Why I Slept on a Dumpster Mattress in Nursing School (the evolution of NRSNG)

the need for humility in nursing education

NURSING.com started innocent enough in 2014 . . . with a desire to share a message that nursing education has to change. I wanted to share a message of intellectual humility and the need to create an environment of inclusion and collaboration within nursing education.

What I soon found however, was that this message resonated with nursing students around the globe.  In this episode I share a bit of the “back story” to NURSING.com and our vision for a nursing education environment that is STUDENT and PATIENT focused rather than professor and administrator focused.


  • 2008: accepted to nursing school the first time
  • 2010: accepted the second time
  • 2011: started nursing school, son born, surgeries
  • 2012: withdrew, found out wife was prego
  • 2013: graduated with $0 in the bank and $65,000 in loans, first job in Neuro ICU
  • 2014: started NRSNG
  • 2015: devoted 100% of time to NRSNG
  • 2017: today

As we move forward we will continue to push for an environment of inclusion, collaboration, humility, and LOVE for nursing.

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Podcast Transcription

Welcome to the NRSNG podcast everybody. My name is Jonn Haws, RNCCRN and I’m the founder of NRSNG.com. I truly want to welcome you here. I want to say thank you for listening to this episode. I’m excited to share with you some of our backstory and some of what started NRSNG and what we’re all about, this message of inclusion, collaboration, and intellectual humility, and more than anything a love for nursing. I’m excited to share this story with you.

If you guys haven’t yet, I just want to give you another reminder to go and get our weekly, free PDF cheat sheet emails. We send these out every single Friday, usually around 10:00 a.m., where we send you a cheat sheet, a tool, something that you can print out and use on the clinical floor, in the classroom, wherever it is as you’re preparing to be a nurse, as you’re working as a nurse, or whatever it is. You can get these if you go to NRSNG.com/freebies, F-R-E-E-B-I-E-S. NRSNG.com/freebies, and you can be part of our Friday freebie email list. We’d love to have you on there. You guys, I’m so excited to share this episode with you, so let’s go ahead and roll in to the show.

Excited to be here today. I’m excited for a couple of reasons. It’s been about a month since we’ve released a new podcast episode so I’m excited to come on here and talk with you guys. I really love the intimacy of podcasting. I love that I can talk to you guys wherever you are, whether you’re out running, at school, studying in the library, whatever it is that I can connect with you and we can talk and have this intimate discussion.

I’m also excited, you guys, because I’m excited to share the story that I’m going to tell you today. I really want to get this story out to you guys and I want you guys to know a little bit more about me and about NRSNG. Today what I wanted to share with you guys is just a quick story about the beginnings of NRSNG and what that is, and what that was made up of, and what got us to where we are today.

All right, so that’s going to include some of my story, that’s include some of the story of the individuals that work within NRSNG, and that’s going to include some of you and some of your stories, because you guys are NRSNG now, right? We built this tremendous community and you guys are that community. It’s going to be part of you, it’s going to be part of me, and we’re going to get honest here. We’re going to get real and we’re going to talk with each other and share this story. I really want you guys to know it and to understand it so that maybe we can connect a little bit more.

In 2007 I married my wife Sandy. A lot of you guys have connected with Sandy over email and different things. She was just finishing up a masters degree and got a job up in Oklahoma. We lived in the Dallas area, so in 2007 we moved up to Oklahoma for her to start her job. At the time I still hadn’t finished my degree. I had about 120 credits, but I hadn’t finished the degree. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study.

At that time I spoke with a friend who was in medical school and he mentioned to me this career of CRNA, Registered Nurse and Anesthetist. It seemed interested to me and it seem like something I … I investigated and it seemed like something I wanted to do. I thought about medical school. I thought about physician assistant school for a long time, but when he mentioned this to me I investigated it and I liked it so I applied to nursing school up there in the small town in Oklahoma, the small town called Altus, Oklahoma.

It was a Air Force base town and I got accepted to the nursing school there. I took the HEFC, I did all those things, got accepted to nursing school, went, got my uniform, got my books, went to the first day of orientation and on that first day I came home and I told my wife, I was like, “I don’t think this is for me. This isn’t right. I don’t think nursing is what I should do.” So actually withdrew out of the program and didn’t attend. I went back to school, I was like, “All right, I’m just going to go to school and get a degree in chemistry.” So I started studying chemistry, and then I switched to sociology and I was like, “I’ll be a teacher. I want to be a teacher. I like teaching, so I’ll get a degree in sociology and begin teaching in high school or something.”

