The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned After My First 10 Years of Nursing


Nurses, some pearls of wisdom from Aunt Aggie…


If you have to mess with it, it’s wrong.

Everybody’s heard the story of the nurse who connects this to that to this other thing and ends up giving oral contrast through an arterial line. If you have to go through that many steps to make something work, it’s wrong. If you have to be that creative to make it work, you’re doing it wrong. Stop and look and see where your mistake is.


Conversely, if there’s a way something can be screwed up, you may manage to screw it up.

This is called “death by decimal”—making a mistake so simple it’s hard to see. This is why double-checking things is important. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.


You will have miscommunications with people.

Don’t take it personally. The better you know somebody, the more likely you are to make erroneous assumptions. If you have miscommunications, clarify and move on. Don’t get your undies in a perpetual twist over it.


People who raise their voices in public haven’t a single, solitary leg to stand on.

Never raising your voice will automatically make you look and feel like the bigger person. Plus, it’s kind of fun to be the person who never, ever yells, even in emergencies. That way, if you ever do have to let loose, you’ll have everybody jumping.


Keep your head down when management comes around.

Don’t give them any ideas for process improvement. Every improvement suggested by a management type creates an equal and opposite amount of B.S. Don’t be anybody’s inspiration.


Being a manager can be a noble endeavor.

Just make sure you understand the job you’re asking other people to do. You wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix your car, so don’t volunteer to head a cardiac unit if what you know is kidneys.


You are not “too good” to do anything.

This should be higher on the list. Always remember that you are not too posh to wash, and that jobs should be delegated on the basis of need, not because of your own personal dislike of the chore.


No matter how stupid the question, somebody somewhere has asked something stupider.

I promise.


Abandon your self-centered attitudes, unreasonable pride and silly ruminations and you’ll be a lot better at your job.

No other job teaches you to think about yourself less. Have reasonable pride—like in your work—but not the sort that makes you beat yourself up for mistakes.


Take nothing seriously except your patients.

They’re all that matters, and it’s a lot more fun that way.


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. I worked my way up from nurses aide to RN. I NEVER forgot that nurse aides are the backbone in LTC. I always got into trouble from my superiors because I was always helping my aides. As someone else said it, if I’m going to ask someone else to do it, I had better be able to do it too!!!!!

    • Yes, I had the same experience. “Only ” made it to LPN but never forget my nurses’ aide roots, even after 30+ years of nursing

  2. Most importantly, do not take it personally if a patient is angry and yelling at you. Remember the patient is dealing with a health issue and may get frustrated when things do not go their way. They are not yelling at you, they are yelling at the situation they are in. They are not themselves and they are not feeling well. Loss of control for a patient is a horrible thing. React with empathy, not anger.

  3. Regarding number 4….by the time people get to me they have been told the same thing by several staff members (up the food chain a bit in our structure), they are pretty much beyond reasoning and often are very loud, very inappropriate, and like to call names! My staff often ask, how do you stand there and stay calm and not raise your voice back….I tell them, when a person is that mad, my reacting will first off fuel their energy, negative energy fuels more negative energy. They also don’t really mean what they are saying about us, me, our program, the world for that matter, it is just their anger and frustration speaking. I have learned that if I speak quietly and calmly, getting quieter and quieter as they get louder, they soon realize they cannot hear me unless they bring their volume down. I also tell them if I could change things I certainly would but I have to abide by the rules in order to protect the program/company/facility so that it remains here for all the people using it, if I break the rules for you….I risk help not just for you but all the others too. And I try really hard to work together to create a plan to get done what we both want done. I always try to get them to a private place, audiences and embarrassment will fuel their anger, and I tell them that I want to take this private since their issues are no one’s business, like I am moving them off for their consideration. I always go back to the staff and talk thru things, look for places maybe where things went downhill, ways we could have help the person not escalate, and assure the staff all they said was not personal, it is just where they are that day emotionally. Those types of reactions are emotional. I have to end this by saying, there is a point when a person is being ugly that I will have to ask them to leave, if they cannot bring it down, or watch language or are threatening in any manner, I will warn them, then ask them to leave, and if all else fails we have had to call the police, and on severe ones issue a “no trespass” order. When I do have a situation like described I like to, if it came out relatively ok, call the person the next day. Ask how they are doing, ask them if they had any more questions or needed any more assistance. They totally change their tune when I call, and from that point on, and they often seek me out years later to thank me again and again. Allowing a person to have a bit of a melt down, letting them know you will still care for them, even if you cannot change things to how they want, you will care, that makes a world of difference! And after all …isn’t that what us nurses signed on to do in the beginning….care for them no matter what?

  4. I always say I don’t ask anyone to do anything I would not do myself (and if I have time I do do it myself!!) No one person is any more important than the other. It’s like baking a cake, each ingredient works together to make a great cake, each thing is essential to that great cake! Leave out any one part or over use one part and yucko! We all are part of it!

  5. Yep.. Pretty much. Learn from everyone, respect everyone from housekeeper to dietay to CNA…Work as a member of the team- you might be in charge, but not royalty. And yes, get in the trenches and touch patients, not just the keyboard of the computer. Make nursing and caring for someone personal. Treat everyone the way you would want to be treated.

    • Amen! My rule is I never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, and if I have time I do do it myself! No one is better than another!


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