RNs Share the Pros and Cons of Being a Nurse
You have a deep interest in healthcare and a desire to do hands-on work that truly helps people. Becoming an RN seems like a good choice, but before you take the leap, you need to be sure that it’s the right fit for you.
One tried-and-true evaluation method is to simply weigh a list of pros and cons. This puts everything to consider out in the open for you to make an informed decision. Of course, it helps to first have a list of potential pros and cons to start your evaluation
To help with this, we asked professional nurses to weigh in with what they think are some of the biggest pros and cons of being a nurse. Keep reading for more nursing insight.
Is nursing right for me? The pros and cons of nursing
There probably wouldn’t be millions of nurses in the United States if there weren’t some attractive benefits to this career. That being said, even jobs that sound like they come straight from a dream—professional chocolate taster, anyone?—have their downsides.
This list of pros and cons will help you decide if the potential benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks:
Pro: People trust nurses
It might not come as a surprise, but people generally trust nurses. In fact, nursing has been rated the top profession for ethics and honesty for 19 straight years, according to a 2020 Gallup® poll.1 Nursing has long been a well-respected career, and that’s something nurses should be proud of.
Beyond that pride, trust makes a huge difference in the day-to-day work.
“I believe the biggest, lesser-known benefit of being an RN is the trust I’m given, even by complete strangers, because I’m a nurse,” says Catherine Burger, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC and brand specialist for RegisteredNursing.org. When Burger meets people and they ask what she does, she often experiences that trust.
“Their entire affect and behavior changes towards me when they find out I’m a RN,” Burger explains. “They soften, they open up and even overshare—they trust me. It’s a charge that I strive to measure up to with each new encounter.”
Con: Dealing with bodily fluids
Even if you don’t mind seeing blood or smelling some of the other unpleasant things nurses deal with, it’s still not pleasant when said fluids come into contact with your body, according to Lisa Lund, RN.
Body fluid exposures can come in the form of needle-stick injuries or splashes of body fluids on the eyes, nose or mouth. These exposures do pose a risk, but a series of cleansing and testing is set in motion to reduce any potential harm. The good news is that most exposures are preventable through safety and precautionary equipment.
Pro: Getting ready for the workday is simple
Do you hate picking out clothes to wear in the morning? As a nurse, you get to avoid that frustration and learn to love the scrubs.
“I like wearing scrubs every shift; they are comfortable,” says Sally Titus, RN in the ICU at Methodist Hospital. “We work with a lot of bodily fluids, and if we get covered, they are pretty washable—otherwise, they go in the trash!”
Comfortable workwear that you don’t have to think about is a nice perk for anyone who bristles at the thought of wearing stuffy office attire to work every day.
Pro: Many different specialties available
There are a ton of nursing specializations and career paths to choose from. Whether you’re interested in cardiac, critical care, nephrology or neonatal, there are plenty of options for nurses to explore. This means plenty of new challenges and earning potential as you pursue in-demand specializations.
Con: Potential for 12-hour shifts
It’s no secret that the shift schedules for nurses can be taxing. While not every healthcare facility subscribes to a 12-hour shift schedule, it is still pretty common. Going nonstop for those 12 hours, with limited time for a lunch break or a pit stop to the restroom is hard and strenuous work. However, some love the 12-hour nursing shift because …
Pro: Potential for condensed work weeks
The 12-hour shift schedule is a prime example of give and take. When you think about it, working 12 hours for three days or even 10-hour shifts for four days means you’re not working the typical five-day workweek. Lund cites having more days off to be home as a big plus as it allows you the ability to travel more often during your long weekends and spend time with your family.
Pro: Variety in your daily work
For most jobs, you have a pretty good idea of how your day is going to go when you walk in the door. That’s not always the case in nursing.
“Every day or night is different,” Lund says.
The day of a nurse depends on the personalities and ailments of their patients. Both factors can vary wildly. One day, you might be making rounds on patients and checking in on them while another day, you could be dealing with an emergency situation, helping a healthy patient check out or comforting a grieving family.
Con: Being underappreciated by some
Not all patients will outwardly appreciate your hard work and dedication to their health. Many are dealing with stressful personal situations, and that can lead to some unpleasant patient interactions as they lash out. Dealing with difficult patients—and their families—is a fact of life in nursing.
