You may have graduated from nursing school, but you’re never done learning. Throughout your career, medicine will transform in ways we can’t yet imagine. To stay at the top of your game, you have to keep up.
Here are five ways you can always be learning and developing your nursing practice:
1. Look for learning opportunities on the job
“I love that there’s always a learning opportunity within the job itself. It keeps me on my toes.” — Megan Nash
“Nursing is the same everywhere, but each hospital has unique policies, different charting systems, different ways to bill. To get along, you have to go in there and show that you want to learn how they do it. You want to learn how they run their show. Then, after those first two weeks, you get used to how everything flows.” — Jennifer Klein
As much as nursing school prepares you for your career, it doesn’t really hold a candle to on-the-job training. When you’re interacting with real patients with real stakes, you really learn what you’re made of.
Putting it into practice:
- Find out if your unit has a charting “cheat sheet” and study it in your downtime.
- If someone is doing a procedure you’ve never done before, ask if you can observe.
- Find a mentor to guide you throughout your career.
- If your unit gets new equipment, volunteer to be one of the first users.
- Attend as many optional trainings, thesis presentations, and seminars as you can.
2. Always ask questions
“I’m never afraid to ask questions.” — Jennifer Klein
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If someone asks why I’m doing something a certain way, I’ll ask, ‘what do you recommend? what do you suggest?’ Sometimes the way they do things isn’t the easiest way, and they learn things from me, too.” — Tiffany Cash
No one expects you to know everything.
Ask questions in the moment as they relate to the task at hand. For less pressing inquiries, keep a running list and ask your supervisor for the answers.
A long-term nursing mentor can be very valuable for answering questions, too, even if they’re not always working at the same hospital. In fact, if they don’t directly work with you, they may have a broader perspective.
Putting it into practice:
- Come to each assignment with curiosity — this will help you stay excited about learning.
- Ask questions not just about how things are done but why, to gain deeper understanding.
- If you’re reluctant to ask questions, challenge yourself to ask a certain number of questions per shift.
- If there’s a doctor at your hospital who’s at the top of their field, see if you can shadow them.
3. Stay on top of your evidence-based practice
“Stay on top of your evidence-based practice. Keep growing and learning.” — Saynab Omer
Evidence-based practice is the clearest and most comprehensive way to treat your patients. However, this can be tricky if you or your hospital is not up to date with the most modern treatment, knowledge, and technology. Do your part and stay on top of the research and discoveries in your specialty, even if that practice differs from status quo at the hospitals you travel to.
Overachievers: as you go through your career, you can write things down and keep track of rare cases to understand how treatments develop over time.
Keep up to date with these nursing resources:
- American Journal of Nursing
- Evidence Based Nursing
- American Nurse Today
- Advances in Nursing Science
- The American Nurse
4. See the world as your classroom
“Traveling also expands your education. I’ve learned different computer systems and expanded the number of diseases I’m familiar with. Every area has diseases or conditions that are more common than others. Plus, every 3 months, if you want to, you can go to a completely different area. I went from Wisconsin to Oregon to North Carolina to California. It’s been amazing.” — Jennifer Klein
Broadening your horizons with travel is the best way to build knowledge and empathy in healthcare — and in life.
Every new place has its own subcultures. Many nurses use traveling as an opportunity to do things they’ve never done before. Take advantage of what your new home has to teach you about yourself.
Your work as a traveler will also make you a better nurse because you’ll quickly see how many different “right” ways there are to treat patients. You can pick and choose the best practices for you and your patients.
Putting it into practice:
- Find a restaurant with a new-to-you type of cuisine and give it a try.
- Are there any cultural events or festivals in your new home? Don’t be shy about attending!
- Check out the events at your local library and check out some books on your new city, too.
- If there’s a large demographic in your area that speaks a foreign language, explore local language classes.
5. Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips.
“Technology is also helpful when it comes to understanding different cultures and languages. Google Languages is huge. When I’m waiting on an interpreter, I can look up some words I need to know. We’re an obstetrical ER, so things can get heated and happen fast. Sometimes the baby comes before the interpreter does!” — Tiffany Cash
There’s almost no question that can’t be answered online. Reliable websites can be a great help when you need an answer quickly. Use the bounty of info that’s right at your fingertips.
How to maximize your technology:
- Unsure about something you encountered at work or a treatment that the doctor recommended earlier? Look it up to see if others have had the same experience and what they’ve learned.
- Expand your knowledge and your network: use Skype to connect with nurses and physicians at other hospitals — whether they’re old friends or people you’d like to get to know professionally.
- There are tons of online groups, usually based on location, where you can share stories and support with other travel nurses.
There are many ways you can continue your education and training without going back to school. Take advantage of them so you can always be at the top of your game — even as the game is changing.
Want more on how to improve your practice? Check out our travel nursing interview series.