Tag Archives: nursing education

See One, Do One, Teach One

5 May

It’s a gross oversimplification, and it’s even frowned upon in medical training circles today, but there’s still a lot of truth in the old nursing adage: See one, do one, teach one.

For example: Think back to when you learned to give injections.

Probably it was something utterly foreign to your experience and, frankly, terrifying – sticking a total stranger with a sharp object, let alone pushing chemicals into his arm! But we talked about it in the lab, we showed you videos, we demonstrated it (on manikins, of course) – you saw how we did it, and you heard us insist that you could do it, too.

Then, after seeing, you did it yourself – that same day, right there in the lab! You drew up some saline in a syringe, you swabbed off a practice pad, and you got up to courage to jab it in – success! You kept at it, over and over and over, until you could do it without breaking into a cold sweat, and you were ready for the inevitable, ominous-sounding check-off – in nursing school, the main way you follow “see one” and “do one” with “teach one.”

In a sense, you were teaching back to us what you’d learned and practiced, and then you went on teaching back to us as you performed those skills in the clinical setting on real patients. Many of your other nursing skills were reinforced the same way: You’d encounter the new skill, then practice it yourself, and finally turn around and share what you’d encountered and assimilated.

Here’s the thing, though: Nursing isn’t just about those bedside skills – not even close. Especially for Christian nurses. It’s also about your presence and attention; it’s about how you do things, not just what you do; it’s about being a conduit of God’s healing and comfort through your words, through your gestures, through your prayers, both spoken and silent.

It’s about, in other words, being ambassadors of Jesus – his envoys in the lives of those who are sick and suffering, apprehensive and forlorn.

This is at the heart of a Biblical vision for nursing, and I’d like to cap off your nursing formation by presenting a few exemplars of this Biblical vision that I hope you’ll keep in mind as you launch your career. And I’ve made it easy for you to remember them – in a word, Mary. Actually, make that Mary x3.

The first is the Mary you’re probably thinking of – the Christmas Mary, the virgin mother of the Messiah. We see in the beginning of Luke’s Gospel that Mary sees or encounters divine grace the moment the angel Gabriel tells her that she’s to be the mother of Jesus – “Let it be to me according to your word,” is her verbal response.

Immediately after, however, she follows up with an active response – seeing is followed by doing ­– and she visits Elizabeth, herself 3 months pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary, having received Jesus, literally, in the flesh, turns around and brings Jesus (again, literally) to her expectant cousin – the best pre-natal home visit ever!

That’s what we get to do as well – what you’ve been doing as a student nurse, and what you’ll be doing every day as an RN: Bringing Jesus to others through your skills, your knowledge, your presence, yourselves. And when others praise you for your selflessness and care, you’ll point to God – teaching through your words and example that what you do is all about whom you have received, just as Mary does with Elizabeth. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she tells her cousin. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

The second Biblical nursing Mary is the Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. These three siblings were clearly the Lord’s chums, which means they’d already seen who he was – or, in my terminology, they’d already encountered his Gospel of love. In Luke, we also see Mary and Martha doing the Gospel they’d encountered by offering hospitality to Jesus, but in two very distinct ways that mirror the two dimensions of our profession. There’s the Martha of Bethany in us which is oriented to tasks – and which, frankly, is what our employers expect of us, not to mention our patients. But we’re also called, again especially as Christian nurses, to do a lot of Mary of Bethany at the bedside – sitting at the feet of Jesus under the guise of the sick, listening, just being with.

Mary and Martha also appear late in John’s Gospel, caring for their ailing brother, Lazarus, and advocating for his healing by sending for Jesus. Although Lazarus dies before Jesus arrives, we see the two sisters persisting in their advocacy – a teach-back of total faith in Christ, who assures them that “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus then goes on to raise Lazarus from the dead, anticipating his own resurrection, but also affirming with action the two sisters’ declaration of faith.

Finally, we have Mary Magdalene, a prominent New Testament figure, and a witness to both the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We know from Luke’s Gospel that she’d been healed of demonic possession – that is, she’d encountered the healing Christ – and she was doing what Christ had shown her by supporting him and his Apostles out of her “own means” in Luke’s words.

But Mary Magdalene is best remembered for her role as apostle to the Apostles. According to John, she was the first to come upon the risen Lord on Easter morning – although she initially mistook him for somebody else. When she finally recognizes Christ – alive! Somehow alive! – she falls down to worship, but he has a mission for her to carry out right away. He says, “Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And Mary promptly complies, going to the disciples to teach them, to bring them the good news: “I have seen the Lord!” Yes, he is alive indeed!

So, three biblical Marys, and three models for carrying out our profession of care. There’s at least one more thing these three have in common: They’re all considered saints – that is, they conformed their lives to Christ and persevered in faith, running the race to the end, in the words of St. Paul, and winning the prize of heaven. That’s our ultimate goal as well – we’re all saints in the making, saints to be – and nursing affords us daily opportunities to pursue it.

We’ve already seen or encountered Christ in our lives, and we’ll keep seeing him regularly – daily! – in those we care for. And caring for them as nurses, if done with charity and compassion and patience, is a superior means of doing what Christ has called us all to do. Finally, we are all sent, like Mary Magdalene, to announce the Gospel – to teach through out words and actions that we’ve seen the Lord, that he’s alive, and that his healing goes well beyond the physical complaints of our patients. May God bless you as you go forth and live these realities – as you go forth to bring Jesus to a hurting world who needs him.
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Adapted from a speech given to Bethel College nursing graduates at their Pinning ceremony on 4 May 2019. A version appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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Of Giving Shots and Making God

21 Sep

“Do not neglect the gift you have.”
~ St. Paul

Our skills lab for nursing fundamentals starts at 7:00 a.m., and so students frequently have trouble staying awake during our tedious PowerPoints and videos. We try to keep them engaged – regaling the students with hilarious anecdotes from our own years as staff nurses, for example – but there’s only so much you can do to make things like bed baths and body mechanics interesting.

nursing-practice-shots-nurse-oceancity'10-275Nobody sleeps on injections day however. Eyes are open wide; attention is rapt. “This is important,” their demeanor suggests. “We’re learning to give shots.”

