April 25, 2019

Avoiding Learned Helplessness | Nursing Hacks # 13

As new learners, we require support. We lack experience and therefore, we need others to guide us towards the proper efforts necessary to be safe and successful in a particular position or task. A certification doesn't qualify an individual, nor does it quantify intelligence. An individual's hard work, dedication, and efforts are what qualifies them. Exams merely open doors, they are professional pillars. Training is the journey and the real determinate of expertise. I've worked with many people who had a long list of credentials, yer they couldn't perform some novice level tasks. Experience and education go hand and hand.

As a new learner, we have the foundations, but the practice is what we lack. Preceptors are there to guide us in filling in those gaps. In the first few weeks of training, you depend on your preceptor. You will have deficits in your knowledge base, and your preceptor will fill those voids. These voids occur when real-life doesn't quite match up to textbook knowledge. For example, you have a patient with acute on chronic congestive heart failure. As there are layers to this disease process, you might need assistance in creating the proper nursing diagnose and care plan. Complex management is where most voids will occur as a new learner and rightfully so. You've never been in these professional situations, and you want to make sure you are providing safe, efficient medical care.

As training progresses, something happens to some individuals. Instead of them investing in their learning journey and studying to fill more and more voids, they merely ask more and more questions for instant answers. This form of inactive learning is called passive education. Passive education occurs when someone sits back and expects to be taught without any input on their end. For example, sitting at a desk and listening to a lecture is a form of passive education. You sit and absorb all the information you can. You are not a participant. You are an observer. This is appropriate in college. It is not suitable for on-the-job training. When you are learning as a new nurse at the bedside, you need to be active in the learning process - going home and researching concepts and taking notes. Your goal as a learner is to consider newly discovered professional voids and work on them by investing in yourself (by studying or creating personalized resources). You should be working towards understanding complex processes, and not merely waiting for someone to prompt you to perform a command. This idle, educational-waiting is called learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness occurs when preceptors provide all the answers throughout the entire training process. The learners are never required to procure knowledge independently (from trusted resources) or find said resources. Therefore, these learners wait for answers. They see a problem and don't work toward resolving things or seeking help. They sit and wait for commands. Once these learners are on their own, they drown. Without explicit instructions, these learners fall apart because they have never had to function with minimal to no assistance. Throughout their learning process, they had maximum aid. And now, their brains are hardwired to wait for instructions. They are dependent on someone telling them what needs to be done and when. Once training has been completed, these learners can't make the conversion from dependent to independent processes. Why would they? It's never been needed before.

Don't fall into the trap of learned helplessness. When you get home from a long shift and your ears are smoking, still take the time to read up on topics that you had to ask about frequently during your clinical experience. The at-home education will allow you to expand your thought processes more than you imagined possible. I know, training can be intense. But if you want this, you're going to need to invest off-the-clock also. Studying and training at the bedside cannot occur concurrently. You have two to six patients. You will likely be too busy to sit down and read up to vasopressors and their possible adverse effects at work. Take charge of your education and don't simply allow the process to be passive. Don't simply wait for commands, you are not a robot. Present your preceptor with nursing recommendations, do the appropriate research, and be ready for all possible outcomes. Be the amazing nurse you are. Use the knowledge acquired in your nursing program and grow.

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