Written by: Emma, BSN-RN
Where My Journey Began
I started my nursing school journey in May of 2019. I graduated nursing school from Chamberlain University’s accelerated program in December of 2021. This fast-paced schedule fit my personality perfectly, because I am someone that has to be busy all the time!
During nursing school, I started an Instagram called “emmathefuturenurse” to document my progress throughout Chamberlain’s nursing program. I documented everything from my personal life, to how I felt about certain classes, clinical experiences (especially my practicum in the burn unit) and NCLEX prep. Over the few short years I was in nursing school, my Instagram generated quite a following. I was able to connect with so many nursing students, nurses, and medical professionals!
My Instagram handle has changed to reflect what is currently going on in my life: emma.mama.nurse. I’m Emma, a new mama to a five-month-old little man named Luka, and an ICU nurse who just finished her first year of nursing.
Nursing School Before Nursing School
My nursing school experience actually did not start at Chamberlain University. I entered a nursing program at a local community college in fall of 2017. I made it almost halfway through the program when I decided to drop out.
At the time I didn’t know if I’d ever go back to nursing school. My experience was that bad. The program was not organized at all. I was teaching myself everything. For example, let’s take the disease process diabetes. All at the same time, they “taught” the health assessment portion of diabetes, the fundamentals of diabetes, and how to medically take care of a diabetic patient.
Fast forward to Chamberlain University, we took pathophysiology before we learned the fundamentals of nursing. Everything is built on top of one another at Chamberlain, which is how my brain works. This why I believe I was so successful at Chamberlain University.
In the nursing program at the community college, I was thrown a mix of information at once while trying make sense of it all. Anyone would struggle in their program, and I sure did. While struggling to teach myself nursing content, my first clinical also happened to be in my first week of nursing school. Please, tell me how that makes sense?
I didn’t know what to do with patients, let alone how to even talk to them. I didn’t know how to change a bed or empty a foley catheter. Pretty sure I didn’t know what a foley was yet. I didn’t know how to perform a head to toe assessment, or what the difference was between ibuprofen or tylenol. I had absolutely no clinical or nursing experience. The whole thing made me feel like I was at a disadvantage.
Should I have started working as a nursing assistant before I went to nursing school like so many of my peers? I felt so lost in my first semester of nursing. I tried to navigate being a student nurse while teaching myself content I was not familiar with. It dawned on me, I was drowning because of the disorganization of their nursing program.
The Moment That Did Me In
One humiliating experience during one of my clinicals led me to dropping out of nursing school. Let me set the scene. It’s my second semester of nursing school. We’re taking medical surgical nursing and health assessment 2. My clinical is on an observation floor at one of the worst hospitals in the area.
The clinical instructor is a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and 70 years-old. We’ll call her Dr. Hause. (Not her real name, just a fake name for story purposes.) She would correct everyone if we didn’t address her as Dr. Hause. The nurses on the floor were not a fan of her and would frequently talk bad about her to the students and to one another. Already not a good situation.
In class we were learning all the ins & outs of IVs, piggybacks and injections. This week was my week to demonstrate a nursing task to the nurses on the floor, my classmates, and my patient. I chose priming IV tubing. There really isn’t a true right or wrong way to prime IV tubing. Welp, boy was I wrong.
I gathered my supplies: a bag of lactated ringers, the primary IV tubing, and my labels for the lines. Then, introduce myself to everyone and explain what I’m going to do. Next, I wash my hands, don gloves, open my IV tubing & spike the bag. I watch as the lactated ringers flows down the tubing and slightly drips onto the floor. Immediately, I clamp the line. I cleansed the IV hub and connected the lactated ringers to my patient.
Just as I was connecting the fluids to my patient, my clinical instructor pushed my hand away so fast, it felt like she hit my hand. She yelled at me in front of everyone. “Is that how you’re supposed to prime IV TUBING?! NO. NO. NO.” She pulls out another set of IV tubing and demonstrates how to “correctly” prime the tubing. “You HAVE to prime tubing link by link, or you are going to KILL your patient.” I was absolutely mortified. I dropped out of nursing school that week.
After I dropped out of nursing school I took a year off and worked my booty off serving and bartending. I came to a point where I knew I wanted to be a nurse. That was when I applied to Chamberlain University.
My Experience at Chamberlain University
As I mentioned, I started at Chamberlain University in May of 2019, and began nursing coursework in January of 2020. I remember the first day of my Health Assessment class we were all hearing about COVID and what it would mean for in person classes and healthcare as a whole. We were in person for a little over two months before we were sent home for 18 months of virtual nursing school.
The last part of my fundamentals and health assessment lab was when we transitioned to online virtual learning. I learned how to put in a foley by making “female anatomy” out of towels and a tequila bottle. I practiced my tracheostomy suctioning by making a trach out of a water bottle. We had to get creative while learning online.
I truly loved my experience at Chamberlain. Maybe I wasn’t your A plus student, but I worked super hard for my As, Bs, and maybe even a couple of Cs. Our professors truly wanted their students to learn. There was a huge difference from the professors I had at my local community college to Chamberlain.
I was fortunate to only have two clinicals online. During the pandemic I documented my in-person clinical experience. I had so many nursing students message me saying that they were more than halfway through nursing school, and they hadn’t taken care of a real patient. All their clinicals were online! I felt very fortunate that my Chamberlain campus advocated for us to have in-person clinicals. It’s hard to believe so many nurses didn’t get to share these experiences due to Covid limiting where clinicals could and couldn’t take place.