They’re right – it is important. Of course, we think that everything we teach our beginning nursing students is important, yet there’s no denying that shots are different. Not only does it involve the administration of potent medications – important enough in itself – giving shots also involves jabbing strangers with sharp objects.

The surprising thing, however, is that the teaching part isn’t all that difficult – in fact, it’s actually a lot of fun. Each new detail is like a revelation to the students, and we nursing instructors get a kick out of seeing their reactions. We put syringes and needles in their hands – wonder of wonders! The students watch us demonstrate proper technique by administering injections to manikins – fascinating!

And then the moment comes they’ve all been waiting for: Stabbing a needle into a vial of fluid, drawing up a mock dose of medication into a syringe, and giving that first shot – into an injection pad, granted, but still an honest-to-goodness shot!

It’s all very Montessori-esque and kinesthetic, as the learning unfolds manually, hands on, and not solely by way of abstract whys and wherefores. After the students’ initial lab experience, they will practice – lots of practice, on the manikins and injection pads, and maybe oranges and hot dogs – and they will make the skill their own. Eventually, each student will provide a return demonstration (on a manikin), and only those students who perform the skill safely will be permitted to attempt a real injection on a real patient.

Frankly, that’s when the true challenge comes for the nursing instructor. Teaching shots in the lab is one thing; coaching students to give actual shots to people they’ve just met is quite another.

We’re teaching injections right now at my school of nursing, so all this stuff was in the back of mind when I was at Mass the other day and our assistant pastor reminded us that he’d only been ordained for a year. Thus, a little more than a year ago, Father would’ve still been in the seminary chapel, practicing the Eucharistic Canon as a transitional deacon, and anticipating his first real Mass on ordination day. It got me thinking: What an exciting and strange thing it must be to teach men to say MassDoubt-427x276. What an exalted privilege. And lots of fun to boot – probably one of the best parts of teaching future priests.

Sure, seminaries have to instruct men how to preach and teach, how to counsel and collaborate, and how to run a parish – the Code of Canon Law demands as much, and it’s what you’d expect. But lay people and deacons receive formation in such matters as well, and they often carry out those duties as a part of their ministries. What sets priestly formation apart, among other things, are those dimensions that are specifically geared to the “sacred power (sacra potestas)” conferred at ordination – which, for the priest, includes especially the power to confect the Eucharist. The power, that is, to make God.

For that’s what the word “confect” means – to put something together. In the case of the Mass, it’s the priest putting together bread and wine, along with his spoken words and intention, and, voila!, there’s God himself on the altar! It’s a miracle every time, regardless of how routine it might become for us – or even for the priest. And that’s where I was thinking the parallels between teaching nurses and teaching priests are particularly noteworthy.

I mean, I was already picking up on a correlation in the instruction arenaboth groups of educators guiding their respective students in the mechanics of future privileged duties, and delighting in their charges’ anticipation of the day they themselves would be able to fulfill those duties. Moreover, there are additional similarities with regards to the interior preparation naturally accompanying such practical instruction – instilling in our students the attitudes and dispositions that will facilitate a lifetime of service to the people entrusted to their care.

Finally, there’s also a parallel with regards to the day – for the nursing student, the first real shot; the priest, the first real Mass. No more pretending in the lab or seminary; no more dry runs and rehearsals. This is it – the time has come. The new priests will surely have rattled nerves considering what they’re about to undertake. Do seminary instructors have to coach their students at that point like I do mine? Urging them to project a confidence they don’t possess yet, relying instead on our confidence in them?

But that’s about it with regards to the analogies, I’m afraid, for there’s no comparing the actual tasks at hand. Giving a shot correctly and well – even the first time – is imperative for the recipient and the student nurse alike, and for obvious reasons. But saying Mass? Calling down the host of heaven, and traversing millennia 22bprhoadespopeJPII478to drag into the present Calvary’s awful paradox; holding up created matter, and commanding it to become the Creator himself – this is what the priest does, even that very first time he stumbles and falters his way through the Eucharistic Prayer.

And he’ll be doing it again and again, probably daily, and for the rest of his life. I know nurses can lose touch with the passion for care and service that drove them to nursing school in the first place, and we have to actively guard against that. Do priests have to do the same? Can they forget, in other words, their first love?

Pope John Paul II thought so, which is evident in his apostolic exhortation on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis. “Live the mystery that has been placed in your hands,” St. John Paul wrote, calling to mind the charge given priests in the Rite of Ordination, “when the offerings of the holy people for the eucharistic sacrifice are placed in his hands.” That mystery is the Lord Jesus himself, of course, who is the source and summit of the Christian life, and whom the priest is directed to enflesh in a particular and irreplaceable way through his life and ministry. The Pope continued:

For this to be so, there is need for great vigilance and lively awareness. Once again, the Rite of Ordination introduces these words with this recommendation: “Beware of what you will be doing.”

“Beware,” the Rite warns – these are dire matters indeed.

Please join me in praying for our priests. We all require the medicine God provides us through their hands; they, in turn, deserve our unflagging support and gratitude.

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A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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