Dec. 14, 2023

Flex Friday: Mike Richards

Flex Friday is brought to you by your VP Communications, Undergraduate Nursing Society to showcase the excellence of our undergraduate nursing students at UCalgary
Mike Richards BN student UCalgary Nursing

Welcome to another Flex Friday feature of the 23/24 academic year! Today, we have the pleasure of featuring a nursing student who is just completing his final focus. His path to nursing school is truly extraordinary. By merging the fields of philosophy, biochemistry, electrophysiology and physics with nursing, Mike Richards has accomplished something exceptional.

With a BN as his fifth degree, Mike is a testament to the importance of lifelong learning. With a plethora of experience and insights gained throughout his journey, Mike is now ready to share his reflections on his time in nursing school. So, let's begin by delving into the story of Mike's incredible educational journey!

Can you introduce yourself and your journey to nursing school?
“I’m one of the grey-haired people and I don’t know if I’m the oldest, but they do call me Grandpa. My career began with a lot of hard sciences like molecular biology, drug design, and ion channel physiology.

After working in the United States at various universities, I decided to start a tutoring business so that I could homeschool my son in small town Alberta. This was a dream since I could explore my scientific curiosities and, at the same time, connect with my son and the students that I taught.

Nursing school then was a natural progression since I could help others while applying my logical and critical thinking skills in emergency situations. Nursing is demanding, yet there is room for old dogs like me.”

What learnings are you carrying forward from your previous academic background to your nursing career today?
“Since I did my biochemistry and philosophy degrees at the same time, I would often think about what we know about the real world and was especially interested in pain perception. That got me thinking about how we really don’t know the world – we only know how we perceive it through electrophysiology, ion channels, receptors and physics. As a result, I’m acutely aware of the differences between people. I think that’s what I bring to nursing, where I’m now in a population who have health needs and who know I’m not judging them. This allows me to build that rapport. That’s the most important part for me, that relationship, since patients can relax with me and tell me things they wouldn’t tell other nurses or doctors.”

What made you interested in pursuing your education at the University of Calgary?
“I’ve lived in many cities, including Dallas and Seattle, before coming to Calgary. My childhood was spent in Alberta and I came back when my son was born. I had heard good things about the program here. However, I had to prove my transcripts to get in and it was tricky since some of them were ancient, but I did prevail. I enjoyed the two-year degree program and I managed to overcome the challenges!” 

Mike Richards with clinical group UCalgary Nursing

Why did you choose nursing?
“Like many other students, I have a packed life outside of school, so nursing will allow me opportunities to have flexibility with my time. As you get older, and as you can tell by my background, I like to change things around and refresh. It’s pretty easy to move horizontally in nursing without having to train again.”

Can you describe your current work position?
“I started as a Health Care Aide (HCA) at one of the places where I did my clinical. It was a hard job, but I would promote it strongly since it allowed me to understand how important the HCA role is in patient care."

"Working those shifts allowed me to learn without the pressure and responsibility of a nurse and to understand how important it is to collaborate with all team members on the floor."

"I also worked as an Undergraduate Nursing Employee [UNE] on a medical surgery and medical teaching unit at Rockyview [General Hospital]. It has been a great experience and I’ve learned so much from a wide variety of amazing nurses. The ability to evaluate ever-changing situations and to meet lots of wonderful people helps me nurture my ability to give my best self to my patients.”

Can you describe your preceptorship experience this semester?
“I’m at Foothills [Medical Centre] at the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. It might not be the best fit for me since I like to talk and meet lots of patients, whereas here, you’ll have one patient and they’re sedated and intubated. I have still enjoyed this semester though since it allowed me to experience an ICU environment early on in my career rather than having me put in all this effort for it to not be a good fit later. Also, I’ve gained a lot of skills which will definitely be useful in the medical surgery world.”

Is there any other work you are engaged in outside of school?
“I still have a tutoring business on the side. It has been helpful for nursing since I tutor topics like physics and calculus to university and high school kids which ‘scratches that itch’ for when I’m craving exact answers that I know I can’t find in nursing."

"I’ve been teaching for 35 years in some way or form; I enjoy teaching and want to have a positive impact on people. In teaching, students are vulnerable since they want to achieve something, but with nursing it is even more heightened with patients since there is greater vulnerability and a responsibility to provide comfort and respect.”

