Trusting Your Nursing Intuition

June 25, 2019 By Keith Carlson

As a nurse, you learned many skills during the course of your nursing education. Some are considered “hard” skills (e.g.: venipuncture, injections, catheterisation, etc) and others are often characterised as “soft” (e.g.: communication, empathy, motivational interviewing, etc). One such so-called “soft” skill that can’t really be taught is learning to tune into, listen to, and trust your nurse’s intuition. How developed is your nursing intuition?

The Nurse’s Gut Instinct

Have you ever been assessing a patient, and although all of the signs and symptoms seem relatively normal, something in your gut is telling you that something’s still wrong? Some nurses call this their “Spidey Sense” (from the world of Marvel’s Spider Man, of course), some refer to it as their gut, and some may consider it either nursing intuition or nurse’s instinct.

A University of Leeds study frames it well:

According to a team led by Professor Gerard Hodgkinson of the Centre for Organisational Strategy, Learning and Change at Leeds University Business School, intuition is the result of the way our brains store, process and retrieve information on a subconscious level and so is a real psychological phenomenon which needs further study to help us harness its potential.

“There are many recorded incidences where intuition prevented catastrophes and cases of remarkable recoveries when doctors followed their gut feelings. Yet science has historically ridiculed the concept of intuition, putting it in the same box as parapsychology, phrenology and other ‘pseudoscientific’ practices.

“Through analysis of a wide range of research papers examining the phenomenon, the researchers conclude that intuition is the brain drawing on past experiences and external cues to make a decision – but one that happens so fast the reaction is at a non-conscious level. All we’re aware of is a general feeling that something is right or wrong.”

You may likely have made use of your intuition on many occasions, and there may have also been times when you ignored the alarms in your head and regretted it later.

You generally can’t quantify your instincts, but when you feel it, you know it’s real and that you have to pay attention to it. However, the challenge can be convincing others to agree that your hunch is worth pursuing. Can you trust yourself enough to take a stand and take action based on nothing more than a feeling?

If you have a history of not necessarily trusting your intuition, then it may be time to cultivate some trust and take your intuition for a test drive.

Trust your nursing intuition

Learning to Trust and Listen

Finding a way to trust your intuition takes time, practice, and patience. You won’t always be right, but learning how to listen deeply to your inner voice may be key to deciphering the meaning of your “Spidey Sense” when it goes haywire.

Nurses often have high levels of clinical knowledge, manual skill, as well as emotional and relational intelligence and abilities related to communication, compassion, and empathy. Learning to trust your intuition comes with time, practice, and an open-minded and open-hearted way of moving in the world and relating to others and the events unfolding around you.

Some strategies for strengthening your nursing intuition include:

  • Practice meditation and mindfulness: Silence, introspection, and the ability to be still and listen to what’s happening inside of you can strengthen your trust in the “still small voice” within you.
  • Journaling can be a method for tapping into your unconscious by writing without censorship or judgment.
  • Some experts suggest that making increased use of your right brain by engaging in creative activities (drawing, painting, etc) allows you to trust the more flexible mind states that are less based in data and observation and rely more on outside-the-box thinking.
  • Learn to listen to somatic reactions to situations (sudden bodily sensations that tell you something is wrong).
  • Trust your sudden insights, even if they seem to come from “nowhere”.
  • Work with a counsellor, healer, or teacher who understands the power of the unconscious and can help you develop your intuitive “super power”

In the end, it’s all about trusting your innate sense of what’s right and what’s not quite right. Nurses (and others, of course) get hunches, flashes of insight, and feelings that seem to materialise out of thin air. In fact, those hunches come from somewhere: your creative, flexible, and open mind.

Cultivate your intuition, learn to trust your gut, and be an even better nurse who can feel into situations and relationships and act from a symbiotic marriage of both conscious and unconscious impulses and knowledge.

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