Is Nursing Right for Me? 5 Key Questions to Ask Yourself
Choosing a career path is no small feat. You’ve got a lot of life ahead of you, and like it or not, what you do for a living is going to be a big piece of it. Like with any consequential decision, you want to feel as confident as possible about your choice. Now that you’ve started seriously considering a nursing career, you can’t help but wonder if nursing is actually the right fit for you?
While there’s no way to really know if a nursing career is right for you until you’ve walked in the shoes of a nurse, it doesn’t hurt to ask nurses who are already in the field! To help you get a better handle on whether nursing is the right career path for you, we’ve asked experienced nurses to share what drew them to field—and the questions they’d encourage would-be nurses to think through.
Is nursing right for me? 5 questions to consider
1. Does helping people drive you?
If you’re the type to be recharged and fulfilled by helping others, nursing may be the right track for you.
Sandra Crawley, registered nurse (RN) and medical consultant for MomLovesBest, knew from a young age that she wanted a job where she helped people.
“As I grew up, I was leaning more towards teaching, but it just didn’t feel like the right fit for me,” Crawley explains. “So I decided to become a certified nursing assistant to dip my toes in the nursing field and fell in love with it.”
Annette Lawton, registered nurse (RN) and structural heart coordinator at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, says she felt similarly after a firsthand experience as a young patient.
“I knew when I was 11 years old that I wanted to be nurse,” says Lawton. “After spending much of that year of life in the hospital and watching what the nurses did, I knew it was the path for me, and I have never regretted my decision.”
Lawton cautions that providing this level of care is not always easy as you will meet people who are extremely vulnerable and going through great difficulties.
“A person comes through the door of the hospital knowing that something is wrong, but they don’t know what,” Lawton explains. “The nurses and doctors and others that they meet are all strangers to them, but they put their trust in you at that first moment. This is the greatest honor that can ever be given to someone, let alone someone you have never met before. If you want to be a nurse, you can never forget this trust.”
Bobbie Russ, a registered nurse in a long-term care facility, is similarly motivated by this trust.
“I know nursing is right for me because of the feeling I have when I make someone’s day,” Russ says. “Little things like listening to them and acting on it are huge in providing patient-centered care. I work in long-term care and being told ‘I love you—what would we do without you?’ is the absolute best high to me.”
Yet Russ is clear that being a long-term care nurse is not easy. “Depression’s huge in this population of patients, as well as nursing staff,” Russ reports. “You must be able to be empathetic and think critically at all times. But I also feel this population deserves the best care, and I advocate all the time for their rights as patients.”
Kris Pederson, a registered nurse who works in an assisted living facility, came to nursing from a different angle. Originally interested in environmental science, she began her career on the laboratory side of healthcare as a medical lab tech.
“The only time I had direct contact with patients is when I would draw their blood,” Pederson says. “I felt kind of stir crazy and wanted to get out and learn the whole clinical picture: What symptoms were they having, why did the physician order the lab tests, what other clinical findings were there?”
2. Can you handle physical work, stress and long hours?
There is no doubt about it: Nursing is physical work. While the level of physical demand can depend somewhat on the specific nursing role, you should expect to exert yourself.
“You will get all of your 10,000 steps, plus bonus steps,” says Lawton. “Nursing is physically demanding, but it has gotten much better with hydraulic lifts and tracks built into the ceilings of the patient rooms, hover mats, gurneys and beds with motors in them so you don’t have to push a 300-pound bed and a 300-pound patient down the halls.”
The upside of the physicality of nursing is that you are not alone in handling patients or solving problems. “Nursing is a team sport,” Crawley says. “You get to know your coworkers, and they become
family. You learn and grow together through challenging and sometimes chaotic times.”
3. Are odd hours and shift schedules a deal-breaker?
Another factor to weigh is your comfort level with a work schedule that often doesn’t fit the standard nine-to-five format. Adjusting to shift work can be difficult for many, and flexible hours are not the norm as many clinics and hospitals need to be staffed around the clock so patients can receive continuous care. Nights, weekends and holidays will always need coverage, though hospitals generally offer incentive pay for those shifts.
“Shift work is tough but works out well sometimes,” Lawton says. “I have coworkers who always worked nights, and their spouse worked days, so they never needed childcare for the kids. If you are a night-owl type of person, the evening or night shifts can be better for you.”
There are options in the field that don’t involve 12-hour shifts. Because overnight shifts were taxing for Pederson, she left hospital settings and now works as a wellness nurse for an assisted living facility, which offers nine-to-five routines. “There are other areas to work in nursing where I do not need to be on my feet for 12 hours,” Pederson says.
4. Do you handle stressful, unpleasant situations well?
While no job is stress free, nursing can provide some challenging moments. Crawley notes that nurses must be able to handle stress and conflict. “We see people at their worst,” Crawley says. “Nurses take the brunt of the patient's frustration, anger and sometimes violence. It is not a pleasant experience, but with our training, we learn how to handle these situations.”
Russ suggests that prospective nurses shadow those in the field to answer any questions about what they can handle on the job. “Can I clean up puke without gagging?” Russ asks. “Can I hold a straight face with a patient who has done something inappropriate? Can I handle anger or aggression?”
There are many rewards to being able to weather hard moments as a nurse. “People love that
nursing lets you get to know your patients on an intimate level while helping them through some of the best and worst times of their lives,” Crawley explains. “You know your presence, your touch and your time spent teaching them are making an impact and a difference.”
5. Will this field provide the career opportunities you need?
Nursing is a field full of opportunity, with steady work to be found in a variety of settings. Nurses are needed most everywhere in the world, in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities and even on-the-go as traveling nurses.
“Nurses are versatile and can move anywhere and find a job,” Pederson says. “You can work in entirely different areas or departments and have completely different roles.”
“Being a nurse is a rewarding and respectable career that has financial benefits,” adds Crawley. “Most nursing jobs come with great benefits and pay.”
There are many options for starting a nursing career. Those looking to enter the field quickly might consider pursuing a diploma in Practical Nursing, which prepares you to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). Others may choose to pursue an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in order to fulfill the education requirements of becoming a registered nurse.
Lawton, who has been a nurse for nearly forty years, finds her chosen field to be limitless in terms of possibility. “There are so many different types of nursing and levels of practice—you should never be bored,” Lawton says. “Even if you stay with the same hospital. I have had many roles in my career and have enjoyed them all. I have done ICU, nursing education, administration, cardiac surgery and transplant coordination, cardiac cath lab, electrophysiology—the nerd in me loved it—and finally, structural heart coordination.”
The variety in the field is also what Crawley loves about her work. “You can be a bedside nurse, a home health nurse, a research nurse or a nurse in the fast-growing technology departments. The possibilities seem endless.”
So is nursing right for you?
Working in the nursing field can be simultaneously taxing and incredibly rewarding. As a nurse, you’d have the opportunity to earn a living while helping people in your community deal with what can be some of the most challenging times of their lives. Does that sound like the right challenge for you? Learn more about the steps you’d need to take to make it happen by reading our article “How to Become an RN Fast: 3 Potential Paths to Pursue.”