Was nursing school everything you expected?
“There was some fear since I’m a little older and it had been a while since I’ve been in undergraduate studies. Also, since people don’t see male nurses as much, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was surprised: everyone has been so accepting and they’ve actually expressed that it’s helpful in some situations. Also, others on the unit, like HCAs my age, tell me that it’s been inspiring to see someone my age go after their nursing education.

“The classes were okay. There were many times where they were difficult but if you reflect on it, two years ago, I didn’t even know how to push the button down to take a temperature! Now, I’m in the ICU working with arterial lines and chest tubes. While you are in it, sometimes you think nursing school is horrible, but looking back, I think we were educated well.”

Do you have a favourite course from nursing school?
“Everything has been good, from accident preparation to simulations. I might want to reorder some of the classes, but once you are finished, you understand why they make you study some of the earlier theories."

"I would say my favourite part was clinical, and Term 7 at that, because I had a lot of the theory under my belt and the primary nurses had started trusting us more."

Further, I enjoyed the debriefing since I always want to know how to get better. It is interesting to hear what problems other people have and how to overcome them.” 

Mike Richards with clinical group at Unit 72 Foothills Hospital

What has been your biggest takeaway or lesson from your nursing school experiences?
“The first one is wellbeing and self-care. Give. Be empathetic - that’s why most of us are in nursing because we are willing to do things most others aren’t and because we truly care. But take care of yourself, take the time: you don’t have to make all the money in the first month and if you’re struggling, get help for yourself.

“The other thing is you’ll make mistakes. Admit them and own up to them. Most of the mistakes won’t be harmful to patients; they will be easy fixes, so grow from them. Continue to learn, do things you want to do and make sure to live. That’s for the younger kids, who are too hard on themselves.” 

What are some of your strategies for self-care?
“My biggest number one for self-care is down-time, to reflect, to learn and to appreciate. Sometimes I decompress by myself and just read, listen to music or binge watch a series. Sometimes I go on kooky adventures with my son, like driving across the country to see the North American Bigfoot Center in Oregon, watching a total eclipse in a field in Wyoming or seeing Machine Gun Kelly live in concert in Seattle. Time is precious and exploring new local adventures with my partner is also a source of self-care. You can find adventure and awe anywhere if you look for it.

"I’m a person and then I’m a nurse. Nursing is my job and I want to be good at it and care for my patients, but I’m a human at the end of the day."

Long hikes and seeing the majestic scenery we have in our backyard is always therapeutic because how old are those mountains? They put things in perspective. Having a tough day at school or in clinical will get to you, but it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things – just breathe through it and keep going.” 

Mike Richards with son

What do you do for fun outside of school?
“I constantly learn. My son and I like to have competitions by finding the craziest certificates for skills. I am a Budweiser Beer Master, last year I got my lifeguard certification and I’m almost done with my Greek and Roman Mythology one as well. He [Mike’s son] has got cool ones, like Vampirology, Ufology and Understanding Feline Anxiety! I do lots of virtual marathons, lots of hikes, so I’m excited for after nursing school where I can get back into those things. However, my true passion is spending time alone in the mountains or jungles, hanging out with those who love me, reading and keeping my neighbourly squirrels and skunks well fed!”

What has been your biggest success so far?
“I’m pretty thorough in my head to toe [assessments] and I go really slow. As a result, patients will talk to me because of that and I discover facts that have been missed. Sometimes there can be a pressure to hurry up and go faster, but by ignoring that pressure, I have found adventitious lung sounds, irregular heart rhythms and evidence of abuse that were previously missed. I get the fast-paced pressure, but maybe once you have the time, go back and be more in-depth. The human body is remarkable so take your time to study it.

“Other than that, obviously passing my courses and making it across the finish line! Also, being blessed with patients and families who have been super kind and thoughtful with their feedback to the nursing managers and [them being willing to] share their dying moments with a stranger is also a success.”

What is your best memory of clinical or class?
“There’s lots of funny ones. Since I get teased quite a bit, I will often get picked on in class or clinical but when it turns out I’m right, people will have to grovel, so I like those memories!"

