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How Do You Know When It Is Real?

February 13, 2013

On the eve of Valentine’s day, I’m ruminating on a different kind of interpersonal devotion: the devotion some nursing students feel towards their instructors. Or should I say, the devotion some nursing students pretend to feel towards their instructors. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder whether everything said to me by my fresh-faced students is the real deal.

I have had so many amazing students pass through my clinical rotations. In my mind, the list is long of wonderful personalities, compassionate and thoughtful patient care, and well-crafted care plans. The students work so hard, are so committed, and are so chronically sleep-deprived. It takes a special kind of masochism to put yourself through nursing school, but they endure it. At the end of the rotation, I am fortunate to hear most students singing my praises, telling me how much they appreciate how much they’ve learned and how great I am.

Then there are those I can’t quite believe.

Often it’s a compliment about my hair or the sweater I’m wearing. These are students who never speak to me outside of class or the clinical, but all of a sudden my fashion choices are inspiring. The smile always gives it away: it is too bright, too toothy, too…needy.  And I know my bullshit meter is not finely calibrated enough to tell the difference between sincere appreciation and false flattery. If you’re a student and you’re lying to me about being sick or your missing care plan, I can smell a rat a mile away. But if you fool me with praise, I get all turned around and can’t find my way back on the path.

What does it matter, you may ask. It matters because I pride myself on being a straight-shooter. What you see is what you get, and I like the same in return. I don’t do well with subterfuge, and I don’t like feeling that people need to put up a facade in order to interact with me. I like real, whether it’s the boyfriend who expresses their love on Valentine’s day or the student who swears I am “The most awesome–ever.” If you don’t truly feel that way, just don’t say anything.

Does my lack of finesse in this realm make me a bad teacher, weak, or foolish? I don’t know. I try to remember that for so many of these students, it feels like their life and their future are on the line. They are desperate to make a leap in a positive direction and will do all kinds of things (some honest, some manipulative) to get to the finish line.

I can’t fault them for their tenacity, I just wish I was better at figuring it out.

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