Deciding to become a nurse and enter the worlds of nursing, medicine, and healthcare is a courageous act. If you want to be a nurse, doing your due diligence and truly understanding what healthcare and nursing are all about is definitely a smart preliminary strategy. Once you learn more, this momentous career decision may set you on the road to becoming a highly valued nursing professional.
Note: this post contains excerpts from an original post on my blog.
The Allure of Nursing
Why does (or did) nursing draw you in? What is it about the notion of being a nurse capture your imagination?
When I speak with nurses or those who want to become nurses, I often hear some aspect of the following:
“I want to help people.”
“I saw a nurse care for my family member and I was totally inspired to do that too.”
“I want to contribute to society.”
“My mother/sister/aunt was a nurse, and I want to follow in their footsteps.”
“I need a career and it seems like there’s always a need for nurses.”
If I hear someone say that they want to help people, I try to guide them to dig a little deeper into their motivations — you can help people doing so many different types of work, and I want to make sure that the individual is being realistic about the rigors and challenges of nursing.
The (Harsh) Reality of Nursing
There are many challenges to being a nurse. Here are some of the most common ones I’ve identified. If you’re already a nurse, do you agree?
Staffing: Some of the realities of 21st-century nursing have to do with understaffing, high nurse-patient ratios, mandatory overtime, and not being able to provide the care we really want to provide. This is a common refrain from nurses, especially in hospital settings.
Bullying and aberrant behavior: Bullying (also known as lateral violence) and aberrant behavior are scourges on the nursing profession. There are plenty of theories about why bullying is so rampant in the profession: it could be internalized patriarchal oppression, chronic nurse low self-esteem, or any number of other factors. No matter, it’s a reality and some nurses will need to deal with this head on. Luckily, there are resources like Dr. Renee Thompson, the foremost expert on nurse bullying. It’s sad, but if you want to become a nurse, you’re likely to experience or witness bullying in the course of your career, and you’ll have to decide what to do about it.
Burnout and compassion fatigue: Due to the above-mentioned staffing issues, high ratios, bullying, and other vicissitudes, burnout and compassion fatigue are all too common in nurses. This can lead to poor self-care and compromised mental, physical, or spiritual health.
Maintaining boundaries: When we get close to patients and their families, maintaining our professional demeanor and boundaries can be hard. I’ve made some errors in judgment a few times in this regard in terms of leaning in and offering too much, but I have no regrets.
The Joys of Nursing
Many nurses would agree that the challenges of the profession are far outweighed by the joys of nursing. Hands-on care can be very satisfying, especially if you’re a person who loves to work directly with people. Then again, there are plenty forms of nursing that don’t involve patient care, including consulting, teaching, and research.
One of the major joys of nursing for me is the fact that the profession offers so much variety. If you’re a person who gets bored easily, changing specialties and trying novel things can be inspiring, fun, and intellectually stimulating. Nurses can work in critical care, med-surg, telemetry, labor and delivery, and other clinical specialties, but they can also work behind the scenes in IT/informatics and a plethora of other non-clinical areas of focus.
In my opinion, nurses also need to be polymaths. Some nurses are generalists with fairly good knowledge of many things, and some are quite narrow in their knowledge through intensive specialization. I personally love the notion of the polymath nurse, a person who knows a fair amount about many things and who moves through the world with intellectual curiosity. This is a true joy of nursing for me.
I can’t sugarcoat it: nursing is not necessarily an easy career path, and some nurses find they’re miserable and burned out. On the flip side, many nurses love their work and their career choice, and they’re fully committed to nursing being central to their life’s mission and vision.
For whatever reasons you choose nursing, know that any profession or career will have its challenges, of course. The operative question here is whether you feel that the importance and allure of becoming a nurse outweigh the negative aspects of this career path.
Do your due diligence, talk to those in the know, shadow a nurse at work, and gather as much information as you can before making this key life decision. Nursing certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely a hand-in-glove fit for some of us who try it on for size. Follow both your right-brain and heart we well as your left brain and intellect — hopefully you’ll find a satisfactory and inspiring solution.
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In case you didn’t already know, Nurse Keith is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, keynote and motivational speaker, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses.
From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.
Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram—as well as at NurseKeith.com.