Hospital Staff

3 Nurse Skills Learned in the Hospital and in the Kitchen

It's no secret that nurses learn a great deal on the job that can never be taught in the classroom.

While I lack a background in nursing, I've seen incredible similarities in the nurse skills a nurse gains to those I personally learned while working in kitchens.

Both jobs are tough, with passionate individuals doing amazing things, whether treating patients or creating culinary masterpieces. Yet, it remained fascinating to me that such different disciplines tempered similar skills.

I've narrowed down the variety of nurse skills and culinary skills to three based on my own experience, as well as that from a handful of nurses I discussed this topic with. I believe that nurses and chefs alike can agree that these areas of expertise become cardinal in their respective fields, and no textbook can really teach compared to the real-world context.

Let me start from the beginning.

I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed eighteen-year-old who had just finished my first year of school and was ready to take on the world. While any colleague or friend can validate that I have not lost my level of optimism over the years, working in a kitchen was a grounding experience like none other, where I learned foundational skills I’ve exercised in every professional setting since.

In a previous post where I relayed my own anecdotal advice from the variety of jobs I’ve worked, I stressed the importance of saying yes to jobs outside of your professional interest. After reading Glenn Kelman’s insightful article reflecting on his own experience flipping burgers, I felt that this point required an article further stressing the profound impact that the high-stress, cooperative-or-bust kitchen environment had on my life, despite the brevity of my time there.

1. Communication Skills

Servers are out on the battlefield enhancing the experience of every restaurant patron. Tickets are up. The lemon and herb pan-crusted chicken has eight minutes left. We need a bleu cheese salad STAT. The dishwasher is late to his shift. The host asks you to toast some bread for table twelve. Five minutes left. Someone forgot to slice the bread for tonight during prep time. You go ahead and run the dishwasher en route to your station. That table wanted bleu cheese crumbles, not dressing. Redo. One minute left. Three tickets come in for every one you complete. You and the other two on the line are now operating as one fluid entity. The chicken has been in the oven two minutes too long. Thankfully, your amazing head cook pulled it out for you. And we’re just ten minutes into dinner.

Is this vignette intended to intimidate? Not at all. But situations such as this, which were constant, made exceptional communication skills between servers, cooks, managers, and restaurant patrons an obligatory component of survival. Does this experience sound different to the importance of communication between nurses? Hopefully not. Although I cannot draw from personal experience to craft a vignette of five minutes in a hospital, any nurse out there can surely relate to the above experience, but in scrubs instead of aprons.

2. Organizational Skills

Our restaurant was a small operation, thriving on the business of local residents and providing service and food of an exceptional caliber. Such a place, however, faces a system of organization that relies on physical ticket orders, a glitch-laden point-of-sale system, and above all, the ability to stay on top of individual responsibilities. I never knew how much time was spent prepping food in the kitchen—like I said, I was [more] naïve back then. However, I found my greatest space to improve my organization was in the dish pit. My love-hate relationship with our industrial-size dishwashing machine came from a combination of first underestimating the enemy – which, for a device built to assist my job, instead served to punish my ineptitude day after day, and also underestimating the importance of the role.

Weeks turned into months, and I finally found my own rhythm in the dish pit; I could carry on a conversation while cooling hot pans in the sink, sense when servers needed water pitcher refills, optimize the space in the washer to reduce the number of wash loads, and even slow down my heart rate to beat to the rhythm of the machine’s cathartic thrum, thrum. Yes, that last one is completely subjective, but I stand by it.

No nurse walks in the first day knowing exactly what they're doing or what their position will entail day after day. There is a degree of organization so crucial to being a nurse that the NCLEX will never test you on. Yet with persistence and ambition, a nurse can grow far beyond their first day in the hospital the way I remember growing the kitchen.

3. Time Management

I used to think that a work day consisted of working down a list. I am glad to have learned that this is not the case early on in this precursor environment. Any cook or server can tell you that working in a restaurant is an ebb and flow of priority, where the only thing to be expected is the unexpected. It was never enough to have a game plan for allocating time in the kitchen to every ticket. If a customer sends an order back, you pivot. If someone forgets to change the oil in the deep fryer, you pivot. To create exceptional food, you have to become exceptional, and I was anything but that on my first day.

When I was at the front of the house as a host, time always seemed to escape me. My incredible managers had concrete expectations for the overall experience of each patron: how long the wait for a table should be, when bread should be set at the table, and the notion that no water glass ever be empty. Despite clear expectations, I still found myself one particular Friday with a line out the door, every party irate since they did place reservations with me earlier in the night, but with each table spending longer than expected to sign the check.

In a kitchen, one can be tasked with twenty tasks simultaneously, and from what I've gathered from nurse colleagues of mine, their department is no different. Again, efficiency is not a nurse skill to master in a day; in hospitals and kitchens alike, there are some people who never truly develop this skill, but others who rise above the rest and become the nurse/chef others turn to.

As a food lover, I've had the pleasure to become acquainted with some truly incredible culinary masters, and in my time with NurseGrid, I've come to meet some truly incredible nurses. I hardly consider myself a cooking expert by any means, let alone do I have any experience in nursing. Yet, as a marketer, I see this incredible ability for both professions to grow and develop in such different environments.

I've never met a nurse who later became a chef or vice versa but can imagine one to be remarkable at succeeding in the other position.