In This Together: The Importance of Peer Support in Nursing

Emily Jerge and Jenna Golsmith.

Emily Jerge, BS '06 (left) and Jenna Goldsmith, MS '08, BS '06 (right) at the UB School of Nursing commencement ceremony in 2006.

By Emily Jerge

Published February 5, 2024

Nursing is a team profession. We may be taking care of patients individually as nurses, but we need the support of our peers to physically and mentally get us through the days and nights, the weeks, the years.

Years ago, I sat in a crowded lecture hall on South Campus, only knowing one person. That one person introduced me to two people, and soon I had three friends. (Spoiler alert: one of these three people, Jenna, would become my best friend and several years later, my sister-in-law!)

It would be another semester until I would meet our entire cohort and see the support systems that had developed throughout our nursing class. Over the course of my time at UB, I would see these support systems expand and grow stronger as we navigated nursing school together. 

Find your people

Having peer support in nursing school is essential for success. Friends from nursing school understand EXACTLY what you are going through when all your other friends, family and significant others can only attempt to understand. Nursing school friends understand when the exam doesn’t go as well as hoped, and they celebrate with you when it goes better than expected! They help you study (I still remember nursing theorist Margaret Sanger, thanks to a study buddy!) and make sure you aren’t left behind. Nursing school friends understand a difficult clinical day and laugh with you when the inexplicable happens with a patient. It was in nursing school that I felt I found “my people.” I had Jenna as well as several other new friends. These are still my people, the people I look forward to seeing, and the people who we can talk to, as if no time has passed, though clearly it has.

Bonding and board prep

That peer support continued immediately after nursing school as we all prepared for the boards. We studied and supported each other and held each other accountable to doing at least 100 practice questions a day! We anxiously waited for each other’s results until we were all officially registered nurses. In our first positions as graduate nurses, we talked often to compare experiences, trying to understand what was normal and what was extreme on our units. The stories of my peers helped me appreciate my own job more and made that critical first year easier!

Veteran support for novice nurses

As a novice nurse, I needed a brand new kind of support. I needed support from nurses and clinicians who were experienced on my unit and far from my graduate nurse level. Garnering this support wouldn’t come as naturally as it had in nursing school where my peers were at my level, but I was blessed to work on a unit and in a system where I had tremendous support during those first years. I was given a mentor, someone who was committed to supporting me during my orientation and into the first full year. I am confident that these early experiences gave me the confidence I needed to continue to new units and new goals later in my career, and the compassion necessary to train newer nurses the way I was treated. 

Personal friends, professional networks

Emily Jerge and Jenna Goldsmith.

Emily Jerge, BS' 06 (left) and Jenna Goldsmith, MS '08, BS '06 (right) at the November 2023 reception where they were both recognized for making Buffalo Business First's 2023 40 Under 40 list.

Nursing peers help you rise and set you on a trajectory for your career. In nursing school, my peers and I supported and encouraged each other to get involved in the Student Nurses Association and many of us even held leadership positions. We worked while in school and competed for competitive clinical placements and internships. Now in our professional lives, we are still involved in various nursing organizations to advance the profession. Jenna and I have both held leadership positions in the Professional Nurses Association of Western New York – she is currently President Elect, a position previously held by one of our other peers!

Peers encourage each other to get involved in their workplaces to make a difference, whether it’s unit council or larger organizational committees. Peers also support advancing the profession through research and continuing education. Jenna and I both present at professional conferences in our respective specialties of aesthetics and simulation and praise each other for learning as much as possible in our fields.

Diverse paths, unified support

Those friends from nursing school were all different ages with different backgrounds and different goals. Some had a goal to be nurse practitioners and pursued that goal immediately. I was able to witness my friends supporting each other as they went back to grad school, a challenge I couldn’t imagine at the time. I witnessed them support each other and praise each other as they discovered their own strengths as nurses. They encouraged and supported me as I pursued my own advanced degree, not as a nurse practitioner (like all my friends), but as an educator. 

Bonds beyond nursing

In the 20 years since we met in nursing school, my peers and I have seen each other through advanced degrees, numerous new jobs, weddings, births, medical issues and even the death of a peer. These are our people – they people we call and look to for support. Even though we may not understand each other’s struggles as intimately as when we were in nursing school, we still empathize and do whatever we can to support each other. Looking back now, I realize how special their support has been, and how it has impacted my professional and personal life.

Honored observer of flourishing friendships

As a nursing educator for the past decade, I have had the opportunity to watch hundreds of students form these same relationships. It is a joy and a privilege to witness these friendships grow and develop during their baccalaureate education. I love to listen to my students thank each other in their pinning ceremonies, one group even referring to each other as “their angels.” I’ve seen them surround each other when one falls behind and celebrate those same friends when they do eventually cross the finish line of nursing school. I smile when I think about them, because at this point, they don’t even know the journey they are on with each other! 

Jerge, Sands, Goldmisth, and Wild.

(From left to right) Alumni Emily Jerge (BS '06), Joann Sands (UB clinical assistant professor, DNP '13, MS '09, and BS '06), Jenna Goldsmith (MS '08, BS '06) and Michelle Wild (BS '06) at the Professional Nurses Association of Western New York annual awards banquet in July 2021. Wild, then president of the Professional Nurses Association of WNY, presented the Nurse of Distinction in Education Award to Jerge.