As a new nurse, an emergency situation with one of your patients is likely to happen, and it literally can become a matter of life and death. In these stressful moments, even the most experienced clinician may feel overwhelmed when experiencing emergencies for the first time. Taking steps to prepare for emergencies enables you to exercise that privilege and help the people who need it most.
When tragedy dominates the headlines, it’s common to feel useless, helpless, and afraid. Nurses may feel the added weight of responsibility during this time, making it hard to know how to help.
Most people should have a basic level of preparedness that includes extra food and water, but nurses have the added responsibility of caring for others during a time of crisis. Be prepared for any situation by keeping a stocked emergency medical kit readily available, such as in the trunk of your car. A practical, comprehensive supply list includes:
First, stay calm by focusing on the task at hand. Make sure you’re safe. It is difficult to help someone else if you are hurt. Next, assess the situation. Is the event still occurring? Try to get a feel for the exact nature of the danger. Nurses know that caring for others during their darkest moments is a privilege and a necessity. During times of tragedy and disaster, the need for loving, safe and competent care is greater than ever.
Unless the emergency is absolutely immediate (if airway, breathing and/or circulation is compromised), then you have time to think ahead and plan what’s next. Having a plan comes with two primary benefits: First, it keeps you focused on what your patient ultimately needs. Second, a guiding process helps you stay calm, level-headed, and avoid critical mistakes.
Communication with the patient is essential in an emergency. Assuming your patient is conscious and able to communicate, they can be a vital source of information. You can assess all of their vital signs, but the patient is the only one who can tell you how they’re feeling. Keep the patient focused on the big picture and continue asking questions relevant to their care.
Arguing with your patients or coworkers causes unnecessary chaos during an emergency. Problem solving and staying patient-focused is your team’s objective. However, be assertive in your communication. If you see something, say something…it could save lives.
Ask for help. Never let your own personal pride get in the way if you’re unsure of what to do. Avoid insisting you can handle something if you can’t. Lean on your coworkers who have the knowledge, skills, and experience to help you make difficult decisions during stressful events.
When in doubt, go back to the basics and trust your instincts. Take your patient’s vital signs to identify problems that might not be immediately obvious. If you identify areas that don’t need immediate attention, you can then focus on the ones that do. Remembering useful acronyms during a crisis, like the ABC’s of first aid, will also help you spring into action without hesitation. Finally, document the situation and chart like your license depends on it.
After the emergency has passed, you still have work to do. This is the time to recap the situation and ask questions of the more experienced nurses and doctors involved. Discuss what you could have done differently, elicit feedback, and use this valuable time to learn and deepen your understanding and skills.
Emotional health is crucial for a working nurse, and if you are not in the right mindset when delivering care, you may do a great disservice to your other patients. After an emergency, be sure to take time to reflect and regain composure. Sit down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, meditate, or talk to someone — do whatever works best for you to reset.