills. Chugging coffee on night shift while studying pharmacology flash cards in between call lights. Sometimes getting off night shift and then going straight to class to sit through hours of new information or jogging across the hospital to a clinical placement to provide yet more patient care. No unicorns, rainbows, and cupcakes in the lounge for us folks. For us it was a struggle.

And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Because the great thing about struggle is that it binds people.

I’ll never forget the first time a friend helped me give a bed bath to a nonverbal preschooler with LLS. She knew I was intimidated and that pediatrics was not my strong suit so she did me a solid and grabbed the wash basin and hibiclens before I even had time to think.

During my OB rotation I was the WORST at finding fetal heart tones on the monitor so another student who became a fast friend came with me into rooms as a “backup” in case I needed help.

I remember putting my hands on a friend’s shoulders and telling her to take a deep breath, I took off her badge for her and reassured her “push hard and push fast.” It was her first code and she was about to rotate in to compress a man’s chest.

I remember spending hours in the NICU with another friend, born addicted infants in our arms, rocking them back and forth to try and soothe them while quietly discussing our plans for the future, the type of nurses we wanted to be, and our fervent hopes that we were strong enough to be them.

After a patient’s family requested that no students take care of their loved one and leaving the room feeling like I had utterly failed both them and the patient I was reassured by a preceptor that their decision had nothing to do with the care I had provided and everything to do with their need to take some kind of control over what was happening to their son…who was actively dying…and being reminded that other patients still needed me so I should wipe my tears now and get back into those rooms.

As I prepare to begin my first job as a nurse I know that the things I have learned which will make me a great one (at least I hope) are not the things I learned from text books or in simulation labs or lecture halls, it’s the real life experiences that I have had with my classmates as we all figured out a way to “muddle through” an extremely demanding degree.

And I guess I just wanted to tell all 75 of you one thing in response to that.

Be proud.

Because it takes strength and courage to put both of your hands on someone’s chest and become solely responsible for pumping their heart. It takes dignity to help bathe an adult who for one reason or another can no longer do this for himself. It takes grace to allow a distraught family member to take their frustrations at their loved one’s illness out on you. To understand that it’s not you it’s the cruelness of cancer that they are screaming at. It takes fortitude to continue to do your best every day even though you may rarely receive praise or gratitude.

Because nursing is not for the meek, it’s for the bold.

And I learned it all from you guys.

So be proud.

and thank you.

Sincerely,
Stephanie Fahs RN, BSN
Author (and survivor) of The Chronicles of Mayo

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