I loved every clinical I had. (With that being said, I had a difficult time figuring out what kind of nurse I wanted to be.) Clinicals were where I place my first 18 gauge IV, and shadowed a “baby catcher” nurse to help deliver five babies. In my community health clinical, I was able to place over one hundred IVs and hang medications specific to kidney patients. I loved my critical care clinical where I learned about ventilators, overdoses, intubations, and what differentiates a critical patient from your regular medical surgical patient.
My Time as a Nursing Assistant
I want to briefly chat about my job as a nursing assistant, and then talk more about my nursing experience at Chamberlain. I promise this all relates…
Initially I was going to accept a nursing position on the floor I worked on as a nursing assistant. I loved the floor and the nurses. I even loved the type of nursing. It was a medical surgical floor, but more of a step-down, for colorectal surgical patients.
I actually interviewed for the unit and shadowed my assistant nurse manager while she took patients for a few hours. After interviewing and shadowing, I tried to see myself working as a nurse on that floor and I couldn’t. It didn’t feel right. I declined the job offer and quit my job as a nursing assistant at the same time. I was extremely lost during this time, because I liked almost everything about nursing. My problem was, I didn’t know what kind of nurse I wanted to be.
How I Ended Up Where I am Now
After I quit my job as a nursing assistant, I was about to start the “4 C’s” at Chamberlain. Critical Care, Community Health Nursing, Collaborative, Capstone. These are the last four classes of Chamberlain’s nursing student program.
During these last six months of school, I wanted to figure out what kind of nurse I wanted to be. I knew I was going to like my critical care clinical, because it challenged me in a way I wasn’t challenged before. During my critical care class and my community health class I ended up getting my gallbladder removed and took my midterm and final for community health in the hospital.
I was in and out of the hospital for weeks during the last few months of nursing school with constant issues with my stomach. I actually hid it from my professors after a classmate of mine broke her foot, and Chamberlain told her to come back when her foot was healed. This pushed her graduation from December to May of the following year.
After critical care and community health clinicals, we started thinking about where we wanted to do our practicums. I chose the ICU and completed my practicum in the burn ICU at the hospital I work at now. I loved my experience in the burn ICU. There was always so much to learn and see.
Towards the end of my practicum I was basically taking patients by myself while my preceptor checked over my work and watched what I was doing. This experience showed me how much I wanted to work in the ICU.
As much as I loved the burn ICU, I knew I wanted more in nursing. The burn ICU was very specific to burn patients and very focused around dressing changes and pain management. I ended up choosing the adult medical ICU, because it covered a broader range of disease processes. I now work as an ICU nurse on the floor I did clinical on as a nursing student. It’s funny how everything comes full circle.
The last week of nursing school I went to see Mark Klimek. All of his tips and tricks helped me pass the NCLEX. I still use some of his tricks in my practice as a nurse. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in Columbus at Mark Klimek. Thursday was my last day of nursing school ever and then Friday I graduated nursing school. It truly was one of the best weeks of my life!
New Grad in the ICU & Expecting Mama
I passed the NCLEX in January of 2022, started working as an ICU nurse in February of 2022, and found out I was pregnant in March of 2022. I was unsure if I wanted to share this, but I think those of you who have depression maybe can relate. After graduating nursing school and starting my job as a nurse, I found myself in a bit of a mental health rut. As someone who previously suffered from depression and anxiety, I was in a depressive episode.
I just graduated nursing school and started my dream job, why wasn’t I happy. What more could I want? My depression was getting worse. I felt as if I was in the dark, almost as if a light had turned off. And then, I found out I was pregnant.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I’m not much of a religious person but I think God gave me my son, Luka right when I needed him. Luka means bringer of light. When I chose the name Luka, I had no idea what his name meant, it just felt right. Luka brought the light back into my life.
I learned how to be a new grad ICU nurse and mom at the same time. As a new nurse working in the ICU, orientation is 12 weeks long. Towards the end of my nursing orientation I was taking on more critical patients. After I finished orientation, I immediately picked up overtime.
By picking up overtime I could work in any of our ICUs; surgical ICU, neuro ICU, trauma ICU, burn ICU and the cardiac ICU. This gave me the opportunity to learn so much early on in my career. My goal was to expose myself to as much ICU nursing as possible before my maternity leave started, I saw open hearts, open chests, 95% TBSA burns. I responded to code blues, massively transfused, performed chest compressions five months pregnant, and dealt with difficult patients and family members. I fully immersed myself in critical care nursing.
But, when I found out I was pregnant my entire outlook on nursing and life changed. I was completely set on being an ICU nurse working at the bedside for the rest of my life. Pregnancy changed that. I had to think about my family and the idea of missing out on holidays, my kid’s sporting events, and family events. Missing out on tucking my kids into bed when I work the night shift. I would miss out on family dinners. It made me rethink if nursing was for me (again).
As a nurse, I think many people go through this feeling of “is nursing for me?”. I found myself feeling this way again before returning to work after maternity leave. Luka was born on October 1st, so I was able to have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s off. I’m fortunate enough this year that I was able to switch holidays and will have Thanksgiving and Christmas at home this year. So, for right now I will stay here in the medical ICU. But where nursing will take me, I truly do not know.
Feel free to follow me on my Instagram at @emma.mama.nurse to follow more of my journey as a new nurse and now new mama!