That just didn’t click with me either. I knew that science was what I loved. I found out in my first jaunt in college that I loved science, I love anatomy, I loved the physiology and I needed to do something with that. So, we ended up moving back to Dallas and got enrolled in a school here in Dallas and started taking the pre-reqs for medical school. I was like, “I want to do medical school again,” so I started taking my physics and my chemistries and those types of things again, and realized that journey started to feel longer and longer. At the time I was 25 years old and the journey just felt too long at that time. I was like, “I’m not going to be done with medical school until I’m in my 30s or a little bit later.” That just felt like too long, and so decided against that.

Now at the same time, I kept thinking about nursing. Nursing kept brewing in the back of my mind and I started to become more and more committed to this idea that nursing was right for me, that you get to be with the patient. Physicians don’t a lot of times get that opportunity to be with the patient. You get to be involved in the healthcare process. You have a lot of different job avenues that you can go to and you get a ton of family time, and you make enough money to support a family. As I investigated all these things, nursing started to seem more and more appropriate for me.

Now at the time I was also working at a sporting goods store in Dallas and had gone up to division leader or whatever, team lead I think it was called, and at that time I actually was still trying to figure out what I want to do with my career, still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. You know, 26 years old or so at this time, and so I applied for a job at the corporate office as a buyer. That was going to be in Houston, and at the same time, I also applied for a nursing school, a second degree bachelors of nursing program that was actually in Illinois. We were going to have to move either to Houston or to Illinois. I was like, “Well, let’s just do both of these.”

Now at the same time, my wife and I, we had since the time we met, before we got married, we said we want to travel to New Zealand sometime. It seems like this incredible place. We really want to go to New Zealand, and so we went to New Zealand. While in New Zealand, I got word from the job that I had applied to that I had been hired, that they wanted to offer me the job in Houston. While we were on this couple week trip in New Zealand, we were like, “All right, we’re going to go and I’m going to take this job. We’re going to move to Houston and I’m going to start working in retail and we’ll just see where that career goes.”

So that was the plan, right? Then we come back from New Zealand. We get home, check the mail. As we’re going through the mail, boom. There was an acceptance letter from the nursing school. We’re like, “Oh my gosh. Now what do we do?” We had these two good options and it was hard to determine what to do. What we decided to do was I called the nursing school and I said, “Hey, would it be possible to defer enrollment, so rather than starting this semester in the fall, would it be okay if I started in the spring or winter semester of the following year?” Of 2011 is when that would have been. They said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” All right, and os that gave me some time to contemplate this.

So we moved down to Houston. I get this job. Within the first week of the job I realize this was not a good fit for me. I wasn’t meant to sit behind a computer all day, not talking to people, and I was ignoring some of the things that were passions of mine, which was anatomy and physiology, and the human body, and all those types of incredible things, the disease processes and studying all that was something I really enjoyed. Then that first week I realized okay, this nursing school is what I need to do. Okay, we’re going to do it.

I told my wife, and as you can tell and as you’ll tell throughout the story, my wife is incredibly supportive and incredibly trusting. I’m very lucky there that she supported me throughout this entire journey. I ended up taking the rest of the pre-reqs I needed. Took some microbiology, did all that, and in January of 2011 we moved to Illinois and I started nursing school.

Now in 2010, we also found out that my wife was pregnant with our first child, and so we moved to Illinois. My wife has a job up there. I’m attending nursing school. I find out my wife is pregnant, and so our son, Taz is born during my first semester of nursing school. Now when Taz was born, I remember we were at a teaching hospital, a big teaching hospital in Illinois, huge hospital. There was a nursing student there, an EMT student, medical resident, and a couple physicians of course, and a couple nurses.

And so when Taz is born, our son, they hand him to the nursing student to get to do her evaluation, her newborn assessment. And as she’s doing the assessment, they’re like, “Okay, take the temperature,” and she goes to take his temperature and she’s not able to insert the thermometer. So she goes to her instructor who just luckily happens to be a pediatric nurse practitioner that worked in the NICU at this large hospital. She says, “Oh my goodness, okay. We have a imperforate anus here.”

At this time my wife and I were like, “What? What does that even mean?” They called the medical director of the NICU and they call a couple of surgeons and they call come together and they say, “Okay. Yes, Taz has an imperforate anus. Don’t feed him.” What that basically means is he did not actually have an anus. Okay, there was no actual way for him to defecate, which would require multiple surgeries, three surgeries, multiple stays in the hospital, transported immediately to the NICU, and we were in the hospital the first time for a couple weeks and they had to come back subsequent times for continued surgeries during his first year of life.

