The Truth About Nursing: What Experts Want You to Know
You’ve always wanted to be a nurse. It’s an rewarding profession that will allow you to help others while also supporting your family. You’ve probably heard about the growing demand for nurses, how your parenting skills transfer over to the job and the overall positive outlook for the healthcare industry.
Everyone’s talking, but what they’re not telling you is the real truth about nursing. The truth is that there are certain aspects of the job that aren’t publicized. But you shouldn’t have to wait until you become a nurse to learn these things. Instead, we polled the pros to get the scoop on what to expect from a nursing career.
Before you venture into a new career, see what those who’ve gone before you have to say about what nursing is really like. Here are some of the hot topics our panel of pros want you to know about:
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“Not all nurses ‘eat our young.’ Find the ones who find joy in helping new nurses succeed,” says Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, CMSRN and CEO of RTConnections. She says bullies tend to target new nurses who look nervous. If you stand tall, smile and look people in the eye, you’ll be more likely to avoid those scenarios
On the tough days…
We’re used to seeing images of cheerful nurses helpful happy patients, but the reality is that you’re going to encounter some really difficult days. Sherry Reu, RN, EMT, recalls her first two months on the job when she had eight patients pass away during her shifts.
“I remember driving home one night in tears after a difficult shift thinking, ‘I didn’t sign up for this,’” she says. She adds that the job is not only emotionally demanding and draining, but it also takes a physical toll on your body. Even so, she declares there’s no job she’d rather do. “I love taking care of people and making a difference!”
On your secret powers…
“No one ever tells you that you are powerful, that you really matter,” says Jerome Stone, RN. “You're an extraordinary being and that you can change healthcare!”
Even though nurses aren’t given a lot of authority, Stone says you’ll hold the most responsibility in how your patients will fare. It’s a powerful and rewarding position to hold. However, he adds that you might also end up taking the blame when things go wrong, even if it’s not really your fault. It’s important to know this up front and not take things personally.
“No one ever tells nurses that even though the work environment can be incredibly stressful, you have the means to change how you respond to that stress simply by how you react to it,” Stone says. He adds that there will be times when you have to choose which patient will get most of your care while others will see very little of you. Every nursing position is going to be hectic; it’s the nature of the job.
“I was very shocked at how incredibly busy a school nurse is,” says Anne Kolsky, RN. She explains that she usually doesn’t even get a lunch break because that’s the busiest time of the day. “It can be exhausting. I feel like I’m taking a live NCLEX exam daily!”
On work politics…
“Any job – even nursing – can be very clique-y,” says Jen Fox, RN. Every healthcare facility has its own nuances, but she explains that there can be a lot of work politics you’ll have to navigate. It helps to be aware of it from the start.
“No one ever tells nurses that sometimes, no matter what you do or how hard you try, your patient will not accept the care that you are offering them,” says Stone. As difficult as it is to deal with, it’s just a reality, and Stone urges you to understand that it’s okay.
On taking care of yourself…
“It’s OK, even necessary, to not only care for your patients, but to care for yourself,” says Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN. The stress of the job is straining, but nursing burnout can be avoided if you are proactive in taking care of yourself.
“Guess what? It isn’t selfish! In fact, I believe it’s selfless to take care of yourself so you can effectively take care of others,” Scala says.
On helping others…
Most people pursue nursing because they have a passion for helping people. But over time, it can be very easy to let that passion dissolve, according to Barbara Karnes, RN.
“I got into nursing because I wanted to help people. What I found was it is more about procedures and technology. You do things that cause pain as often as lessen pain,” she says. She urges aspiring nurses to stay true to your caring nature and remember to always treat the patients, not just the ailments.
On the difference you can make…
Speaking of focusing on the patients, Stone stresses the importance of just taking the initiative to be present and interested in your patients. You know nurses are busy, but even taking just a moment to sit with your patient and ask him or her about their day can make a world of difference to them.
“It’s not the amount of time that you spend with your patients; it’s the quality of time,” Stone says. “Being totally present, even if only for a minute or two, can brighten their entire day!”
Now you know
Nursing, like any industry, has its share of surprises. No matter how much you prepare yourself through nursing school, the truth about nursing is that you will never really know what will come your way during any given shift!
Still think you have what it takes to be a nurse? Check out our article, What I Wish Someone Told Me BEFORE Becoming a Registered Nurse, to get even more scoop from seasoned nurses!