TSN 11: The Student Nurse and the Learning Environment

On my first assigned day in the Labour Room, I realized I was to be the only student there! The other students had been scheduled in the Postpartum and Nursery areas. My heart was in my throat, my palms were wet and my heart raced. Miss Staczs greeted me with a terse nod pointing me to the change room where I was to don a surgical scrub gown before touching anything. Having done that, I reluctantly returned to the Labour Room area where she was waiting for me with the happy announcement that a woman in labour was being admitted. I would be the patient’s nurse. Both Miss Staczs and the staff nurse would be responsible to make sure I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not ready, I can’t do it, screamed in my ears. I’d never even seen a woman in labour before, and had no idea what to expect. How I wished that even just one other student nurse were there to take Miss Staczs’ focus away from me.

Within five minutes, the labouring woman arrived nearly hysterical. Her pain seemed unbearable. She was crying, screaming, and grasping at the door frame as she was wheeled into the room. Completely overcome with fear, I thought there must be something seriously wrong with her. Her agony couldn’t be solely from her labour pains. “Miss Tiessen,” growled Miss Staczs, “let’s get this patient undressed and into the bed so we can assess her.” I stood frozen in place. I was afraid to get close to the woman’s flailing arms. Miss Staczs sensed I was afraid. Every one of her mannerisms displayed her lack of respect for my weakness. In front of the patient and the nurse who had brought her into the Labour Room, she barked  “MISS TIESSEN, you’re the nurse. Where is your professionalism? Pull yourself together!” I was so humiliated I could have cried.

With tears brimming in my eyes, I forced myself to try to do as Miss Staczs expected but knew from her irritation, that I was not pleasing her. The more she glared at me, the more flustered I got. With an outburst of impatience she ordered me to leave the room and wait for her at the nurses’ desk. I hurried away knowing that the nursing staff would have great stories to tell about the student nurse who failed her first day on Obstetrics.

My shame stung me to my core: I felt hopeless and stupid; whatever made me think I could become a Registered Nurse? Ten minutes later, Miss Staczs came to the nurses’ station and commanded my return to the labouring patient. Marching ahead of me to the Labour Room, I hurried to keep pace with her, so found myself breathless, with shaking knees, as I faced the patient. With no sense of compassion or empathy for my shame, Miss Staczs roughly took my hand and placed it on the woman’s abdomen. “Feel the contractions,” she gruffly ordered. “Then tell me how long they last and how far apart they are.” She had previously explained in class that timing of contractions was one significant factor in determining how far along the woman’s labour was.

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Barbara Tiessen is a retired RN who lives with her husband in southwestern Ontario but winters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She researched her genealogy, wrote and self published The Schoenfeld Russlaender: A Mennonite Family's History in 2015. More recently her interest have focused on writing short stories.
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