I knew from an early age that I wanted to be in the medical field. Later that shifted to nursing. Most of my information I obtained about what a nurse was or did was from observation in hospitals while visiting family, or TV/movies. Now that I am a nurse, I know TV/Movie nursing is a joke! It is nothing like this! And you really don’t get to see the behind the scenes of nursing when your on the family side! If I knew then, what I know now, I don’t think I would have changed my mind on my career choice, but I would have been better equipped to understand what was expected of me. So if I were talking to the pre-nursing me, what are the 10 things I wish I would have known going in. I hope this helps some future nurses or even current ones. It took me awhile to figure some of these out and I am still learning! Nursing is a career, where learning should never stop!
10) It is okay to cry!
I’m not sure how this got into my head, but I felt it was not okay for me to cry, when I was overwhelmed, or emotional about a client. I felt like I had to be the strong one in the families time of need. It wasn’t until I got my associates degree, that a nursing instructor I had, who used to work trauma, told us she cried with families all the time! We are human! Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t cold with families experiencing heart ache. Matter of fact their were hugs, and I was a great listener, and most of the time even if they were not my clients I was sought to provide comfort. I just didn’t think it was appropriate for me to cry. I felt like it would add to their grief. So I held it in, and it balled up inside me until it couldn’t anymore. So now I cry, a lot ha! I have cried on the way home after a long shift. I have cried praying for a client I am taking care of. I have cried with family when their loved one passed away. I think I might have cried in an elevator. Never once has someone told me I am a weak, or a cry baby, at least to my face, Ha! So moral of the story, your going to feel all sorts of emotions as a nurse, as a new nurse or experienced. We are human! Sometimes we like to think we are super heroes, or can handle everything, but we need to allow ourselves to feel! Or else you end up like me crying over spilled milk! Ha!
9) You are going to make mistakes!
This was a hard lesson to learn. I think as nurses, or at least me, can tend to be perfectionist. So when a mistake is made, it is hard not to be triple hard on yourself. I have heard it said before that all nurses make at least one mistake, and they are either lying, or don’t realize they did! My first mistake was giving someone the wrong medication! It was actually someone else’s medication! Thank God it was a afternoon dose of medication, and it was mostly vitamins. The thought of what could have happened still stays with me! It was an older lady and she was not verbal. Her husband was with her. Later I found out he was either hard of hearing, or not cognitively there, or both. So I was a new nurse, and instead of asking them to tell me their name, I said “so this is Jane Doe?” and the husband said “Yes”. So I gave her the medicine. It wasn’t until I left the room and returned to my cart, that I realized I had the wrong client. I quickly glanced at what I gave her, and the supervisor called the doctor. He was in the building, and he looked over the medications, and said she would be fine. We monitored her per protocol, and she was fine. The doctor used it as a teaching moment, and was stern, but made me realize what I did wrong, and how to fix it. He did it in a way that was supportive. I am so thankful that it turned out okay. I never EVER get in a hurry anymore, and say someone’s name and have them verify. They tell me their name and information, and then I verify!
8) Burnout can happen, take care of yourself!
Of course this would be on the list! Burnout can happen, but you can bounce back from it! Like anything in life you can make something good out of it, or you can let it defeat you. I used my experience with burnout to try a new area in nursing, blogging, and start creating again! So if burnout happens to you, it is not the end all be all! Listen to everyone when they say take care of yourself! It is so important. We cannot care for others if we are in horrible shape, mentally or physically!
7) 12 hour shifts are not easy!
Yes, the 12 hour shift. Please, more like 14-15 hour shifts! Between travel, report, charting, and emergencies, it is really more than 12 hours! Sometime your off days are spent just recouping from the previous shift. Having more days off a week is nice, but it does come with a price. They are hard on the body and sometimes you feel your away from home more! I am always in a love/hate relationship with these longer shifts. There are times I miss the days of my 8 hours and done. Then I remember I get 3-4 days off a week!
6) The aches and pain, oh my!
