Nursing is a very special field. It is an art and it is a science. It requires special people who are willing to work hard, who actually care about people, and want to make a difference. It’s important that you understand what it means to actually become a nurse, and what it entails, before you take your first nursing class.
Choose the profession for the right reasons.
Unlike some other professions, nursing is highly personal. It is personal for the patient, and personal for the nurse. To be the best, you need to really care about other people. You really need to have a passion for it. As a nurse I’ve met people on the best days of their lives, and on their worst. In my experience, to you can’t be helpful if you simply don’t care. In fact one of the hallmarks of the profession is concept of caring, and people expect it from nurses.
Okay, so you care about people, but can you stand some of the more unpleasant parts of the job?
Real nurses often get exposed to things you wouldn’t discuss in polite company…things like vomit, feces, urine, blood, and pus. They often smell bad, and they can look nasty, and it’s no fun. Especially when they want to congregate in groups, for more exciting shifts. Every nurse has their kryptonite – that one thing that no matter how they try makes them gag, or worse. I’m not saying you have to be impervious to all of these things, but I am saying if you choose nursing, these things will likely be a part of the experience at some point. You should know that up front, and be willing and able to deal with it. Because generally speaking, both employers and patients will generally frown upon a nurse throwing up alongside the patient or any other iteration of that scenario. And don’t believe it when they tell you that as a nurse you don’t have to deal with this stuff that the nursing assistants will. If you are a clinical nurse on a unit, you will at some point. It is expected that you will not leave a patient in distress to get a nursing assistant to take care of it. Besides, they are way overburdened as it is. Believe it or not, some of the nasty times are the best times to assess what is really going on with your patient, and that is our role as nurses, not the assistants.
Are you willing to meet people where they’re at, or do you demand they meet you elsewhere?
As a nurse, you will meet people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs. Are you willing to take on their perspective and work within those confines, or would you find it difficult to work with someone whose values and beliefs were different from yours? There are days when you are confronted by attitudes or beliefs that will test you. As nurses we are not there to judge. We are not there to force our beliefs and attitudes on them. (As much as we might want to on occasion!) I have had patients make bad decisions for themselves, where the outcomes weren’t what they hoped. Over the years, the way I tried to help in these situations (and to help me cope with some) was to make sure that the patient or their proxy, had all the information they needed to make the decision. In the end it’s theirs to make, because it’s their life.
Are you emotionally resilient?
Nursing is a hard job and can be emotionally taxing. It is important to learn about coping strategies early on. You will be dealing with people at some of the most stressful times in their lives. They don’ t always behave well, and aren’t always polite. But you have to remain neutral. This takes a lot of emotional energy. There will be days when you wish you’d chosen any other job in the world, but nursing. But more than those days are the days you’ve really been there when people needed it, and were able to make a difference. These are the best days on the job, and what we all strive for.
Nursing is not a job you should go into just for the money.
Yes, we’re seeing better paying jobs these days in nursing. But, if you are interested in the job for that primary reason, you’re making a big mistake. Your motivation will show, and you will become bitter and resentful. I’ve seen it. It’s not good for you, it’s not good for your colleagues, but most importantly, it’s not good for the patients. I’ve worked with nurses who thought that nursing was a fluff job and paid well. If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s not. Nursing has an extremely critical role in healthcare today, and will become more so as we go forward into the changing landscape of healthcare. If all you’re interested in is earning money, there are plenty of other professions to do so. Please, seek them out. Do not go into nursing.
Do you have the “Right Stuff”?
I haven’t covered all the possible potential hurdles of nursing here in this article. But, these are some of the more common ones I’ve come across in 23 years of nursing experience. Nursing is an art and a science. Nursing can be an incredibly rewarding career. As nurses we are privileged to be a part of our patient’s and their families’ lives. We get access unlike anyone else in healthcare, to the good, the bad, and the ugly. They tell us things they don’t tell others, because we are trusted members of their team. We are in a prime position to assist them in their journey, whether it is a new beginning or the final chapter. If you’ve read this article and haven’t been put off by any section of it, you may just have the right stuff. If you were willing to put in the time, dedication, and elbow grease to become one of the team, we’d love to have you!
I want to dedicate this article to Nancy Walden RN, who was a professor of Nursing at Northeastern University in Boston, where I went to school. While she is no longer with us, she shepherded us into the profession with her knowledge, patience, and heart. Without her, some of us might not have made it, and been able to help others. I can think of no greater legacy as a nurse, to know that many lives have been impacted by not only my own hands, but by adding more hands to the work. Thanks Professor, we miss you!