Rolling Hill nursing

How to Get Better at ANY Nursing Skill - Number 4 Will Change Your Life


APRIL, 2020

In nursing school, when I would place an IV on a rubber dummy arm, I remember thinking to myself, “wow, this is so easy.” I collected my supplies, donned my gloves, stuck it, and got that flash of “blood.” Easy. And then when I was asked if I wanted to try on a real person in a clinical, my confidence instantly dissolved into shakey hands and nervous energy. Just for the record, I did not succeed.

The next time I would have an opportunity to try to place another IV was after my NCLEX and at my first nursing job in a nursing residency program. A night shift CNA very graciously let me practice on him. 

Honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable placing IVs for the first two years of my nursing career. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I never really got a lot of practice, because most of my oncology patients either had an implanted port-a-cath (port) or they came from the emergency department with an already IV in place. 

Nursing comes with a huge and varied breadth of different skills that are required to do our job. Whether you’re placing an IV, inserting a foley catheter, a nasogastric tube, running a code, or even just doing a full linen change with a person still in the bed, there is no denying that practicing these skills on a dummy mannequin is NOT the same as a real person.

Nursing simulation dummies have gotten pretty advanced and can even sweat, bleed, cry, but there is nothing like trying to suction a tracheostomy on a patient who is wiggling around and shooting mucus twelve feet across the room. 

Nursing school teaches you the foundation and order of practical nursing skills, but experience teaches you how to be a pro – like knowing to never stand directly in front of the patient while suctioning the trach. 

Nursing is exhausting, especially when new information is being thrown at you constantly. Read one of my other posts about feeling less exhausted during your shift. Perfecting your skills will also really help you feel less exhausted and make you feel like a more accomplished nurse. 

Like everything in life, if there is a particular nursing skill that you want to improve upon, you have to dedicate the time and effort to getting better.

Burnout is a real thing, and it can happen to any nurse. It can happen at any point in your career – even for new nurses!

Read one of my other posts with a new tool from renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Heim, to prevent burnout.

No matter what skill you want to get better at, follow the steps below to improve literally ANY nursing skill.

1. Lean Into It

“Leaning in” is a therapy technique that is used to help people overcome and manage anxiety. The principle is used to help people confront uncomfortable feelings so that the experience can teach them to overcome it and desensitize them to that particular stimulus. 

Have any of you been asked by another nurse to help them place an IV, because they have already missed? My go to answer used to be, “sure, I can try, but if you didn’t get it, I don’t think I will.” Not only is this a defeatist and self-fulfilling prophecy, but it also just perpetuates that anxious feeling.

The only way to get better at something is by doing it. Over and over and over again. Leaning into the anxious feeling can help you face a challenge and feel more confident going into the situation. 

Don’t shy away from certain skills just because you aren’t as experienced with them.

Picture yourself succeeding, boost your confidence, and DO IT!

I would argue that most nursing skills are half psychological. Of course good technique and knowledge are incredibly important, but if you convince yourself that you will fail before you even try, then you most likely will.

I am not kidding when I say that every time I place an IV, I think to myself, “I am the vein whisperer.” This helps get me into the right state of mind to stick it! If you need help boosting your confidence, read this article about personal mantras.

2. Help Your Coworkers

Like I mentioned before, the more you practice a nursing skill, the easier it will become and the better you get at it. Depending on how frequently a skill is performed on your unit, you might not get a ton of experience with certain skills. If it is a pretty infrequent occurrence, chances are you might not be assigned that patient. 

If you hear one of your coworkers stating that they are getting ready to do a dressing change or another skill that you want to get more practice with, ask them if it would be ok for you to come watch and assist them. 

There are also some skills that require or are at least a lot easier with a second person helping – like inserting a foley catheter.

Volunteer to help your coworker perform the skill.

You won’t always have the time to be able to do this since you have your own patients, but when you do have the time it can be really beneficial to you both.

