Rodin’s Thinker

Recently my class and I have been discussing Critical Thinking. It’s now a portion of the curriculum for nursing students. This is interesting, because there are several theories about what it is and how exactly to nurture it in someone. Is it an innate skill only? Can it be taught? Many people are sure their answer is correct, and everyone else has been helping themselves to the happy pills.

Critical thinking, when considered in the most general context, is really about making good decisions. Assimilating all the available information, bringing known rules to bear, pattern recognition, as well as intuition all play a part in this skill.

We are but lowly peon nursing students, with not-quite-idealistic but still limited practical experience. It’s like that famous ruling on pornography in the late 80s “I can’t define what it is, but I know it when I see it” (or something like that, I’m paraphrasing from memory because it scares me to think about trying to do a search involving the word ‘pornography’). Likewise, we can sense when nurses we’re working with and around are good at the cogitating portion of their work. They look, perform some mental gymnastics, and are able to execute the preferred path seamlessly.

Then there are those which simply stop and can’t seem to get past the fact that they have a decision to make. They perceive it should be something they’re responsible for, and have a vague thought that they should resolve it, but don’t seem to make the connection regarding their involvement.

Unfortunately, these seem to make up a noticeable portion of the nurses. No numbers, as we’ve not done any type of investigation, but it “feels like a lot”.

How can it not be important to be able to make a decision and move forward? The consensus we’ve arrived at is it simply was not taught until recently. Curriculum is constantly changing and re-focusing on new areas. Fads come and go.

But wouldn’t you pick it up along the way? How is it that this percentage of nurses still exists in the real world? Thankfully they aren’t the majority. Most nurses can make a decision or take a direction when the need exists. But it just seems odd that Darwinism hasn’t removed those who aren’t cutting it. From another perspective, maybe it’s the units we’re spending time on. We aren’t in the ED with split-second timing necessary consistently. Important choices need to be made on a typical Med/Surg unit, but there’s a bit more grace period. Perhaps the temperament of the nurse dictates the area to such a degree that this critical thinking facility is a major component of “fit” for where someone is likely to work comfortably.