Everyone knows that hindsight is 20/20. But when it comes to investing in your education and your nursing career, a little bit of foresight is always appreciated. It’s helpful to know a little about what you’re getting into before committing to spending considerable time and energy on something.
Though we certainly can’t predict the future, there are plenty of resources available to help you make an informed decision. What is a nursing career really like? Is there anything you should know up front to help you better prepare?
To help answer your questions, we spoke with two professionals in the nursing field about their experiences in school and on the job. Here are just a few of the things they said they wish they knew before starting nursing school.
Before starting nursing school, I wish I knew…
1. There are a wide variety of positions available
Nursing is an ever-advancing field with a lot of demand—as long as people have health needs, there will be jobs available across a number of specialties and fields. Megan Cummings, a CRNA at Tufts Medical Center, says a nursing degree offers many opportunities to do many types of work.
“I work in intensive care and anesthesia. My friends work in surgical units. Others work in administration. I even have a friend working in sales,” Cummings shares. “It almost becomes overwhelming when you find out how many ‘kinds’ of nurses there are. “
Her best advice for navigating the many nursing career paths is to identify an area you’re passionate about early on and focus on acquiring internships and making contacts in that specialty. “You may find you don’t like it even after starting a job post-graduation. But hey, there are a million other things you can do with your degree,” she adds.
Kathleen Puri, RN and co-founder of Fitsi Health, LLC, agrees that it’s smart to think ahead if you want to take advantage of the breadth of options available. “It’s important to keep learning and getting advanced degrees to have opportunities open up,” she says.
Need help exploring the many options out there? Check out our interactive Nursing Career Path resource.
2. The importance of self-care
Some vocations are both high stress and high reward. Puri notes that in this physically, emotionally and intellectually taxing profession, burnout is all too common. Nursing school is notoriously tough, but that’s only to prepare you for the challenges you’ll face on the job.
"Nursing is not for the weak."
“Nursing is not for the weak,” Cummings says. “It’s hands down one of the hardest educational, mental, emotional and physical feats of my life to date.”
Caring for yourself will be just as important as caring for your patients. Puri recommends staying in good physical shape, since nursing is a job where you’ll be on your feet the majority of time. Additionally, focusing on your mental well-being is just as important.
Check out this article for other tips on how to avoid nursing burnout.
3. How rewarding it is to serve others
It’s clear that becoming a nurse is not for the faint of heart. But along with the challenges, it also offers both financial and emotional compensation. The above-average earning potential might be what attracts you to the job initially, but Puri says there are plenty of psychological benefits as well.
Science suggests that an aiding profession doesn’t just benefit others—it also benefits the individual doing the serving. Helping other people can increase your lifespan and happiness, as well as decrease blood pressure and chronic pain—all while lending a sense of purpose and satisfaction to your life.
Check out a few inspiring examples of the rewarding side of nursing.
4. How much knowledge and independence the job requires
Puri also says the nursing profession is not just about following doctors’ orders. You’re responsible for delivering care with both efficiency and excellence. In order to be successful as a nurse, it’s important to be mentally and intellectually prepared to make decisions at a moment’s notice.
“You have to know everything,” Cummings says. “Not just how to play the role of a nurse, but a dense understanding of pharmacology, complex pathophysiology, a bit of microbiology mixed with a practical sense of modern medicine and an open mind to handle the flexibility for its ever-changing practice.”
But don’t let that intimidate you. This is precisely the type of knowledge and experience you’ll acquire while earning your nursing degree.
Learn more about the importance of critical thinking skills in nursing.
5. How much the job can be customized
Do you have a family or a busy lifestyle? That’s no problem, according to Cummings. The flexibility of the nursing profession is one its primary perks.
"You get to decide where you want to live and work."
“Nursing offers a variety of different schedules, mixed with a very empathetic group of workers who respect busy, working parents,” Cummings says. “There are even options to work weekends only—that’s only two shifts a week, but for full-time pay.”
Cummings explains that full-time inpatient nurses typically work three 12-hour shifts, allowing you four days off in between. She adds that because nursing is a field with such high demand, you can live virtually anywhere and find a job. “There’s a job in every city,” she says. “You get to decide where you want to live and work.”
Hear what the pros say about different types of nursing shifts.
6. You can leave your work at work
Nursing is one job that doesn’t require you to work from home or demand office catch-up. “For most nurses, at the end of a shift, you are done working,” Cummings says. “You can start your vacation the second you leave the door.”
She says she appreciates this part of her profession, especially when she’s on vacation and sees family and friends checking their work email. “I can just kick back and know that I am physically not able to work while enjoying my time off,” she adds.
Learn about some of the other added benefits of being a nurse.
7. All the ways to advance your career
Along with lateral moves across specialties, the nursing field also offers several opportunities to advance your career by pursuing further education, Cummings says. She chose to become a CRNA and loves that the position allows her autonomy and respect from her colleagues.
“Nurses can go back to school for an MBA, a PhD (research and clinical), a DNP (clinical doctorate) or specialize as a nurse practitioner,” Cummings says. “The list is endless, and there is no shortage of learning.”
Familiarize yourself with some advanced nursing careers you could pursue down the road.
Start on the right foot
You’ll never have all of the answers before starting nursing school, but this insight from those who came before you should help you to feel more confident in your decision to pursue a nursing career.
If this information has you feeling prepared and excited to start your journey, it’s time to take the next step. Check out our article to get started: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Getting into Nursing School.