Helping your coworker with various nursing skills is a great way to see how other nurses do it. You can learn a lot of little tips and tricks from watching and helping your coworkers.

If it is within their scope of practice, you can also learn a TON from the CNAs and UAPs. I used to work with a nurse aid that had been working that job for longer than I have even been alive. He could basically run that unit by himself. He was a force to be reckoned with.

There is probably no one better to learn how to do a full bed change and clean runny stool like a pro than helping and watching your experienced nurse aids. 

Getting to see how a bunch of different nurses do a particular skill can really help get a variety of different ways to achieve the same goal. Typically there is more than one way to do a nursing skill, and you just have to find the way that works best for you.

3. Communicate With Charge Nurse

Keeping in close communication with your charge nurse is generally a good idea no matter what is going on. One of the roles of being a charge nurse is having a general understanding of what is going on with all of the patients on that unit. If there is a particular nursing skill that you haven’t had a lot of practice with and want to improve upon, tell them. 

This puts you on their radar and when they know of a patient with a chest tube or central line or whatever it may be, they can help you get that experience. 

Better yet, if your unit’s team of charge nurses communicate well with each other, they can try to assign you to that particular patient when making assignments. 

As a charge nurse, making assignments isn’t always super easy. When I know that an oncoming nurse wants experience with a particular skill or patient population, I can keep that in mind and try my best to assign that nurse to that patient.

4. Think It Before You Do It

Mental rehearsal has been shown in studies to be effective at augmenting a person’s ability. I find this especially helpful when I am in the supply room collecting my supplies for whatever I might be about to do.

Running through the process in my head really helps me organize my approach, but it also helps me to remember all of the supplies I need. There is nothing worse than being half way through a sterile dressing change, sterile gloves already on, and you forgot something! 

Having to leave the room to get more supplies always makes me super self-conscious like the patient is going to think I don’t know what I am doing. Sometimes it’s inevitable, and it’s not something to stress about, but I like to try to gather EVERYTHING I need before going in the room.

Mentally rehearsing something can also boost your confidence because you are visualizing yourself doing the skill correctly. Remember, confidence is key, go into that room KNOWING you are going to succeed. 

If you aren’t sure you have all the steps down correctly, run the process through with a coworker.

I can’t tell you how many times I have said, “can I just run this by you?”

The charge nurse is a great person to do this with, because typically they will be fairly experienced and will be able to guide you through the process. Making sure you have the process of a particular skill down and have talked it through with someone else helps to make sure you’ve really got it. The other person can help give you extra tips or remind you of a step you might have forgotten.

5. Look It Up

There are some really great resources that you can use to improve a particular nursing skill. Obviously you can youtube videos of just about any nursing skill you could possibly want.

Getting a quick refresher of how to do a skill before you go to do it is a great idea. The internet has such a huge library of information that you can find tips and tricks for just about any nursing skill that you can possibly think of.

There can be many “right” ways to do just about any skill that accomplish the same thing. However, just like on nursing school tests, there can be a “most correct” way. The problem is the “most correct” way can change depending on what hospital or facility you work at.

You’ve probably already heard it a million times from your nurse educator, but check your facility’s policies and procedures. This can honestly be a great resource for exactly how your facility wants you to perform a particular nursing skill.

In my experience, the policies and procedures list the supplies you’ll need and a step-by-step process of how they want you to do the skill. Knowing the exact process of how the skill is supposed to be done at your facility helps you learn the skill, but also protects you from doing the skill incorrectly (even if you technically did it “correctly”).

Remember, Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!

Nursing requires proficiency in almost innumerable skills and procedures. It can be hard to truly master these skills if you don’t get a lot of experience with them. Of course, there will be some skills that you can probably do with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back. Other skills, probably not so much. If you have difficulty getting your brain to shut up, read this article on quieting your mind to fall asleep.

If you follow the above steps, I promise you that you can get better at ANY  nursing skill. Remember, with confidence and practice, you can do anything! 

What nursing skills do you struggle with the most?

As always, I would love to connect with you on social!

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