Sunday, June 29, 2008

the thin line

Forgot to post this weekend. Too much free time, I guess ;-) We finished our first "term," which equated to seven units in five weeks. Then we had four days off, not without plenty of reading for the next term, which starts tomorrow at 8:30. I hardly did any reading on Thursday or Friday, just ran around and did errands, including buying a new MacBook. Love it!

It was nice to have that break, but it's been hard to get back into the groove of studying. Where is the middle path, grasshopper? I'm not sure there is one in an accelerated nursing program.

We start our clinical rotations this week, including "skills intensive" days. I'm really looking forward to taking this from the abstract world of the classroom and textbooks and jumping into the hospital with actual patients. And it's walking that thin line between fear and excitement that I enter this new world.

Am I really becoming a nurse?


Sunday, June 22, 2008

mo' metta

I got another C, which got curved to a B. I'm still way below the class average, and just barely above the requirement for my loan forgiveness program. I'm studying relentlessly, and still I beat myself up for not doing better. So, where is the love and compassion for myself?

There was this dude named Paulo Freire. No relation to Paula Abdul, though he danced a mean tango. Freire was a Brazilian educator, quite famous amongst circles of pedagogy. His most famous work is "Pedagogy of the Oppressed." A real revolutionary was this hombre. He went out into the remote villages of his country to teach the poorest of the poor how to read, such that they could use that tool to rise above the oppression of their government and foreign interests. Unfortunately, they have a lot of rainforest in Brazil, which in modern times, has made their lives quite the living hell. Oops, this is about reading.

One would think the people would embrace this man and his offer of empowerment. However, their reaction to learning to read was, "Why do we need to learn how to read? We are just farmers who eat what we grow. We don't need to read about things that don't affect us." So he taught them to read by starting with farming, and things that mattered to them because they needed to know about them in order to survive and maybe even thrive. And so on.

This is, of course, a simplification of what happened, but it demonstrates an example of what I'll call utilitarian learning. Learning something because it will be
useful to one's life.

And suddenly I realized the same is true for me. The reason I switched from the engineering program to the technician program 25 years ago was because I didn't see how taking all those math classes would help me do what I wanted to do, get my hands on cool electronics stuff. And I'm good at math! So I became a technician instead of an engineer, and instead of figuring out how to design things, I figured out how they worked after someone else designed them. And I was damn good at it. So good that I was made an engineer. And I was pretty good at that. I wanted to get damn good, so I tried to take some classes, but could never finish them. I preferred learning how to program by studying someone else's code and figuring out what they did and then trying that. Much more fun than sitting in a classroom!

So now I'understand that this is what I need most, to apply what I'm learning as I'm learning it. It's basic and essential to teaching practice, though not always easy or practical to implement. We're starting clinicals next week, so when we learn about something in the classroom, we'll get to see it and use it in the hospital. I hope.

A Buddhist principal is that with understanding we can experience compassion and love. Metta is the practice of having love and compassion for others and for one's self. Having compassion for patients will often require having an understanding of their situation. The same is true for this macho nurse. Macho nurses need love too, ya know.

Now I really get what the Buddha meant when he said, "Mo' metta is betta!"

Or something like that.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Being the Bubble

If you ask any teacher why they became a teacher, chances are really good that they'll say something like: "I love kids," "I love science/math/writing," "I love having summers off." And you may even get, "On the first day of kindergarten, I just knew I'd grow up to become a teacher."

What they will not say is, "My passion is preparing children to take standardized tests. I want to pass on to future generations my love of those little bubbles!" Ah, no.

Me. I went into teaching to empower kids for life. I wanted to instill in them a love of learning, a connection to each other and to the earth, and the ability to think critically and creatively. And I think I actually managed to sneak a little of that in between the state mandate of preparing them for the tests in April. It's a big part of why I left teaching. No more bubbles for me!

Oh yeah?

Welcome to higher education, the land of the BIG bubble test. In the nursing world it's called the NCLEX. It's our licensing exam, the tollbooth between nursing school and being a nurse. And, upon entry into nursing school, the student in white scrubs spends most of their time preparing for this test. In our program, which is accelerated, we have a major exam every week. Fifty questions that are designed to both test your knowledge of the content and prepare you for the NCLEX. Preparing the nursing student for the NCLEX means learning how to "think like a nurse." Or at least a nurse taking a test.

And it's not just nurses who get to bask in the joy of the bubble. Every profession has either a licensing exam or an exit exam or something else that requires a #2 pencil for success. You know what I'm talking about. What bubbles did you sweat over?

So now I'm wondering if I should go and speak to graduating classes at teacher colleges and tell them to accept the reality of their charter as a teacher: to prepare kids to take tests. Sure, art and music are fun and work the "other" side of the brain, but if you really want your students to be able to get into college, to have choices in life, to pass the SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT, licensing exam and every other Scantron sheet that comes their way, hear my words,

"Embrace the bubble!"

I didn't do it as a teacher, but I'm doing it now. Sure, I'd love to be spending all of my time in nursing school learning how to be the best nurse I can be, connected with amazing mentors who share their experience and wisdom with me. I'd love to be learning, and proving my learning, in a way that works best for me. Unfortunately for me, that isn't filling in the bubbles. After two exams, my GPA is 10 points below the class average. I think too much during tests, look at too big of a picture, get to creative with my answers. I know what I need to do to succeed in nursing school. I need to become a great test taker.

And as Chevy Chase said in Caddyshack, I need to "be the bubble."

Suggestions and accolades are welcome.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Walking what you're talking

This patient walks into a clinic. He's not feeling or looking well. Major stress oozing from his body and soul. He gets called in to see the nurse. That's you. He complains of this, that, and the other thing. The nurse asks questions about his stress. Lots of causes, he says. Some of them are just the choices he's made in his life. Kids, mortgage, future, etc. Can't be avoided or changed. "Sigh," he says.

Let's talk about fun, joy, happiness, you, the nurse, says. Huh? goes the patient. "Sigh," you think to yourself. You know, remember some of the things you did *before* you had the kids, the mortgage, the job. Remember what you did before you worried about the future? You mean like hiking, meditating, reading, writing? That stuff? says the stress-oozer. And he smiles, face softens, shoulders drop, breathing deepens. Yes! you celebrate.

We've just finished our second week of nursing school. It's not easy. I didn't think it would be easy, but I did think I would do better on the first exam. There are people smarter than me in the program, much better students with more focus. Memories that didn't endure many years of THC abuse. Nursing school, and last year's science prerequisites, have been my first experience of being challenged academically. I love it, and it's humbling. Really humbling. Twenty-something years ago I dropped out of engineering school on the first day of class because it looked too hard. I switched over to the technician program and breezed through it, top of the class with very little effort. Last year I pulled straight A's with my prereq's but I worked my nursing butt off in the process. But it's been worth it. I've weighed my head and my brain is actually growing.

But I digress. Walking the talk. What talk? The talk about taking care of one's self, of health promotion. This is what the macho nurse does, ya know.

I've only been to the gym once since school started. I still haven't taken a hike or even driven by the woods. My morning meditations are getting shorter and shorter. I question whether I have time to date. The short breaks I take from studying are spent watching DVDs. Not the best self-care.

My goal is to find a balance between the rigors of school and having a social life. Also, I want to continue cooking at least half my meals from fresh veggies, and not eat any frozen meals, like I did when I was a burning-out teacher.

Laughter, fun, and play. These will always be part of my patients' health care plans, and they're going to be part of mine while in nursing school.