Tips for Nurses When Learning Something New

My research team recently started a highly intensive research study this week: an investigational drug in phase 3 of clinical trials (the last stage before FDA approval) is given over 12 consecutive days.

Day 1 involves nine busy hours of study tasks, including a 4-hour mixed-meal tolerance test, insulin and glucose review, safety labs, infusion and post-infusion observation.

It’s been a while since I’ve learned a new research protocol and had to execute it.

This study jolted me out of my routine studies and forced me to stretch my brain a bit more than normal. As I was thrust into the learning process again, I was prompted to reflect on how I learn best.

There are definitely processes that I do to cement certain practices into my brain, and to ensure I don’t forget important steps.

When you are doing an infusion study with an investigational drug that has careful oversight, it’s crucial to be accurate and precise.

Errors can be quite problematic.

What I do to learn and remember new information for a new research study:

1. Observe the Master

It’s best to learn from someone who has already mastered the concept that you are trying to learn. The other nurse on our research team knows the infusion study like the back of her hand, so that’s who worked with me during the first two days of the twelve day infusion course. I watched her perform every step of the visit on the first day, making sure that I understood the when, why, and how of each task.

2. Take notes with a pen and paper.

As I watched the other nurse perform Day 1’s duties, I had a notebook to write down how to perform the visit properly. There was so much new information, and there was no way I would remember the small nuances without writing them down. Having a record of notes is a great way to build a reference for yourself. I continue to look back on those notes every day I perform an infusion now. Additionally, the process of physically writing information down further solidifies it in my brain. It may seem old fashioned, but the simple act of engaging my hand with my brain works well for me to enhance memorization.

3. Walk through the process in your brain.

I find it helpful to mentally walk through an infusion visit in my brain. I try to anticipate how the visit will run, and I quiz myself on what I will do next, how I will do it, and what I will do in case something goes haywire. (Of course, emergency scenarios are rare, yet it helps to prepare for them in case of occurrence).

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4. Make a checklist.

I want to be as efficient as possible during a research study visit, so I make a checklist to organize my actions. For example, I know I need to order the medication from the pharmacist, take vitals, start an IV, and download blood sugar data before I start the daily infusion. All these actions go on a “pre-infusion” checklist. Similarly, the tasks I have to complete during and post-infusion go on a list as well. This way, I ensure everything is done at the correct time and in the right order.

5. Have someone double-check you.

I observed everything on Day 1 of the study, and I put my observations into practice on Day 2 under the watchful eye of my fellow nurse who knows this infusion study well. I was able to ask questions, yet had the opportunity to learn kinesthetically by performing the tasks with my own two hands. I think it’s incredibly important to always have supervision when you are doing something for the first time, yet I also think it’s invaluable to get involved in the learning process. I firmly believe you cannot fully learn a task or concept by simply observing someone else – get yourself engaged!

6. Be realistic with yourself.

Learning new things takes time. I think it’s really important to be gracious with yourself, and know that the learning process might not be as immediate as you might hope. This week, I have had to ask more questions than I would like in order to clarify information or processes, but I know that it is better to ask questions early on instead of just moving forward with a guess.

Over time, I know this infusion study will come easier with more practice. However, now is the time to learn the correct way to do things, and it will soon come with more ease.

I think the ultimate test of mastering new information is being able to teach it to someone else. I haven’t yet had to do it for this new infusion study, but I hope to be able to pass along my knowledge accurately and eloquently when the time comes. For now, I will continue to perform the infusion visits to the best of my ability.

I hope this list helps you to learn new things like it does for me.

I’d love to hear any other suggestions or ideas you have for learning and retaining new information. Comment below!

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