There are so many things I wish I knew before I became a nurse.
I remember when I first decided to go to nursing school. I was 31-years-old and struggling with the idea that I had spent nine years working in a career that I didn’t like.
In my former career life, I was a medical device salesperson. I had spent nearly a decade selling medical equipment to hospital operating rooms, traveling up and down the west coast, schmoozing with doctors and hospital purchasing managers so they would buy my stuff.
But even though my heart wasn’t passionate about my professional at the time, I was excited about working hard and performing well. So, each year, I met my professional goals and advanced in the profession. Which, in turn, also made it harder for me to leave.
But then one day, it hit me. I wanted to be an actual medical professional. I remember thinking how bored I was sitting on the sidelines as a device rep, watching procedures, and thinking, “this is SO lame, please shoot me!”
So (a few mental breakdowns later) I finally did it.
I signed up for the seven prerequisite science classes that I needed to take before I was even able to apply to nursing school (as a prior journalism major, I hadn’t taken very many science classes at that point).
I took my classes in the evenings after work. And I started studying to take the TEAS. It all took me about a year to complete, and in 2010 I started my journey to become a nurse.
The road has been arduous at times, but I am so glad I went to nursing school when I did. Yet it would have been nice to have a little more insight into what I was getting myself into. Here are eight things I wish I knew before becoming a nurse.
Eight things I wish I knew before becoming a nurse:
#1. Nursing school is crazy hard (and expensive)
Not only will you have daily classes, labs, weekly exams, and intense competition from classmates, but you will also be working hospital shifts as a student nurse. Many nursing programs also advise against outside work during the program because they warm that you won’t be able to keep up with the work. And in California (like many other states), hospitals will no longer hire nurses who don’t have a BSN. As a result, many nurses are graduating from nursing school with 50-100K or more in student loan debt.
#2. You will probably have to work night shifts, at least in the beginning
Nurses are needed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Since many nurses don’t want all night until 7:30 am, seniority is often the deciding factor when it comes to assigning nurses to the day shifts. Some hospital units even have a rule that new nurses must work night shifts for at least the first few years of being there. You will want to invest in a great set of blackout shades, at least one pair of blue blocker sunglasses, and a box of earplugs (so the guy mowing his lawn at 11 am doesn’t wake you up).
#3. Working three days a week as a nurse isn’t as easy as it sounds.
I remember thinking how awesome it would be only to have to work three days a week. I mean, come on, it’s only three days! But that also means that the days you do work are incredibly long. Nursing shifts at the hospital are usually 12 hours long. But they are more like 14-16 hours once you factor in oncoming nurse reports, overtime due to short-staffing, and your commute to and from work.
#4. You will be afraid that you might kill someone.
This one is a real fear because, for example, if a nurse makes a medication error or forgets to check vitals or a patient’s neuro status per order, then you accidentally could kill someone. But as you grow more tenured in your career, you develop a sixth sense for things that might go wrong, and you figure out how to triple check your work in the most time-crunched circumstances. And you learn how to assess your patients quickly enough that if there are any vital sign or neuro status changes, that you can get the help you need before things go downhill.
#5. You will learn to balance more information then you have ever had to before
There is no such thing as multitasking because our brains can’t focus on more than one thing at the same time. But nurses developed the uncanny ability to juggle multiple ongoing tasks for numerous patients for up to 12 hours a day – such as medical orders, patient requests, vital signs, medications, allergies to medicines, lab values, care plans, etc. We forget to eat and pee all day, but we remember the essential medical information we need to know for our patients. Being a nurse stretches your brain further than you ever thought it could go.
#6. Nurse abuse happens
Nurse against nurses is very common. Nurses tolerate levels of abuse that would NEVER be acceptable in any other professional setting. I have been cussed at a few times, in just about every colorful way you could imagine, for just doing my job.
Even worse, violence against nurses is prevalent (especially emergency room nurses), and it usually isn’t even routinely tracked. I have been lucky not to find myself the victim of direct physical violence as a nurse as of yet. Many nurses have not been so not fortunate.
#7. Your whole body will hurt at the end of your shifts
There is alarming evidence now that even proper lifting techniques expose nurses’ spines to dangerous forces.
If that’s not bad enough, chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced-based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%.
You may not be able to escape some of the wear and tear from being a nurse at the bedside. However, you can pick up healthy habits outside of the hospital like yoga, running, or weightlifting to help recuperate on your days off.
#8. You will find that there are multiple types of job opportunities away from the bedside
One thing that I Iove about being a nurse is that there are so many job opportunities away from the bedside. So even if you decide that beside nursing isn’t for you anymore, there are other nurse occupations to look into. Here are a few examples:
- aesthetics nursing
- legal nurse consultant
- nurse blogger/freelance writer
- medical/pharmaceutical sales professional
- nurse coach
- nurse recruiter
Additional recommended reading:
- Why I Quit My Corporate Sales Career To Become A Nurse
- Nurse Money: How To Pay Off Nursing School Loans Fast
- Pros and Cons Of 12 Hour Shifts
- Is Nursing A Good Career For Moms?