NURSING.com is the BEST place to learn nursing. With over 2,000+ clear, concise, and visual lessons, there is something for you!
This article is another in a series by Ashely Adkins RN BSN entitled “Nursing School Struggles” where she answers your questions about nursing school.
Oh, IVs. How we long to see your little flashback of red blood in the chamber.
Let’s be real here. When you start nursing school, one of the most exciting parts about learning to be a nurse is learning how to start IVs. But why do those little suckers have to be so gosh darn intimidating?
When I first learned how to start IVs, I literally must have spent 20+ hours in my school’s lab practicing IV starts on that big, plastic arm. You know the arm with the one HUGE vein and about a thousand needle sticks all along it?
Seriously, those arms get more sticks than even the world’s biggest drug addicts.
I also used to watch hours upon hours of YouTube videos on how to start IVs. You can find one of my all time favorite videos here:
Starting your first few IVs can be scary. When I started my first couple of IVs on “real” patients (sorry, big plastic arm…I had to move on), I probably was tachycardic at least in the 150’s. I don’t even want to know what my blood pressure was. My palms were sweaty. I would be shaking. I would say to myself…
Come on, Ashley. Get it together.
As I would begin to poke around for a vein, I would pray to the IV Gods…
Please, just give me a flashback. Please. JUST. GIVE. ME. A. FLASHBACK.
Sometimes it would happen. Sometimes it would not.
I used to get really down on myself whenever I failed on my “try twice” IV sticks. I started to believe that it was a reflection on my nursing abilities.
How could I possibly be a nurse and not be able to start IVs?
Okay, I was being just a tad bit dramatic. But in all seriousness, as a side note, being able to start IVs does not define you as a nurse.
After I got a bit more practice with IVs, I realized that the most difficult part of starting them was getting over the fear in my head of missing. I was putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself.
What if I miss? What if hurt the patient? What if the patient hates me for missing? What if I hit a bone?
Okay, okay. Enough with all of my dramatic thoughts and questions. Onto some advice…
The Three C’s
Here are my three “C’s” to starting IVs. Did you catch my rhyme there?
Comfortable. Consistency. Confidence.
First, you need to be comfortable with the equipment used to start IVs. Play with it (safely). Literally, take apart the IV needle and catheter. Practice putting on tourniquets. Get used to the feel of what it is like to hold and advance an IV catheter. Half of starting IVs is all about the dexterity of how it feels to hold one.
Also, it is important to get used to what veins look AND feel like. I would take a bouncy vein that I cannot see over a vein that is visible any day.
Feel your nursing friend’s veins. Feel your neighbor’s veins. Feel your mom’s veins. Feel your younger brother’s veins. Feel that stranger on the bus’ veins. Get used to where veins are anatomically. Once you start feeling veins, it becomes an addiction.
Literally, I find myself complimenting random people on their veins. But then I just say, “I am a nurse, so I am allowed to say that.” And then we both awkwardly walk away.
Next, consistency. Once you are done “playing” around with IV needles and equipment, pick a method that works for you and STICK WITH IT.
Get used to setting up your supplies the same way every day. Familiarity improves quality. BE LIKE A MACHINE.
Lastly, confidence. As I mentioned earlier, getting over my fear of missing was my main struggle to starting IVs. Once I started telling myself, “you can do this,” and “it is okay to miss,” I was hitting veins left and right.
Tell yourself you can do it, and be kind to yourself if you don’t hit the vein. It may take you two tries. I may take you two-hundred tries. You will get it.
Don’t let your fear deter you away from trying.
Tom Trimble, RN, CEN wrote a blog post about how to improve your odds when starting IVs. He touches on how confidence increases your chances at successfully starting an IV. He talks about when you enter a patient’s room, ‘“Do not say,‘I’m here to try and start your IV.’Boldly state,‘I’m here to start your IV.’”
The only way to improve is to practice, and the only way to practice is to TRY. Remember, there is more to being a nurse than just poking people with 20 gauge needles.
So, go out there…feel veins…poke patients with needles…and become an IV starting ninja!