Apr 20

A “best nurse” story: old school

Those of us with more of our careers behind us than ahead of us carry with us something precious. We carry the stories of the nurses who inspired us to be better at our craft, those “best nurse I ever worked with” stories. One of my cherished stories is about Agnes (and yes, that is her real name, because I would be delighted if she recognized herself here). It was my first real nursing job, on a busy surgical unit, a unit with all RN staffing. When I joined the unit team, I was informed that I would be paired on a rotation with Agnes. At that time, jobs were plentiful, and there was a group of us ‘newbies’ with spotless shoes and crisp white uniforms, armed with the chafing certainty that only inexperience can bring. When I proudly told my colleagues of my assignment, their eyes widened with an odd mix of sympathy and fear. “Agnes….really? She’s so scary!”  I was to find out that many of the more seasoned staff on the unit felt the same way. Oh oh. What was I in for? Let me skip to the end of the story. Agnes was one of the best nurses I ever had the privilege to learn from. I would often hear someone at the desk, on one of those quieter evenings (yes, we had them back then), ask “where is Agnes?” The answer was often (and sometimes disdainfully) offered “oh..she’s probably in chatting with one of her patients”. Agnes made it her business to find out what mattered to patients, what was stressing them out, how their day was going, what they felt they needed to get well. Getting to know, really getting to know her patients often gave her insights into subtle changes in their status that others missed. Now, no one would describe Agnes as a “softie”. She was “old school”, and could be brusque and painfully direct—especially if she thought you had neglected to pay attention to what mattered: the patients (I think that’s why she scared so many people). I recall trying to tell her one time, years later, how much I had learned from her, and that working with her had made me a better nurse. She looked uncomfortable and waved her hand as if trying to brush off the compliment.  I don’t think that was an “awww shucks” moment of false modesty. I think it was because Agnes believed one thing with crystal clarity: it wasn’t about her. It was about the patients, and what they needed. Old school? Maybe. No long relevant? Not on your life!  

You have a little homework now. Read Margaret Wente’s short piece on her experience recently as a patient. Then, please, come back and make a comment, ask a question or share your own “best nurse” story.  And Agnes, thanks again.


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  1. Dianne Dyer

    Thank you Shannon for your stories and your ideas about the health care system and nursing. I do recall my days as a brand new nurse in Emergency. I was so keen and so terrified. It was the experienced RNs that made all of the difference. A little advice and a comforting word and a ‘well done’ once in awhile. I have never forgotten their kindness and wisdom and have always tried to ‘pay it forward’ to others in my career. I love to tell stories about the value of putting the patient or client first and the wonderful outcomes that can be achieved. Stories can be such a gift to educate others and a chance to bring messages to those who might listen and work with us to make a difference in the health care system.
    All the best!!

    1. Shannon

      Thank you Dianne! I agree with you on the value of stories. Once you get nurses connecting, talking and sharing wisdom–great things tend to happen. That’s one of the main reasons for this blog, and I thank you for visiting, and taking a moment to share your wisdom! Please come back!

  2. Gayle Krampl

    Wonderful story Shannon! After reading Margaret Wente’s short piece and your story I have been thinking about some of the wonderful nurses that taught and inspired me. In recent years, I have been greatly inspired by some of my students. These students who are not yet nurses are often the ones with the time to spend really getting to know the clients. These students often know things that can really help the nursing staff but often they are afraid to speak up. Recently, some of my students were invited to attend the multidisciplinary meeting on a rehab unit and were encouraged to share their views. Several students made a real difference and impacted the care of some of the clients for the better. I was so proud of these students and so pleased that the staff on this unit encouraged the students to share their knowledge. The students felt like ‘real nurses’ and the clients and nursing staff benefitted.

    1. Shannon

      Wow, Gayle that’s so great to hear! You raise such an important issue: creating a climate where nurses, and nurse learners are not “afraid” to contribute their thoughts and ideas on care. That takes leadership from you, and from the staff in the environment–and commitment to a learning culture. Good for you, and good for your students! They should indeed feel like “real nurses”…they were doing “real nursing”! Awesome!

  3. Alexandra Cattoni

    I know who my favorite nurse is!


    1. Shannon

      Awwwww…thanks honey!

  4. Cori Waddell

    It’s like reading a good readers digest article but better cause it’s Shannon!!!!

    1. Shannon

      Thanks Cori, I am so happy to hear that you are getting something out of the posts! Keep reading, and commenting!

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