TSN 11: The Student Nurse and the Learning Environment

I was scheduled for a six week orientation period buddied with a highly experienced Obstetrical Nurse named Marga. She had a guttural German accent and had been a mid-wife in her home country. What were the chances?  I’d already heard stories about her. People whispered that she was very demanding, impatient, and intolerant of new staff. As it happened, she and I hit it off immediately. The next six weeks were some of the most rewarding I would ever spend learning a new set of skills. She was a wonderful mentor who became a lifelong friend.

When my first labouring patient was admitted, I confessed to Marga that I’d never actually been able to feel contractions. She looked at me with huge, unbelieving eyes and my whole humiliating story of fourteen weeks with Miss Stoczs came tumbling out of my mouth. The look in her eyes told me she felt my pain and humiliation and without another word, she took my hand in hers and gently placed the balls of my fingers on the patient’s abdomen. “Now, very gently touch her skin” she said “and let the movement of the muscles below carry your fingers.” Patiently she waited several minutes carefully watching my fingers. It didn’t happen right away, but in less than twenty minutes it did. I felt a contraction.

Over the next two years, Marga taught me everything about Obstetrical nursing including how to deliver a baby when there was no chance the doctor would get in on time. Each time was nerve-wracking for me, but Marga always stood by me, guiding, encouraging, and supporting my practice. By the end of my two and a half years on that OBS Unit, I had become a highly competent OBS nurse. One of my favourite job assignments was to be a buddy to an orientee nurse on Obstetrics. It was a joy for me to watch that nurse as she too, felt a contraction for the first time. What a long way I’d come.

Looking back on, and comparing my two Obstetrical learning experiences, always leads me to the same conclusion: I had been emotionally threatened and abused as a student nurse. That experience very literally, denied me the opportunity to learn the skills I needed, and wanted, to learn. That young student, trapped in a very real nightmare, had no recourse, no one to whom she could turn for help. No Human Resources Department protected her from a hostile work environment. That term didn’t even exist in the late 1960s. In spite of my noxious student experiences, I learned a very valuable lesson: I would never treat an eager-to-learn junior nurse the way I’d been treated. I lived by that commitment through my almost forty year nursing career.

Read more Tales of a Student Nurse stories!

The Student Nurse and the Learning Environment - Newborn baby

(Images source: http://met.scholarsportal.info/)

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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