So once we finally get home, and I’m still in nursing school, this was a good time. We didn’t have a lot of money. My wife was just working as a dietician. I was attending nursing school. We were living on WIC, we were living on food stamps, and we were lucky enough to … Because of how low our income was, we were lucky enough that the $100,000 of surgery that Taz required in that first year was taken care of through medicaid and through other state programs, so we were very lucky even through all those stresses that we had a lot of that covered.

Now, throughout this time as well, as Taz was going in the hospital and things like that, I remember being in the hospital with him as a nursing student. I’m doing my homework there. It just happened to be across the street from the nursing school which worked out really well. I could stay the night with Taz and then I could go to nursing school during the day and come back and that worked out. Thinking back on those times, it’s a really sweet time that my wife, our son, we were all there together. That was such a great time and nursing school was going well and everything was going really well.

Now in 2012, things kind of changed with nursing school. Things went really downhill. I had some very inept professors, clashing with administration trying to improve the teaching environment of the school, and a lot of different things. If you’ve listened to the podcast or read the blog much, you’re familiar with these things. In 2012, I actually withdrew from nursing school. We moved back to Dallas, and my wife was … At this time I was ready to give up on nursing school. I was so done with it because of some of the different things that were going on in the program with some of these different professors, that I was ready to just quit nursing school.

My wife was smart enough to say, “No, we’re not going to do that. You need to withdraw and get deferment kind of thing again.” We moved back to Dallas and I was ready to give up on it. I started a lawn business and I was mowing lawns, kind of trying to figure out what was going to happen next. And at this time, when we were down in Dallas, we had no health insurance except for Taz. We were making very, very, very little money. We actually were having to live with my parents. It began to be a very difficult time. Then I remember one time in the fall of that year, my wife came to me in the fall of 2012. My wife came to me and said, “So I’m pregnant.” And that hit like a ton of bricks.

So we realized we were going to have a way to pay for children and to pay for a family. Very quickly we made the decision that I was going to get back in touch with the nursing school, I was going to make sure I was able to get back in and finish up the program. We got in touch with the nursing program. They got me all enrolled again, got me all back in, and so in 2013, we then moved back to Illinois to finish nursing school.

I actually, the way that things worked out, our daughter Kai, was born in May and I literally had to leave the day after she was born to go back to Illinois to start nursing school. That was a very difficult time. I remember we were in the hospital with my wife. Our daughter was born. We came home from the hospital. The next day or two, I had to get in the car, drive up to Illinois, leave my wife in Texas with our families and stuff, and our two kids, while I drove up to Illinois to begin nursing school this last two or three month semester that I had with my wife there. We had no money. I found a really cheap place to stay. Living on food stamps. I remember my wife made a bunch of frozen meals with groceries we had purchased from food stamps. We brought a lot of those frozen meals up to Illinois, because we just absolutely had zero dollars.

So I began nursing school again this last semester and I hit the ground running so hard and I was so motivated and so ready this time, and it worked out really, really well. In 2013, I graduated nursing school. We had $0 in the bank, $65,000 of nursing school debt, and we were in Illinois. Okay, now this was a trying time. My wife, again, is amazing. She’s a hero. She’s a champion. When I got up to Illinois, I mean we literally had no … I had some bedding. We had no bed. We had no table. We had none of these types of things.

So we got up there. We ended up getting a card table. That’s what we ate from, on, with the kids. We had no furniture in our little apartment that we ended up getting. We had a mattress for my son, Taz, on the ground. We had a little crib for our daughter, and the mattress that we slept on was actually a mattress I found in the apartment complex. Luckily there were no bed bugs or anything like that. That might sound crazy. You guy are thinking what is wrong with you? But look, we honestly had no money at all. Everything that we had was going straight to student loans to finish this process.

So I would go to school at night time, take care of the kids during the day. My wife would work. We’d try to spend as much time as we could together going on walks, going to parks, but we literally had no money. I remember one time my wife went to Salvation Army or something like that and bought a little dump truck toy for our son, Taz, who now at the time was two years old and it was $3 or $4, and that $3 or $4 hurt. That hurt greatly to spend that money. We felt so terrible about spending that money, because we literally had nothing.

