Keep Your Cool: 5 Tips for New Nurses in a Patient Emergency
As a new nurse, sooner or later you’re going to run into an emergency situation. Something will go wrong for one of your patients, and it quite literally can become a matter of life and death. These situations are tense and stressful for even the most experienced medical practitioner, and they can be almost overwhelming when you’re experiencing them for the first time.
Here are five things to keep in mind for your first few patient emergencies.
Have a plan
Unless the emergency is absolutely immediate — for instance, if a patient has a blocked airway or is entering cardiopulmonary arrest — you have time to plan your next moves. Don’t just do something for the sake of doing something; think about what you should be doing next and then do it.
Having a plan comes with two primary benefits. First, it keeps you focused on what your patient ultimately needs. Second, by having a set of steps to guide you, it helps you stay calm and level-headed. After all, you have a plan to follow!
Don’t cut corners on your plan, either. It doesn’t matter that you did something quickly. It matters that you did something right.
Related Resource: Time Management Skills Every New Nurse Needs
Communicate with your patients
Assuming your patient is conscious and able to communicate, they can be a vital source of information. After all, you can take all the vital signs you want, but the patient is the only one who can tell you how they’re feeling.
Do your best to keep the patient focused on the big picture and redirect them back to it as best you can. They might want to start talking about their pets or family — remember, they’re probably even more scared than you are — but that doesn’t help you make them better, does it? Keep asking questions relevant to their care. One critical tip for patient communication can be to say something like “I’m going to redirect you right now,” because it makes them feel like you’re not just ignoring what they say.
An emergency is a high-stress environment, but don’t argue or fight with your patients. Remember that they might be having the worst day of their lives right now. You’re the one that needs to keep your head.
Related Resource: 5 Ways Nurses Can Build Rapport With Patients
Ask for help
You’re not alone. While you can’t (and shouldn’t) expect to be told what to do every step of the way — that’s what your training and education was for — if you don’t know what to do in a given situation, say something! The doctors and other nurses know you’re a newbie, after all; their first emergencies were likely just as stressful.
Never let your own personal pride get in the way if you’re not sure what to do. Don’t be the nurse who insists they can handle something they can’t. Your patient’s health and life are more important than a little wounded pride, and your co-workers have the knowledge, skills, and experience to help make hard calls.
You’re part of a team. Rely on them when you need to.
When in doubt, take vital signs
If your patient isn’t in immediate risk right this second, take their vitals. This can be a great way to identify problems that may not be immediately obvious, but it can also be helpful by telling you what isn’t a problem. If you can identify areas that don’t need your immediate attention, you can then focus on the ones that do.
Don’t forget to write these down, either. You may be missing something that a more experienced medical practitioner will notice at a glance, and they can’t do anything with data they don’t see. As another guide for new nurses advises, chart like your license depends on it.
Related Resource: What New Technology Means for You and Patient Care
Know what to do afterwards
The emergency has passed, and hopefully for the better. But after such a stressful and emotionally trying experience, you still have work to do. You don’t just get to go home.
Emotional health is crucial for a working nurse, and you do your other patients a disservice if you’re not in the right mindset when you see them. So after an emergency, take some time to get yourself under control. Sit down, close your eyes for thirty seconds, take a few deep breaths — whatever works best for you to get your feet back under you.
This is also another time to ask questions of the more experienced nurses and doctors you work with. If one of your senior co-workers did something that seemed strange to you, or made a conclusion that you couldn’t follow, ask them about it! This is how you get more experience, after all. Maybe next time you’ll be the one helping the new nurse on the block with their first patient emergency.
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