"I think one of the best experiences was at South Health Campus Unit 66, where I had four patients who were all complex and acute: my primary nurse was getting slammed with their own patients and I was able to manage it."

That’s the best feeling: with all this education, all these voices in my head and all my notes, I’m able to maintain it.”

What is your worst memory of clinical or class?
“This was also in clinical, where I had patients split between two hubs and I had two primary nurses. It just so happened that all three of our personalities did not merge at all. I was so overwhelmed that I had to ask for a patient to be removed from my assignment. Obviously, I’ve seen other bad things, but personally, I felt so bad that I couldn’t do it. I’ve had that experience where I have one patient and their needs are so great that I can’t see my other patients, so I’ve learned to ask for help much quicker without getting beat up by it. I think that was the worst scenario, where I had too much going on and I tried to go on a little too long without asking for help.”

What kind of career or specialty would you like to work in, in the future?
“I’m interested in travel nursing where I would be remote and all on my own. The plan is for me to spend more time in the hospital, gain some more skills, gain my Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification and be comfortable enough to handle significant emergencies independently. I’m also interested in wound and ostomy care. At first, I was like no, that’s not for me, but I’ve participated in some complex wound care and it’s super interesting. That’s kind of the goal with my medical surgery experiences: you see a little bit of everything and you get many unique experiences.”

How do you think you’ve changed personally since starting nursing school?
“I now understand when clinical instructors would joke that you’d look at people’s veins on the transit and wish you could poke them, so [I am] a lot more aware of the human body. I would think a better change that has happened is my level of compassion and empathy has grown.

"I’m also much more patient because, through all of this, I’ve realized these aren’t my cell cultures or math equations: I can’t hurry them up - we’re on other people’s time.”

What advice would you give to incoming students?
“It’s definitely hard. Nursing often gets disrespected. You’ll hear ‘oh, you’re just a nurse.’ Well, I have an academic background and was successful, but still find it's a pretty tricky program. Secondly, it’s okay to not know. There’s a lot of times people say ‘fake it til you make it’; I would say ‘ask and learn.’ Make sure you’re focusing on yourself. These people in the hospital and the whole health-care system need a lot, but make sure they don’t take too much. That doesn’t mean be cold, but make sure you’re having your wellbeing time. Spend time with your loved ones, ask for that extension on your paper, get your sleep.”

What are your favourite places to study on campus?
“I usually don’t study much on campus. I would just come home and study or I would have to work all the time and no time left to study. But I would advise, after going to eight different universities in my lifetime, always find your bathroom, somewhere to study and a good place to eat.”

What is your favourite study method that has worked for you?
“I’m old school, so I print out each lecture and write my notes on the sheets. From that detail, I try and pull out the big picture. There’s a lot of fear in learning pathophysiology and pharmacology, but it’s okay: you’re not going to know everything. At the end of the day, if you get a grade lower than what you expected, it’s okay. With pharmacology specifically, as you come across the medications in clinical, write down the common name, trade name, class and the use. Be smart in studying; get as much as you can.”

What did you do this past summer?
“I was able to get my lifeguarding certification and complete a number of Conqueror virtual challenges through hiking. My son likes Machine Gun Kelly, so we drove down to Seattle and then hiked in the Redwood National Forest in California. Usually, we go down to the tropics or to the States as my father lives in Florida, but there wasn’t much time for that this year with my UNE experience.”

What was the highlight of your week, this week?
“Even though I was pretty tired, I still managed to pass my HESI practice test in preparation for the NCLEX. That was without studying too! I also managed to hang up my latest completed jigsaw puzzle, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli right next to my School of Athens puzzle."

Who is your biggest role model?
“All of them are authors and all of them are dead! From my time studying philosophy: Plato and Xenophon. Also, lots of female science fiction writers like Anne McCaffrey. They just inspired me to live by learning life, evaluating and trying to keep discovering new things. Sometimes people joke, ‘What's your next thing?’ and I say, ‘I might do locksmithing’ and they say, ‘What, how does that even fit in?’ and it doesn’t: that's the amazing part!”

Any final words?
“There’s so much out there that you have to try. I love video games, I love to travel, I love libraries, I’ve jumped out of an airplane. Make that bucket list! You have to do dumb things, embrace life, do everything you can and don’t take life too seriously.”

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