Classroom Etiquette: Professional competence tips for student nurses

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I once had a student who, let’s just say, hadn’t mastered the skill of professional competence. For the entire four hours of class, she slouched forward with her head supported by her hand, as close to the desk as possible without actually touching it. I don’t think she ever looked at me, took notes, or participate in discussions. The worst part was that she sat in the front of the classroom – right in the middle! Even though she didn’t “do anything”, her behavior was completely disruptive to her classmates and me.  Oh, this student had been a nurse for 10 years and should have already mastered professional competence. My first thought was how did she treat her patients and work colleagues. I bet I can guess and so can you!

Instructors frequently complain about the unprofessional behaviors of their students during class. It’s amazing to see the disrespectful behaviors exhibited by some practicing nurses who are super professional in their work environment, but then resort to unprofessional behaviors in academic environment.  Showing up late, leaving early, answering emails on their Smartphones, etc. Really. When you’re in the instructor’s seat, you see it all and it’s not always pretty – it’s sometimes downright shocking!
Professional competence should transcend beyond the service, or workplace environment and into the academic one. Whether you are an undergraduate student getting your first nursing degree or an experienced nurse advancing your existing one, make sure you consistently present yourself as a competent professional.
Follow these simple tips to demonstrate your professional competence in the classroom:
              Arrive on time
              Don’t leave early unless you have permission from the instructor
              Sit up – don’t slouch
              Don’t use your phone or any other electronic devices during class. Oh, and those of you that bring your computers, instructors think you’re Internet surfing and not taking notes!
              At least pretend to be interested and pay attention to the instructor
              Engage in the learning as an active participant
              Make eye contact with the speaker
Seriously, you never know when your instructor will have an opportunity for one of his or her students. Grades are important but behavior counts too. I can’t tell you how many times I was in the position to recommend a student for a job opportunity or activity. Hmmmm….who do you think I gave the opportunity to – slouching Internet surfing students? Nope.
Regarding my – less than professional student, I approached her at the end of the first class. I asked if she was open to feedback and she said yes. I then objectively described her behavior and asked her if she was aware how disruptive her behavior was to her classmates and me and that I expected her to demonstrate professionalism in the classroom. I think she was a bit shocked that I called her on her behavior, but by not saying anything, I was condoning it.  The next week, although she still didn’t participate or write anything down, she at least sat up straight and appeared to pay attention. Oh, and she moved her seat to the back of the class. Better, but if given the opportunity to recommend someone for a great position, I certainly wouldn’t have recommended her.
Remember, your behavior sends a message inside and outside the classroom. Make sure you are always the consummate professional. 
I hope these tips help you to succeed and take advantage of all nursing has to offer!
Thanks. Take care and stay connected!

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4 thoughts on “Classroom Etiquette: Professional competence tips for student nurses”

  1. Love your blog! The remarks you have made are so true. Changing this culture of lack of professionalism, often requires that the student or professional nurse be educated or in-serviced on this subject matter frequently.

    Keep up the good work….

  2. Thanks so much for the comment and encouragement!

    It's so important to set the expectations for professional behavior in the academic environment and then reinforce in the workplace!!


  3. Great post. I can see that happening so easily in the workplace. I am one to tell another nurse, respectively of course, what they need to do and what not. I will love to read your book. I encountered a lot of lateral violence as a STUDENT doing my preceptorship. It was the worst experience and at the same time, has made me stronger. After that lateral violence became a very important topic to me. Thanks.

  4. Glad you have the moral courage to respectfully address bad behavior when you see it! We need more people like you. Bullying is pervasive and destructive – it has no place in a professional that is supposed to be caring and compassionate!

    You might also want to check out my YouTube Channel. I created a few videos about bullying. More to come!

    Thanks so much

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