An Open Letter to a Former Nursing Professor

Subject: An Open Letter to a Former Nursing Professor
From: A Grateful Former Student
Date: 23 Mar 2015

Dear Former Nursing Professor,

As a student, I had very little appreciation for you, your knowledge and methods outside of passing your class. I thought you were a meticulously difficult grader, impossible to reason with, and incapable of seeing the perspective of the student. You had a reputation as one of the strict ones, and I think you both deserved it and cultivated it. I valued what I got in lecture more than I'd admit to other classmates, but I didn't value it enough just then. The unique opportunities afforded me related to the institution I attended college at, as well as your connections and so on - I valued them enough at the time, but it wasn't really enough.

As a new grad waiting to take boards? I was more focused on applying for jobs and studying than anything else. I went on multiple interviews, studied some more and passed my boards the first time. I interviewed some more, and landed a new grad job. Then suddenly, I was moving to another state and busy with all of those things - the ones that go along with moving and new jobs. I was so busy learning how to sink or swim as a new nurse. I kept in touch with my friends the academic year behind me (the then senior class). Even when I returned, that first year, to visit friends who lived near school, I never stopped by school. I chose to keep in contact with a specific former clinical instructor, but otherwise, I didn't keep in touch, with any of my instructors.

During my first year in nursing, I had emergency surgery. I was alone, and my family was hours away from me. My family members were able to make it to where I was before I had surgery - because of my NPO status (I'd tried to eat before going to the ED, and it was not a life and death emergency). Being a patient was a humbling experience. Being a patient alone? Scary. Surgery was kind of scary - but I knew I needed it to get better. I spent the night (and much of the next day) in the hospital and I found myself critiquing the nurses who took care of me on days (and thinking things you said to our class).

Towards the end of my first year in nursing, I left that job for my current job which required another move, even further from where I went to college/nursing school. This move and job made it harder to keep in contact with folks from nursing school (the orientation for this job was especially demanding) and the added distance simply adds another dimension of difficulty. My communication with former classmates largely included social media and occasional text messages.

During a trip "back" to the same city/area I completed nursing school (about three years after graduation), I attended a nursing classmate's wedding. A third classmate of ours shared that you were sick and how serious it was. I contemplated emailing you and ultimately chose not to (it had never seemed like you liked me all that much). Not that you treated me poorly, but that you never seemed to like me that much. I see now, having helped to orient many new people to our department and helping to train residents? Some people you like more than others. It's just kind of a fact of life. I don't have to love everyone I work with all the time to make me a competent nurse and good "teacher".

After three years of practice plus some reflection and thought about what "next" for me professionally, I can see that there are definitely things you taught me that have been with me since I completed school. I've found myself thinking things you used to say. Just recently, I used an analogy you used to explain something to me, oh, at least 5 years ago in a sim lab class session to explain the same thing to someone newer than I. It took this reflection to see the correlation between the instructors and leaders I had in school and where I am today.

I see now how unique it is that I was able to spend time studying abroad during a traditional BSN program. More unique than that? That we got to participate in nursing specific things abroad. One coworker of mine with whom I was discussing experiences during nursing school was amazed I went abroad during nursing school. It truly was amazing. I did lose most of my holiday break related to study abroad, but it was an amazing experience I was privileged to have.

I'm really thankful you were so hard on us. There was no sugarcoating it then, and there really isn't in the workplace. That you took points off for any spelling and grammar despite how correct our message was. I'm thankful you made us present to classmates and/or other classes (and I HATE public speaking, still do, if you're wondering). The fact is, in the real world, nobody cares why you didn't spell something right (spelling can totally change the meaning of things), nobody cares what you meant when you incorrectly or inadequately document. 

Certainly, there were standards the program as a whole had, and many (most) of our instructors (classroom and clinical) held us to those standards. It was easier during school to get the clinical instructor, or small group facilitator/grader who was as permissive as possible with grading. But in the end it wouldn't actually make anything easier. I was fortunate to have several strict and demanding instructors early on, who set the expectation, instead of being faced with that at the end of senior year. Another instructor, from psych, made me learn to be assertive (I was not at the time, and really wasn't as a new grad, but now, I am much better). It made me better in the long run.

The lesson I've learned? You (as well as other instructors) had more of an impact on me than I imagined at the time. Also, I should have spoken up and emailed you. Worst that would have happened is me being ignored. Best? I would have been able to articulate how fortunate I was to have had you as an instructor, the impact you had. When it comes down to it, it's hard to choose one most influential instructor from my past. But I can more clearly see the direct correlation my instructors had on my development as a student and on my practice as a nurse, to this day. More importantly, this principle of speaking up and letting people know what they mean to me, is one I should apply to the other people in my life.

A couple of people that I'm still close to kept me (and others, classmates mostly) apprised of the situation and how you were, right up to and including when you passed. I said many prayers for you (and your family) during the time you were sick and dying. I'm sorry I never took the time to let you know the impact you had on me. I'm also thankful you are no longer suffering and are in a much better place. Rest in peace, you've earned it. I sincerely wish I had been able to attend your visitation and/or funeral to pay my respects. Unfortunately, living several states away and with my work (and call) schedule? I was unable to make that trip.

I can only hope you are aware, in some way, shape and form, of the things the nurses you helped educate are up to, even those of us who didn't directly keep in touch with you. I hope you'd be proud of the things we're up to. I think you would be, speaking for myself of course.

For now,

A Grateful Former Student