You’ve busted your back throughout school and you’ve got your eye on the prize — your career. But you’re not just a hard worker; you’re the type of person who thinks ahead too. You want to make sure your career aligns with your goals and your lifestyle preferences.
You may be wondering, What is it really like working in a hospital? Is this the right environment for me? It takes a broad workforce to support the over 1.7 million hospital beds across the U.S. Whether it’s directly with the patient or in the background, employment in a hospital could very well be in your future.
Lucky for you, we’ve spoken with experts in the field who have been there before. As we examine the pros and cons of working in a hospital, you can learn from their years of experience.
The pros of working in a hospital
Making a difference
“You get to make a difference in real people’s lives every day and get paid for it,” says Christopher Sharp, former EMT.
Maybe it’s the reason you got into the healthcare field. There’s no denying the great impact you make on patients’ lives every time you clock in, whether you’re working at the bedside or behind the scenes. And with over 125 million hospital visits a year, working in a hospital ensures you will impact a great number of people throughout your career.
People will always need medical care, but now is an especially great time to work in healthcare. With the Affordable Care Act opening healthcare to millions and the aging baby boomers requiring more medical attention, hospitals need you now more than ever.
In fact, the healthcare field is predicted to add the most jobs out of any industry through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hospitals will rely on people like you to fill the void.
Variety in your days
If you grow tired of seeing the same faces day in and day out, working in a hospital may be for you.
Working in a hospital means you’ll see a variety of patients from all walks of life, who are experiencing all types of health conditions. And because hospitals are so big and employ so many people, you’ll most likely see a variety of other healthcare professionals during your shifts too.
“One of the pros to working in a hospital is that you get to meet someone new every day,” Sharp says.
You’re part of a big team
No matter what role you have in healthcare, everyone working at the hospital has the same goal in mind: improving and maintaining patients’ health. That’s not always the case in other industries.
“Working in a hospital offers a team environment where if there’s something going wrong with a patient, there are plenty of people to help out,” says Jen Fox, RN.
The cons of working in a hospital
Exposure to germs
This one’s a no-brainer. You’re surrounded by sickness and disease in a hospital. But don’t let that stop you from living out your passion. Many healthcare professionals feel the rewards of the job outweigh the risks when it comes to being exposed to germs.
“You’ll be in close contact with infections that are antibiotic resistant,” Sharp says.
“You are exposed to every disease, depending on the floor you are on, so your immune system will be tested and challenged,” adds Michelle Katz, LPN, MSN and author.
Seeing sickness and death
“You have to deal with a large amount of suffering, and a lot of the time there is nothing you can do to alleviate it,” Sharp says.
And there may be times you wish you could help, but the situation is out of your control. Some patients just don't take care of themselves the way you know they should be, and you'll wish there was more you could do. But on the upside, you'll also have the gratification of bringing some patients back to health.
It can be draining
Many roles in a hospital require you to be on your feet and on the go throughout the day, which can be a benefit if you aren’t looking for a desk job. But the highs and lows of patient setbacks and improvements can be emotionally taxing too, says April Salchert, who has worked in many hospital roles. If you’re looking for a career where you can kick back and take it easy, the hospital is not the place for you.
Unlike clinics or other healthcare facilities, hospitals are always open. Unless you work in a select few departments, chances are you’ll be rotating in nights, weekends and holiday shifts, says Marilyn Stoner, RN, PhD.
After all, sickness doesn’t care what day it is.
The choice is yours
Hospitals are bustling meccas of healthcare, but do you think they fit with your work preferences? You may be hesitant about the germs or busy atmosphere, but it is important to focus on the positives — your passion for making a difference and the satisfaction of being part of a team that helps others.
Whether or not you decide you want to pursue work in a hospital, learn more in our article: Healthcare Careers You Can Launch in 2 Years or Less.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in March 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2016.