Sister Mary Teresa Morris speaks at Donnelly College nursing graduation

Ten Rules for Nursing Students

Editor's note: Sister Mary Teresa Morris spoke at the Donnelly College nursing graduation on May 14, 2016. What follows is the text of her remarks.

Sister Mary Teresa Morris addresses Donnelly College nursing graduates on May 14, 2016.This will be neither as long nor as boring as my lectures. First, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the nursing class of 2016. It has been a long road. This class and I started together in January of 2015. They are graduating: I must have failed something as I am taking Medical-Surgical 1 this summer and then Foundations again in the fall. My own version of Groundhog Day.

I want you to know that you are graduating from a nursing program with a reputation of which you can be proud. A few weekends ago, I was a substitute clinical instructor. When I met with the facilities director of nursing, she stated that she preferred Donnelly graduates because: “They have been taught patience and to put the resident first. They put forth the extra effort and really care.” Good thing to hear and of which to be proud. I hope that you will wear your pin with pride as not just any nurse, but a Donnelly College nurse.

There is a television program called NCIS. The main character, Jethro Gibbs, has a list of life rules. What I intend to do is to present “Sister MT’s rules.” These have been honed over what, as of May 26, will be 44 years of nursing.

Unlike the television character, mine do not number in the fifties: mine number 10.

Sister MT’s Rules

  1. The patient comes first. Always and everywhere. No exceptions. The patient is why we are here.
  2. The learning never stops. I know you brand new nursing graduates are thinking, “No more studying…..okay, maybe some NCLEX review for state boards.” News flash. You will never, ever stop learning as long as you are a nurse. Every job, every patient, every family, every disease has something to teach if you are willing to learn. Forty-four years ago, TB was for the history books, penicillin was the number one antibiotic, and we had yet to hear about HIV-AIDS, SARS, or a newcomer called Zyka Virus.
  3. Be the team member with whom you would want to work. Nurses are a competitive bunch. However, there will always be nurses with more experience and skill than you: swallow your pride and learn from them. You will have more experience and skill than others: ditch the ego and teach. Knowledge loses its value when it is hoarded.
  4. Everyone is on the team. Not just the nurses. The team includes the aides, med techs, lab techs, radiology, dietary, the housekeeper. See rules 2 and 3. If one is not playing one up-man ship, things go a lot better.
  5. Pull your weight: Be on time and be ready!! The off-going nurse is just as eager to go home as you will be in 12 hours. If a miracle occurs and you get a break, come back on time. If you cover another nurse’s patients, see rule number Give a report that is clear and makes sense. Report is not a game of Trivia Pursuit or 20 questions.
  6. Lend a hand to the nurse aides and unit clerks. See rule number one. Yes, you have gone up the career ladder a notch or two. That is not permission to consider anything is ‘beneath you’ or as British nurses would say, ‘too posh to wash.’ The best and most respected nurses that I have known are the ones that answer lights, phones, help feed, push wheelchairs, help clean up ‘those messes..’ I have the privilege to still be in contact with a former director of nursing in Leavenworth. She was Mrs. Hegarty. To this day, the nurses that worked for her, including me, cannot bring ourselves to call her by her first name. Although the epitome of professionalism and decorum, she had no problem digging in right beside her staff. No one has ever admired or respected a nurse for how nice they look sitting at the desk and directing traffic.
  7.  Discover your niche and learn it. One nurse’s fascination, is another’s nightmare: I think adolescents are an alien life form: no way could I be a school nurse at a high school like our instructor Karen, and Patty will tell anyone who listens that she does not do ‘pink and squishy’ (OB/Peds). Nursing is so diverse that everyone can find that one type of nursing that they prefer over the others. Once you do, learn it. Do it. Be the best you can be at it. The world needs nurses: all kinds.
  8. Don’t judge a patient by his/her referral, or other staff members’ conclusions. Come to your own conclusions. One has to get to know the patient before one can correctly make a judgment. After nearly 44 years, I can tell you that your final impression of a patient is often very different from your initial one. Give folks a chance and keep and an open mind. You will be surprised, pleasantly more often than not. I will give you an example here: Roughly 15 years ago, I was working for a hospital based home health. I received a referral for a young adult who was newly diagnosed with Diabetes. He also had Down’s Syndrome. He was able to live on his own and worked on a supervised job. The discharge planner report was gloom and doom: couldn't pay attention, didn’t have any questions after watching the videos and on and on. Pronounced him as being incapable of learning self-care. ‘He’ll be back within the week. He is a disaster.” As strong believer in Rule 8 (more patients have made a liar out of me than I can count), I figured I would wait until I saw him at home before I crumbled in despair. Next morning, pulled up in front of the apartment, went to the door and rang the bell and took a deep breath. A neatly dressed young man opened the door. He was holding a loaf of Roman Meal bread in one hand and Whole wheat bread in the other: “Which do you think would give me better blood sugar control?” We proceeded to his kitchen where we looked at the cabinets: he had the cabinets arranged according to Diabetic Meal Exchanges. He could have been the poster person for Diabetic self-care. I also have to stifle the urge to do bodily harm to the intake personnel that starts report with, “This admit will be a breeze.” So is a tornado, in a manner of speaking. Remember Rule 8.
  9. Little things mean a lot: It only takes a moment to make sure things are within reach, or to pet the cat even if you don’t like cats, or find a flower in decent shape in the utility room and put it on a tray for a patient who has no visitors because it is their birthday, or actually wait for the answer to a question, or listen to the rural radio station to get the crop prices because your patient is a farmer and something called ‘wheat futures’ and ‘ hog futures’ and rain forecasts are terribly important to them.
  10. Your A-game, everyday. Patients deserve nothing less. They deserve your best every shift. Leave your home stuff at home: it is not the concern of the patient.

In conclusion, you are about to embark on an amazing career. The journey starts anew every time you say from this day forward: “Hi. I am your nurse and I will take care of you today.” After that, see Rule One. That is the only absolute that has not changed in the last 44 years, nor will it change in the next 44.

Congratulations and welcome.