Speaking of 12…15 hours shifts, your body will ache! I have limped from the car to my front door. I travel about 45 min to work everyday. There has been times I did not eat, take a break, or verily use the bathroom. So when I sit in my car I finally slow down. Then when I get out, all the pain of the day sinks in! I have had plantar faciitis in both feet, at the same time! Usually runners get this, I am no runner! The strain and work put on my feet from work caused it. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! It took almost a year to be completely healed! Also, take care of your back. Sometimes it is not that one patient lift that hurts your back. It can be years of improper bending and lifting that finally takes it toll! You have the time, remember your back! And take care of yourself! (recurrent theme anyone)
5) A social life is hard!
This was the hardest pill to swallow with nursing for me. As nurses you work holidays, weekends, nights, days, both! This means you will miss weddings, birthdays, reunions, and everything else in between. It can be really hard for friends and family to understand your schedule. Especially if your on night shift. I have worked both shifts and for me night shift has been the worse at adjusting and trying to spend time with family and friends! Also, don’t forget there can be times you will not go home. I have had to stay the night during a snow storm to care for the clients the next day. Or cover a partial shift because of short staffing.
4) Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
I wish I would have really paid attention to this more early on! Not only is it a must, because it helps jump start your metabolism. It might be the only real meal you get that day! If your night shift that could mean dinner. I have, on way to many occasions, went to the vending machine, and ate so unhealthy because I wasn’t prepared. I have also survived the day on peanut butter and saltines! Goes back to take care of yourself!
3) You will experience death and it never gets easier.
As health care providers, we really get into the mode of caring, curing, and saving. The reality is sometimes there is just nothing we can do, and there will be death. This was hard for me at first, and is still not easy! I wish someone would have told me just how up close and personal you get with death. I remember holding a mans hand that was my age, and his mother was at his side. It was known he was going to pass away, but that doesn’t make it any easier. His mother watched as he passed and so did I. I was comforting her, but also just witnessed this myself. I was glad I was with her because I got to answer a lot of her questions as things were happening. Also, this was not my patient, I just so happened to be called into this room by another nurse because they sensed that the client was declining. We all cried! I know this was an expected death, but it doesn’t make it easier!
2) Hope you have a good memory!
Doctors are lucky in a sense, because they can specialize! Go up to a neurologist and ask him about someones intestines, or anything other than their brain, and they will say go talk to the other doctor, I don’t know! Or care depending on who you talk to, Ha! They will also probably look at you like you have two heads! Because it is his/her job to know about a particular area only! With nursing these many specialties will come up to you, and expect you to know what is going on with their client in each area! The cheat sheet is a must. If I had just a nickle for every-time I was stopped in the hall way and asked questions like, “what was John Does blood results” Or “What medication are they taking for this or that” I would be rich! I get it! They are seeing multiple patients and more stuff is being thrown on them also. That is where a good brain sheet comes in handy. My memory is decent, but there are times I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. So in the morning prior to my shift, I spend time getting the details that I feel I might need to know, or a doctor might ask me!
1) You absolutely have to be passionate about nursing!
I once heard that if your hiring for a job you should try and talk them out of it first. If they still want it, then it is the job for them! So many times we spend time on the great things of nursing. Nursing is an awesome job that has completely changed my life for the better! As nurses, professionals, educators, I feel we should spend some more time on the negatives. If only so you understand exactly what your signing up for and it doesn’t take you years to understand! I am very passionate about nursing, if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be in it!
I hope you enjoyed, or learned a little more about the nursing profession. There is no way we can learn it all! Nursing is a lifetime experience! I just think sometimes we do a disservice by not also highlighting some of the potential negatives. What could be a negative to one person, could be positive to others! I think if someone would have sit me down interview style, and tried to talk me out of becoming a nurse, and laid out some of these, I would have still took the jump! Most will, if there is a passion! Money can only take you so far. The feeling of caring for people when their not at their best, or the rare thank yous that you will receive, are priceless! Oh, and when someone tells you your a good nurse, it will make your heart get the feels! Best feeling!