Jumping into something new is scary when you don’t have all of the facts. That’s exactly why choosing a career is so challenging. It’s not like you can just spend a few years in school, try out a job for a bit and jump to another if you don’t like it – well, not without more education and training, anyway!
Becoming a registered nurse (RN) is no different. We all think we know what an RN does, based on TV shows or our real-life interactions at hospitals or doctor’s offices. But what goes on behind the scenes?
It’s hard to say, of course, but we have some help. We rounded up some experts to tell you what they wish they’d known BEFORE becoming an RN.
Read their advice and find out a few lessons they learned the hard way:
I wish someone told me …
1. You’ll get attached to patients
You’re going to work with many people of all age groups day in and day out. Sooner or later you’ll meet a special patient who will tug on your heartstrings. But they’re in your care because they’ll ill or possibly even dying. Although you want to do everything you can to help him or her, you also have to know when it’s time for their family – and you – to say good-bye. You can’t save everyone, but that’s part of what being a nurse is all about.
“Letting go doesn't mean that you're forgetting, it means that you're being true to your oath and your commitment to being a compassionate nurse,” says Coral Bauer, RN at Elderplan.
2. You have to be a good listener
Sure, nurses are often the one issuing the orders and making sure patients understand medications or treatment plans. But if you want to be an excellent nurse you’ll need to be a good listener, too.
Our experts say that by listening you can learn a lot – and there’s always more for nurses to learn! Listening to patients is crucial for determining the best way to care for them. Paying close attention can also help shed light on important medical conclusions. And of course, the patients will appreciate feeling heard.
3. Your skills can take you many places
You learn many new skills while earning your nursing credentials. Some of which are transferable skills that can help if you decide to move on from the healthcare world someday. Nurses aren’t limited to working in hospitals and they’re not even limited to just caring for patients! Teaching, tutoring and recruiting are all viable job options former nurses can pursue.
Transferrable skills you’ll gain as a nurse include clinical knowledge, academic writing, time management and leaderships, according Sarah Dawkins, director at Dawkins Health Consultancy.
4. It’s not all about the money
Most nurses don’t go into the profession with the idea that they’ll be rich. Of course, most people don’t work for free, either. But it’s safe to say your main motivation for becoming a nurse shouldn’t be your salary.
Our experts agree that, above all else, you must have a passion for helping others. If you have that desire, the career will be a rewarding one. In addition to passion, Fern Baudo, RN and MSN, says students should feel a “calling” toward the profession.
5. Nursing school is tough
You’re probably aware of the long hours and other struggles you’ll face as an RN. But you’ll have your fair share of obstacles to overcome before even earning that title. Nurses have a tough job and therefore need adequate preparation for what lies ahead. The challenge starts by getting into nursing school.
Nancy Brook of Stanford Hospital and Clinics has been a nurse more than 20 years, but still remembers her nursing school experience. She says it was “difficult, time consuming and stretched me in ways I did not know was possible.” She’s also quick to mention that the profession changed her life in ways she hadn’t anticipated, including working with those of all ages and from other countries.
Knowing what to expect in nursing school can help you be prepared for what’s to come.
6. You’ll probably feel unprepared
Yes, we just said that nursing school will prepare you for real-life nursing, but the truth is that you'll never be fully prepared. Unexpected situations occur in every job but those incidents can be magnified in life-or-death situations. Brook says that every day and every shift is unique.
Sometimes your lack of information could endanger a patient, so it’s critical to know when to look to a colleague for answers. There’s no shame in asking for help, especially when someone’s life is at stake. Each experience will build your knowledge and confidence and before you know it, you’ll be the one other nurses are turning to for assistance.
7. You’ll never stop learning
Nurses are able to continue their education past a bachelor’s degree. Additional nursing credentials can be earned at both the master’s and doctorate levels. But learning isn’t all about acquiring formal education in a classroom setting.
As Brook mentioned, you’ll encounter new situations daily. Some of which you’ve never even thought about. Luckily there’s a chance your colleagues do know what to do or have seen a similar situation before and can help you out. Like many professions, there are several aspects of nursing that you will learn from on-the-job experience.
Are you ready to be an RN?
Now you know a bit more about what becoming an RN is really like. So, is it the job for you? Are you ready to care for patients, be committed to learning and tough it out through nursing education?
The truth is that not everyone has what it takes to be a nurse. But if you can handle it, you’ll be rewarded. Click here to learn about the exciting perks of being a nurse, including flexible schedules, career options, health benefits and more.