My Clinicals Experience: On the Trauma Unit

My Clinicals Experience: On the Trauma Unit

Many nurses can’t wait to experience the urgency and pace of a trauma unit, but what is it really like to work on one? Marissa Kesse (Nu ’23), a BSN student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing , shares her clinicals experience.
I was so excited to have been placed on the trauma unit: emergent gunshot wounds, groups of nurses on top of a patient performing CPR, code reds, blues, and greens. To me, trauma held the glitz and glam of nursing.

The first day, however, was quite underwhelming. It consisted of us students feeling as though we were hounding our nurses searching for something to see, but the nurses telling us there just didn’t happen to be much happening on that day.

“Granted, my expectations did stem from shows like Grey’s Anatomy—which should have been my first red flag….”

We, the nursing students, sat soberly as a group working on our 20-page care plans for our patients, feeling sad and what we thought was boredom. We were surprised when nurses would come to join us by the computer to work on their own charting, and they would express their thankfulness for an unusually nice, slow day.

Some of my fellow classmates began to agree, but I knew exactly what I had planned to see on the trauma unit and that’s what I was still waiting on. Granted, my expectations did stem from shows like Grey’s Anatomy—which should have been my first red flag….

The next week I certainly found what I thought I was looking for. The first patient I saw was a young boy involved in a gang-related shooting, having received multiple gunshots to the chest.

Before we entered my nurse gave me a warning that the patient was young, to make sure I was prepared- with which I quickly brushed her off and asserted I was ready. In my mind, this was exactly what I had been waiting for; indeed, the patient was a bit young but I reassured myself this would soon be an everyday thing.

When we entered, the patient had two chest tubes with multiple extended suture sites from the many surgeries he underwent. We were going in for our morning rounds which meant we would be checking the chest tube drainage and sites underneath the bandages, and performing some wound care.

“It felt as though every time the nurse adjusted the tube in his chest, there was a 32 Fr tube going through my own chest…”

As I saw the young boy churn from pain while trying to keep a brave face while we tried to perform care, it took everything within me to not cry. It felt as though every time the nurse adjusted the tube in his chest, there was a 32 Fr tube going through my own chest and, it was the sadness of the entire situation that made it the most unbearable feeling.

I love to volunteer my time at the local West Philly elementary schools and high schools. Looking at the young 16-year-old boy, I could imagine how easily that could have been any of my students. And, more times than not it would not even be their fault.

As I walk through the local schools that feel and look almost like a prison, I see how much more funding these schools need in order to provide their bright students with what they deserve.

I work in the school libraries with a team from Penn, as the School District of Philadelphia had to fire their entire librarian staff years ago due to a lack in funding. I can see how easy at times it may be to fall right through the cracks as young, impressionable boys and girls; how easy at times it may be to cling to an “out” in a hard life.

“My view of trauma has changed quite a bit.”

My view of trauma has changed quite a bit. I find trauma to be a sad place as many of the patients there were going about their day when someone else made a mistake that completely turned their life over.

My second patient, a hardy construction worker, was involved in a massive car accident that left him in a coma for weeks and now can barely stand during physical therapy without his heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate skyrocketing.

Despite this, I was still so impressed with how much optimism and hope the man had. He was so engaged with his care, sharing how he watched all his surgical operations on YouTube to understand what had been done. The patient always had a hearty spirit with the medical team and continued to push himself to do his very best during physical therapy sessions.

As I shared my reflection, a seasoned nurse reminded me that these new feelings I was experiencing are normal and natural. These feelings were what would make me “a good nurse.”

My short time on the trauma unit has taught me more about how to maneuver being a nurse than any nursing semester I have ever had, and I am so thankful for it.

I look forward to seeing what my clinical journey will continue to show me about myself. Next stop… the cardiac unit.

(If you are a University of Pennsylvania nursing student, you can submit your own story here.)