We all know that nursing isn’t easy. From the bedside to the operating table, nurses are some of the most trusted professionals in healthcare—by a patient’s side during both the gut-wrenching and the joyous moments. In one day, a nurse can see dozens of patients, experience death and birth, and be charged with making life-changing decisions in seconds. In case you’re wondering about the harsh reality of being a nurse, here are the things we wish you knew before you become any type of nurse.
1. Your schedule sounds great on paper, but it’s way more work than it looks like
People swear nurses have the best schedule ever. For most nurses in hospitals, it’s advertised as just three days a week for 12 hours. But when you factor in the time it takes for you to report on your patients to the oncoming nurse and vice versa (not to mention your commute), your day looks a lot more like 15 hours — and it starts before the sun comes up. Oh, and three days a week? Hilarious! Be prepared to regularly receive calls at 5 a.m. begging you to come in on your “day off” because the team is short-staffed. And you’ll go in because you were begging people yesterday for the same.
2. Being a nurse is not only medical care
Being a nurse is like being a patient advocate, a waitress, housekeeper, electrician, technology expert, a mediator between families and doctors and families, and families. You will be shocked by how many times a day someone asks you what channel NBC is or to reheat their food while you get them the Wi-Fi password. And if you thought illness brings families together, think again: we’ve seen everything from siblings who haven’t spoken in years fighting over their mother’s treatment to divorced parents that need assigned visiting hours because they can’t be at the hospital at the same time.
3. If you don’t have a good memory, you better come up with a system to help you remember everything
On top of memorizing your patients’ names and room numbers, you also have to be aware of their medications, lab results, and vital signs. Since doctors can check on their patients anytime, make sure you are prepared. If you know you can’t rely on your memory all the time, you should have a good system that can help you remember this data. You can list them down on a piece of paper that you can quickly pull out before answering their calls or paging them.
4. Practice as many skills as possible
When you get on the floor, you won’t have the time to practice your nursing skills as much as you think. Sure, you may get to put in an IV here and there, but that’s not going to make you an expert. If you want expertise, you need to work on muscle memory. This means that you have to do the skill over and over so that your brain knows the steps even when you don’t. Don’t just focus on IVs, either. You’ll want to work on catheters, NG tubes, drug calculations, assessment skills, and anything else they teach you in school. Practice as much as you can because it will make you a better nurse.
5. Time management is the most important skill you’ll learn
Although all of the skills you learned in nursing school will help you in time, none will be more important than time management. You have a specific set of tasks that you need to get done before the end of the shift. Logic says to make a schedule and follow it. Unfortunately, nursing doesn’t move in a linear way. You may be going through your schedule and get distracted from it many times. This means that you have less time to do the routine tasks on your schedule. Yet you cannot avoid being interrupted. This is the essence of time management. Learn how to manage this phenomenon early, and you will have a much easier time transitioning.
6. You need to know how to have a good laugh
Nurses are not known for having the best sense of humor. As a matter of fact, they can often look odd for having fun at almost anything. With everything you have to get through each shift, you need to have a good coping mechanism. Isn’t having a good laugh a good way to de-stress
7. Mistakes happen but your first mistake is the worst, and they never get easier
You will never forget them and never make them again. If the mistake you made doesn’t have immediate ramifications, you’ll constantly worry about it until you’re positive everything is OK with the patient. Medication errors are the hardest mistakes to cope with. You 100 percent will cry (just when you are alone, in a closet where no one can see you).
8. Nursing school will never prepare you for your first or 20th or last death
You will wish someone told you what to say to the mother who’s showing you videos of their dying child before she got sick. You also wish someone told you what it was like for the 80-year-old man to tell you he’s ready to go because he’s lived a long full life. Each death affects you in a different way.
9. Nurse abuse happens
Nurse against nurses is very common. Nurses tolerate levels of abuse that would never be acceptable in any other professional setting. You will be cussed at a few times, in just about every colorful way you could imagine, for just doing your job. Even worse, violence against nurses is prevalent (especially emergency room nurses), and it usually isn’t even routinely tracked.
10. You’ll be on the phone even more than you were when you were a teenager
We wish someone told you how much time you will spend on the phone with other departments in the hospital to get things accomplished. Pharmacy, laboratory, central supply, respiratory, social work, nutrition, case management: plan to call them each day multiple times. Start practicing your nice phone voice now, because impatience will get you nowhere.
Watch the following video to know more on things you wish you knew before becoming a nurse
11. Your body will hurt and will age quickly
Nurses work long hours. Walking around, turning patients, and standing for the entire shift are only some of the things you have to prepare yourself for when you become a nurse. Nursing is not for the weak. You have to learn proper body mechanics and basic stretching routines if you want to save yourself from the handful of body aches you’ll get after every shift
12. You will get calls, texts, pictures, and emails from all your friends and family asking you for medical advice
People will always want to tell you a story about their health like you don’t see this all day, every single day. It can get annoying, but you love these people, so you will try to find the answers. If you get a text like this at work, get the entire team of nurses evaluating your problem.
13. You’ll feel underpaid, but nursing is one career that does offer extra opportunities for more money
We should be paid more money for our base work, as we monitor our patients more closely than anyone else. And while unfortunately, you don’t have a ton of control over your base salary, nursing is one career where you can always make extra cash by picking up more shifts at night, on the weekend or overtime.
14. You may not always work five days a week, but you’ll still miss out on a lot of your social life
No matter how many times you explain your schedule to your friends and family, they still won’t understand why you have to work on weekends and holidays. Some relationships can break up due to the stress of nursing. Your mood may be affected, and this will translate to your family. Some nurses may not be able to see their kids as much as they want. The solution? Time management, just like you use on the floor, can help you manage your family time, too.
15. Your co-workers will truly feel like family
You will grow closer to the people you work with faster than any other friend or significant other you’ve met; you love them and you hate them, just like “real” family. You now celebrate holidays with them. They understand your stress and love of work more than anyone else in your life.
16. Eat breakfast on your commute, because it may be the only meal you get to eat all-day
Some days you walk in and you may not leave just one patient’s room for three or four hours depending on how sick he or she is. We highly recommend learning how to eat lunch in two minutes.
17. Make sure this is really what you want to do
Nursing is a very thankless, underappreciated job. You do this every day for yourself alone, so your heart has to be in it. You will have the biggest love-hate relationship with your career; while people in many industries feel this way, lives literally depend on you. There are days you leave work and you cry your whole ride home after the death of a patient you grew close with, but there are also days you walk out tall and proud of your job because you helped save someone’s life. So on your hardest, most frustrating days, try to remember the good ones, because those make you the best nurse.
Finally, your reaction to situations will make or break your nursing career. You can choose to throw in the towel or you can handle it. Nursing will test your limits sometimes but you have the power to run it or let it run you.
“Nurses dispense comfort, compassion, and caring without even a prescription.”- Val Saintsbury