Seatbelts, Everyone!

On The Magic School Bus,
Step inside, it’s a wild ride!
Come on!
Ride on The Magic School Bus!

Congratulations! You made it through your first semester of nursing school, and now you’re poised to really get into it – to build on what you’ve learned, and continue accumulating the knowledge and experience that will lead to a rewarding nursing career.

OK, that’s it, students. Relax. You can sit back and daydream now, because the rest of my remarks will be addressed to your friends and family.

large_0710115716Nursing_promo_06_099So, friends and family, you’re all here to celebrate the accomplishments of a nursing student in your life – a Bethel nursing student, to be precise. One of the students sitting right here.

No doubt, she (or he – there are some, and they’re certainly included here out) has already told you about all the work she’s done, everything she’s been learning – the chemistry, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, not to mention the actual nursing stuff – plus clinicals.

Ah, yes, clinicals! Walking into a total stranger’s room for the first time, introducing yourself, and then bathing him – or poking him with a needle and giving him a shot; or cleaning up soiled linens after an accident. Can you imagine?

Plus there’s the charting and the assessments, taking vital signs and interpreting labs, looking up lists of meds and being prepared to answer questions – from clinical instructors, for sure, but also from the patients themselves!

I haven’t even mentioned the exams, right? The exams are tough, and your nursing student obviously did alright, or else she wouldn’t be here.

So, nursing school is a lot, as you know from the firsthand reports of the nursing student in your life. What I want to do today is give you an additional angle on their accomplishment – to help you further grasp the immensity of what she has gotten through, and what she’s taking on.

To help me do that, I’m going to draw on the tried and true wisdom of a beloved character that many of these students grew up with – either on TV, reruns, or videos: The Friz.

Remember those books a while back about All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, and the like? Well, I’m here to tell you that everything these students needed to succeed in nursing school they learned from the PBS kids’ show, The Magic School Bus.MagicSchoolBus-620x323

And what were those things? The star of The Magic School Bus was the inimitable Valerie Felicity Frizzle – Ms. Frizzle – a third-grade teacher, and a Virgil to her class of Dantes.

In addition to her unorthodox and, at times, surreal teaching methods, Ms. Frizzle was well known for a number of stock phrases and sayings. For example, when she announced, “Seatbelts, everyone,” her students knew that they were in for another wild learning adventure, especially when she followed up with the command, “Come on, bus, do your stuff!”

Or, here’s another: “Look for connections” – the Friz’ way of fostering curiosity and critical thinking as the students careened through their outrageous field trips.

But the most famous Ms. Frizzle catchphrase has to be: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” These three ideas were the very core of the show – “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”—and really the very core of Ms. Frizzle’s character.

This past fall, I’ve caught myself frequently quoting these very words (or versions of them) as I’ve assisted my students – these students, your students – explore the world of nursing. Ms. Frizzle’s outlook on education – on life – seems especially apropos of nursing.

Here’s why.

First, Take Chances. This is the easy one, and it’s kinda’ the most obvious. We’ve already established that nursing school is hard – toughest major on the Bethel campus here, or any campus for that matter – and it’s equally true that nursing itself is hard.

Yes, it’s a rewarding career, and a meaningful one – you can really make a difference in people’s lives.

And for Christian nurses, it’s not just a career, but also an opportunity to demonstrate ones love for Jesus by loving people in word and deed.

All that, and a decent salary with benefits!

Yet…it is tough – demanding, at times exhausting; mentally and physically and emotionally taxing. So, it’s a risky enterprise your student has undertaken, and getting through school is only the beginning, for the risk-taking occurs every time a nurse approaches the bedside of her patient.

hospice_and_palliative_careThere’s a vulnerability involved, an outpouring of the self, that can be rebuffed – kinda’ like God reaching out to His creation, to His chosen people, to us, and being rejected, time and time again.

No matter. God keeps loving us anyway. And, similarly, that nursing student in your life, who has already taken plenty of chances just to get here today, will continue taking chances going forward—now until graduation, and beyond.

Then, there’s: Make Mistakes. You’re asking, “What can he possibly mean by that?” Right? I mean, we’re talking about nurses here. Make mistakes? You’re like, “What are they teaching my student here at Bethel?”

To be sure, mistakes in healthcare – medication errors, errors in surgery, things like that – are scary, and can be deadly. Nothing funny about that.

And certainly, safety is our goal #1 – “our” meaning the nursing profession in general, and Bethel’s School of Nursing in particular. Rest assured that your student is learning and adopting the attitudes and practices that promote patient safety as the highest priority.

Note, however, that I mentioned “learning” and “adopting.” When we learn things and try out new skills, we make mistakes—we’re human, after all.

Your student works hard to get everything right – both in the classroom and in the lab – but does she? If she did, she wouldn’t need to be here, and we’d be learning from her rather than vice versa.

No, mistakes are part of the deal, and we use those mistakes to further and deepen learning. Better to answer a question wrong and learn from it than avoid answering the question at all – or avoid the rigors of training and formation altogether.

Your student is in good hands here at Bethel. It’s our job to, in a sense, guide your student’s “mistake-making” to optimize her learning and her growth into the profession.

That way, when she is taking care of actual patients – using that knowledge and skill acquired through painstaking study, trial & error, and, yes, learning from mistakes – then significant mistakes, significant errors can be avoided.

Mistakes can be embarrassing, even humiliating, it’s true. That’s why we have to encourage your student to go ahead and try – do her best, even if she makes a mistake. She’ll learn from it.

Finally, there’s: Get Messy—a phrase that takes on a whole new meaning once you get into nursing school, and which doesn’t need a whole lot of additional comment.

Except for this: Messiness isn’t just about physical mess, but people’s lives as well. In clinical, your student has begun to encounter messiness of all kinds, including loneliness, fear, pain, and even despair.

She has been an instrument of healing in those lives – listening when no one else would listen; offering comfort and encouragement; responding to messy needs of all kinds.

mark-2-16-why-does-he-eat-with-tax-collectors-and-sinnersIn this sense, Jesus got messy all the time – and he got criticized for it. Like when the Pharisees and scribes upbraided him for hanging out with sinners and tax collectors.

Remember Jesus’ response? “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Nurses get to imitate Jesus in this. We get all tangled up in the messiness of others’ lives and become, we hope, instruments of the Lord’s healing, whatever form it takes.

I know that you all enthusiastically support the nursing student in your life, that you’re making significant sacrifices so that she can press on, that you’re praying for her.

We up here thank you, your student thanks you, and, frankly, the nursing profession and the entire healthcare sector thanks you!

I trust that the things I’ve shared with you today have given you some insight as to why your support is so crucial. As your nursing student progresses toward her nursing future, she navigates incredible frontiers almost daily.

Encourage her to keep taking chances, keep learning from her mistakes, and keep cleaning up the messes.

And encourage her to buckle up – it’s going to be a wild ride!

An address to first-year nursing students at their Nursing Dedication ceremony, Bethel College, IN (18 January 2014)

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