Simple ways to improve your IV skills

January 18, 2019

For me, one of the most intimidating things about being a nurse is inserting IVs. This probably stems from never actually being taught how to insert IVs. Instead, I picked it up from working on the floor and shadowing other nurses. 

That's right. I never was taught how to insert an IV in nursing school. I never had the opportunity during clinicals to insert an IV on a patient. I started as a nurse with no experience and just the basic understandings from watching Youtube videos. And let me tell you...Youtube has some really amazing videos for support.

My nursing schools thought process was that every hospital uses a different IV catheter and has different policies and procedures for insertion, so they did not want to teach us. And I believed them when they said I would be taught on the job.

During my orientation at my first nursing job, I did have a 30-minute class on venous access devices and there were no hands-on experience for IV insertion, just port a cath access. Once working, I had no problems learning how to access Ports, but it took me a solid year before I was getting IVs 50% of the time.

Now I am working as an infusion nurse and getting IVs maybe 85% of the time. I am by no means an expert, but I know how challenging it is. These are some things that really helped me start to succeed.

Simple ways to improve your IV skills

ONE// Check everywhere with a tourniquet on! This might sound silly, but seriously put a tourniquet on your patient prior to deciding where to insert. There are rare exceptions to when you would not use a tourniquet (think old, fragile veins), but I still place a tourniquet to look and simply remove it prior to inserting. Without the pressure of the tourniquet filling those veins, you really will not see much. 

TWO// Learn to feel for veins rather than relying on sight. Veins should have a nice bounce to them. Often times patients may have extra adipose tissue, skin discoloration, or tattoos that make visualizing the veins more challenging. 

THREE// Apply some heat to those veins to help them dilate. Think back to your Anatomy & Physiology days... heat allows the veins to vasodilate and increases blood flow making it easier for you to feel them. Please please please do not burn your patient though. Always check with your hospital's policy if warm packs are allowed. If you cannot use warm packs, warm blankets wrapped around work just as well.

FOUR// Learn to use gravity. Now for this one, think back to your basic science days. If you let the extremity dangle off the edge of the bed more blood will begin to flow in your veins. Pretty simple stuff. 

FIVE// Mark out where you want to go. In the beginning, I was using a dot below where I wanted to insert with a pen. After I marked, I would then clean my area. Recently I have been informed that you can use the edge of an alcohol swab to be your pointer. Seriously genius! 

I really hope this helps and let me know if you have any great tips to add.


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