In my work as a clinical assistant, there are times during my twelve hour shift where I cannot sit down due to the amount of work to be done, bustling from patient to patient in an effort to ensure everything gets done well and in a timely manner. But when patients are discharged and the unit activity slows to a crawl, the temptation to take out my phone and browse the Internet to kill time is strong, especially when other colleagues are also taking advantage of downtime to catch up on holiday shopping. But these slow times at work provide co-op students with several unique opportunities and should not be wasted. Here are my top tips to make downtime work to your advantage!
1. Ask Questions!
In a field like nursing, knowledge is passed down in a generational way, with older nurses often eager to tell younger nurses about their experiences. I’ve found that waiting to ask questions about particular patient diagnoses until the unit is quiet allows for the nurse to give a more in-depth answer. This signals to them that you are interested in their opinions and are receptive to teaching, which could lead to greater opportunities for learning later. For example, a patient was admitted recently with a complicated diagnosis. The unit was bustling, so instead of asking the nurse about the situation while she was busy, I waited until a slower period. She eagerly explained the disease itself and also its treatment. Then, later on, she remembered my interest and asked if I wanted to watch a procedure being done on that patient. Now, she often invites me into the room to watch her work and will explain various aspects of her care to me. I have learned so much that I never would have known if I hadn’t used my downtime to ask questions.
2. Offer Help!
There is nothing worse than seeing a colleague who has finished his or her work for the day sitting idly at the nurses’ station as you rush by, trying to keep your head above water. If everyone else is busy and you are not, offer your help! Even simple tasks like gathering supplies for a procedure or assisting with a complicated patient can ease the workload of your coworkers- and believe me, they’ll remember it! Helping your colleagues might seem like a no-brainer, but I have seen so many students answer calls for help with “But that’s not what I do” or simply sighing theatrically before giving aid. Don’t let your coworkers get to the point where they are interrupting your Facebook session to ask for your help- just offer it, no strings attached. They’ll be grateful and remember you as a dependable, motivated colleague.
3. Do Something Extra!
When I first started my current job, I never thought I would end up being my pediatric unit’s resident arts and crafts provider. But early in the fall, my charge nurse asked if anyone wanted to decorate the unit for back to school season. None of the nurses enjoyed decorating and dreaded the task. Since I wasn’t busy, I volunteered for the task, and now I am responsible for adding cute holiday touches to our various decorations. There are owls dressed as elves next to colorful stockings and mittens with names of all our nurses on them. I’ll admit it, I might have gone overboard with the crafting! But now everyone on my unit knows me as the “cute crafts” girl, and visitors are always commenting on the new touches that are added every few weeks. Going above and beyond will always get you noticed, not to mention help you build relationships!
4. Research, Research, Research!
One of my necessary items at work is paper and a pen for writing down illnesses, procedures, or equipment that I’ve never encountered. Then, during slow periods, I can search each one on Google, jotting down interesting facts or why a certain procedure might be done versus another. I also subscribe to several nursing and medical newsletters, and use the time to catch up on reading them. The information you gather from researching your field will serve you well in the workplace, making you informed and a valued team member. But it will also help you in classes by reinforcing what you are learning, and even adding context to the concepts outlined in class.
Overall, your downtime is a learning experience that should be valued. It is easy to look like a team player when everything is busy, but when things are slow it becomes painfully obvious when someone isn’t contributing their fair share. Raise your own personal bar, and you’ll find that you will get much more satisfaction out of your work!
Julia Thompson is a second year Nursing major in the Bouve College of Health Sciences. She works as a nursing assistant at South Shore Hospital and is currently on her first co-op at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is the secretary of the Northeastern University Student Nurses’ Association and is also involved with Bouve Fellows. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. You can follow her on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/juliavthompson) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/juliavthompson).