Pro: Being appreciated
Though not everyone you interact with as a nurse is appreciative and friendly, remember that many people trust and appreciate nurses.
“You can make someone’s day,” says Lund. She says she finds satisfaction when patients do take the time to acknowledge her work and express their gratitude. You’re a unique part of each patient’s health and wellness, and when the patient knows and appreciates that, what could be a better reward?
Lund says nursing can be a high-stress career. The job requires constant attention to detail, serving others and sometimes hustling for hours without much downtime. For some, a little stress can be a motivator, making the workdays go by fast and full of purpose. For others, this stress can be debilitating and trickle over into other areas of life.
“In the ICU, I have a lot of challenging shifts, and I work my tail off to get my patients better,” Titus says. “After my shift ends, it takes me a while to decompress.”
It’s up to you to determine if some on-the-job stress is something that will keep you trucking along or if it will leave you feeling drained at the end of the day. If you’re a little wary of the stress associated with nursing, you might want to look into some of the less-stressful nursing job options out there.
Pro: Compensation and job outlook
The market for registered nurses looks to be in good shape. The 2020 annual median salary for registered nurses was $75,330, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).2 That figure compares favorably to the BLS’ reported $41,950 median annual wage for all workers.2 Additionally, nurses are in demand. The BLS projects that about 175,900 registered nursing jobs will open each year from 2019 through 2029.2
Con: Witnessing loss
While not common in all nursing roles, dealing with loss and mortality can be a regular occurrence that comes with a heavy load to process—even during good times. “The last year has been the most difficult year I’ve experienced in my 13-year career as a nurse,” Titus says, explaining that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a real toll on nurses.
“I sat next to my patients, holding their hand while they took their last breath. Their loved ones couldn’t be with them because they had COVID-19. This has happened several times in the last year.”
Titus says being the one who holds a patient through their last hours is an honor, but it’s also heartache. “I really feel for the family that can’t be with them. It’s hard to not beat yourself up when things go wrong because we want to save everyone and make them better.”
“As a nurse, we all have hard days,” Burger says. “I’m still haunted by some hard days while working in labor and delivery and ICU.” Burger says she’s experienced far more good days than bad overall, “but the bad days leave footprints on your soul.”
Pro: Changing the way we do things
Nurses fill so many roles in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities and pretty much every other type of healthcare institution. Some of those positions involve innovation and shaping policy. “My favorite days at work are when I am able to add value to those around me,” Burger says.
Whether that day was working as an infection control nurse, creating policies and processes to improve outcomes, or spending a day with her nurse leader mastermind group, she is most satisfied when she believes she has made a real difference.
Pro: Helping to save lives
“If you’re able to catch a change in patient condition, [you] essentially save their life,” says Lund.
What could be more rewarding then saving lives? The care and attention nurses give their patients allow them to be up close and aware of any changes that might be life-threatening for their patients. This is particularly true for nurses working in specialties with patients who are dealing with and recovering from serious trauma or illness.
“My favorite days of work always include my patients improving or taking baby steps in the right direction,” Titus says. In the ICU, she says the best days are when unresponsive patients all of a sudden wake up and respond to instruction. “It makes me so happy and fills my heart to see my patients improving and taking steps to move out of the ICU,” Titus says. “I love being able to call my patient’s family and inform them that their loved one is improving and has their breathing tube out.”
As a nurse, you can confidently say the work you do benefits the world—and that’s something people truly value.
Consider your future
Now that you have a nice start on your list of pros and cons of being a nurse, you should be feeling good about whether this career is truly for you. Choosing to pursue a nursing career is a big decision—it’s important to do your homework before diving in.
For more insider information on what the life of a nurse is really like, check out our article “What I Wish Someone Told Me BEFORE Becoming a Registered Nurse.”
1Lydia Saad, “U.S. Ethics Ratings Rise for Medical Workers and Teachers” Gallup December 22, 2020. [accessed June 2021] https://news.gallup.com/poll/328136/ethics-ratings-rise-medical-workers-teachers.aspx
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed June, 2021] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
Gallup is a registered trademark of Gallup, Inc.