And this was a difficult time. I was doing night clinicals, weekend clinicals, but I was so focused. That desperation created intense focus and intense hard work. What ended up happening is I as I was getting close to finishing nursing school I applied for a bunch of jobs back in Dallas. I applied for some jobs with some of the hospitals. I was lucky enough, or maybe not so much lucky, but I had worked really hard. I had a really good GPA. I had great references, and I got interviews at top hospitals. I started doing these interviews and what we ended up doing at interviews at some of these top hospitals around the country, and it came down to the point that we didn’t even have the money to go to these interviews. We didn’t have the money to fly out there. We didn’t have the money to do these things, so we said, “Look, yeah, sure that’s a great opportunity. Sure, that’s an amazing hospital, but we literally don’t even have the money to do the interview.”

So I ended up taking a job in Dallas at a great hospital, trauma one hospital in downtown Dallas. Really large, excellent hospital, in their neuro ICU. At the time we moved, my two kids and I and my wife, back into my parents’ house and I began working in downtown Dallas in this trauma one hospital. It was an incredible experience. It was incredible floor, incredible manager, incredible team. I started to see how collaboration can work.

Now very quickly I was able to become a preceptor where I was precepting nursing students. Then I was able to precept new nurses. Then I was promoted to charge nurse of this ICU, this 34 bed ICU. Then I was given another chance to be a swat nurse. What a swat nurse is basically was the code team nurse. Anytime there was a code or an RRT anywhere in the hospital, I was responding to those and kind of facilitating those as physicians arrived. It was a great opportunity. I loved it. That’s what I truly love. That was the best job I ever had as a nurse, was being the swat team nurse. Going to every code, going to every RRT. I went to the ED when traumas came and different things like that. It was an incredible job. Loved it.

Now in this time in 2013, 2014, as I was precepting new nurses I began to see something. You guys know the frustrations I had during my nursing school journey, but what I started to see is I was precepting students and new nurses, is that there was this tremendous gap, this tremendous understanding gap where nursing students and new nurses didn’t have the knowledge base that they needed, or they didn’t seem to take the job as serious as they needed to, understanding that we’re going to be taking human lives in our hands as nurses.

So I began to see that and I began to see that there needs to be a different way of teaching these students. They’re coming to clinical so stressed out about their paperwork, so stressed out about another assignment, that they’re not focusing on clinical. They’re not asking the questions they need to in clinical. They’re not drawing the conclusions that they need to in clinical because they’re so worried about so many other things or they’re so distracted by so many other things. They’re not becoming nurses. They’re just filling in paperwork, not developing this critical thinking and developing these clinical skills that they need.

So I saw that. I reflected back on my nursing school experience and the frustrations that I had, and in 2014 I started NRSNG. We got the website going. I launched our first podcast, and it’s hilarious because I had no clue what I was doing. I launched an ebook where I started sharing some of the study materials that I had used in nursing school. This was authentic real things that I had used that had helped me through nursing school, and study methods and tools and tips that I had developed despite having poor instruction, and so we started that.

What NRSNG is you guys, is it’s a message of inclusion. I wanted to share my story and my frustrations. I wanted to prove that there was a better way to teach nursing students. Now, I felt that there was a need for intellectual humility and a need to change and create an environment of inclusion and collaboration that I felt was missing in nursing. I felt that so many professors and so many administration were so concerned about protecting their status as PhD, as professor, as doctor, as whatever, that they were concerned about that, that they weren’t truly focusing on creating a new generation of nurses that had a deep understanding of nursing and a deep understanding of pathophysiology and a deep understanding of taking care of the patients in these incredible, creative, and critical thinking nurses. Instead they were so focused on protecting their own integrity that they weren’t focusing on the right things.

So our message was simple. Nursing education needs to change. It needs to become about the student and the patient. It has to become student and patient focused, not administration focused, not focused on proving how intelligent or how smart you are, but focused on creating nurses that can take care of patients well.

So what I found very quickly is this message resonated. NRSNG began to grow. People started emailing us like crazy, connecting with us on social media saying, “Thank you so much for your story, Jon. Thank you. I thought you were talking about my school. This connects so well with me.” This message began to resonate. I found, you know what? Holy cow. I honestly had thought through my nursing school experience that my school was the only one where people were having these experiences. My little cohort of 30 or 40 students were the only ones struggling as deeply as we were.

But what I found very quickly is not only was it resonating throughout the country, throughout the United States, but we began to get emails from all around the world of people resonating with this. So I found this is a big problem that we can fix. Okay, we can create this environment of inclusion and collaboration and intellectual humility where people can be a part of this. I began to devote more and more and more time to NRSNG. I would work three or four shifts a week on nights and then on my couple days off, I was connecting with people. I was sharing. I was mentoring. I was teaching, and growing NRSNG. That continued for a couple years.

It so happened in the fall of 2015, NRSNG began to take so much of my time as it grew and as we began to reach more people, that I had to devote 100% of my time to NRSNG. I sat down with my manager and I told her, “Look, this is kind of the situation. I love this job so much. I couldn’t ask for a better floor to work on, couldn’t ask for a better role, but there’s this growing need of nursing students throughout the world and we’re filling this massively needed gap,” and we talked, and she encouraged me to go and to build this. She said how proud she was of what I was doing.

So in 2015, fall of 2015, I began devoting 100% of my time to NRSNG, and now here we are in 2017. In 2017, I want you guys to understand that we’ve reached about 3.2 million people with the podcast. Our website’s been viewed 5,912,940 times. We’ve had people visit NRSNG from 217 countries. The website has 31,000 users, which are people that are in the courses and things like that.

As we move forward, we will continue to push and to fight and to claw for environment of inclusion, collaboration, humility, and love for nursing. This is what needs to happen. This is what NRSNG is all about. Our mission, our goal is to provide you with the tools and the confidence that you need to succeed in nursing school, on the [inaudible 00:24:52], and throughout your life as a nurse. We aren’t trying to prove that we’re brilliant people. We’re not trying to prove that we’re better than anything. What we’re trying to do is to give you a set of tools and to provide you with the confidence that you need. That’s the first thing we talk about here at NRSNG whenever we talk about developing a new tool or course or anything for you guys, is is that going to provide confidence? Is that going to give them a real tool that they actually need?

There’s so many companies, there’s so many people, there’s so many things out there trying to scam nursing students and make an easy buck, but that’s a whole nother issue to talk about, and we have before, but what we do and what our mission is, is to provide you a tool and/or confidence to succeed. If we’re not doing that, we’ve failed at everything that we create. Whenever somebody mentions a new product or a new tool they think about creating, we talk, “Okay is that something that’s going to provide tools or confidence?” If not, it’s an easy decision. It’s an easy decision. It goes in the garbage and we never talk about it again.

If it’s going to reach many nursing students and give them some sort of tool that they can use, that they can actually use on their daily life, or it’s going to provide them with confidence, then we do it, because that’s what I think is missing a lot in nursing education, is giving the confidence that people need. So much of nursing is beating the hell out of these students and driving them down. What we’re here to do is to give you confidence, to tell you, “You can do it. We do need you. We do care about you.”

And then these tools. There’s so much of the same out there. What we’re trying to do is create tools that you actually use, things like the NRSNG Academy and all the tools we built in there are things that you’re actually going to use throughout your education. We’ve seen how much that’s resonated. Things like our cheat sheets, these are tools you’re actually going to use that are created by actual nurses that actually use these tools, things like the scrub sheets. This is something people use. These things are working and these things are resonating because we actually give a damn. We actually care and we’re actually trying to provide you with things that you need.

You guys, with all that said, the biggest thing that I want you to take away from this is that you are NRSNG. When I share those stats, the podcast has been listened to 3.2 million times, that’s great, but you know what? I fully recognize that that’s not a number. Those 3.2 million times are people. Those are nursing students. Those are you. If you’re listening to this now, that’s 3.2.1. you are NRSNG. I see how many times the website’s been visited. That is an individual. That’s a nursing student who’s getting some confidence, who’s growing in their skills. I recognize the role that we play in it and I can’t thank you guys enough, and I can’t tell you how much it means to us to play a role in your education.

We built this team here and we all care about you so much. That’s one of the things I like most about working with NRSNG and our team here, is no one’s ever talking about anything other than how we can help students. That’s the focus here, and when I talk with Heather or Ana or Sandy, some of the people that talk with you guys on email and on social media, what they’re telling me is, “Man, I love these students. They’re so incredible.” We do love you guys. We love you. We want you to succeed. We want you to find the confidence that you need to go on and to effect change in nursing and nursing education.

So thank you so much for being a part of this. Thank you for being a part of this journey. I know some of you have been with us since 2014, and I fully want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I truly do. And for those who are new, welcome. You’re in the right spot. You found us, and I know, and I’m excited to share with you everything that we have.

So with that said guys, we love you. Thank you for being here, and you know what time it is now. It’s time to go out and be your best self today. Happy nursing.

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