What is it Like to Be a Nurse? The Truth Revealed


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Have you got what it takes to become a nurse?

Undeniably rewarding but also challenging, tiring, and demanding, the role of a registered nurse is most definitely not for everyone.

Often thought of as a vocation rather than a career choice, if you want to know what it’s really like to be a nurse, then the below blog will uncover it all.

The good, the bad, and the ugly!

What is it Like to Be a Nurse? The Truth Revealed

From the physical and mental stamina needed to fulfill this rigorous role to finding the right work/life balance, keep reading to find out everything you need to know before deciding to become a nurse.

Working independently

Even if you are a recently qualified registered nurse (RN), you will still be expected to work independently and make your own decisions. While you may expect your superior to tell you what to do, especially in the early days, this is simply not the case in most busy healthcare settings.

Instead, you need to be able to use your critical thinking skills to make choices for yourself and be willing to take responsibility for these choices.

Whether you are assessing a patient or implementing a care plan, a high level of autonomy will be expected.

If you are worried that your critical thinking skills are not up to scratch, there are several ways that you can improve your abilities in these crucial soft skills, including:

  • Be an active listener
  • Carefully analyze the information
  • Always ask questions
  • Be self-aware

Securing shifts

Nurses are known for their irregular shift patterns, with long hours, evening and weekend working all expected as part and parcel of the job. However, depending on where you choose to practice, this is not always the case.

Healthcare organizations are now a lot more committed to helping their nurses achieve a good work/life balance, and many will help you to find the right shifts to fit into your lifestyle.

Typically, hospitals have the longest and least flexible shift patterns, with private practices, schools, and long-term care facilities all providing more family-friendly working hours.

As with most things in life, it is a question of if you don’t ask, you won’t get, so if you want to work certain hours, let your supervisor know as soon as possible, and they should do their best to accommodate your needs.

Competitive market

Although there is a known shortage of nurses and other healthcare professionals in the United States, finding a residency program at a hospital can be a challenge. Most only offer a few places, and these are highly sought after.

That being said, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find employment once you are qualified. In fact, the employment rate for RNs is expected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030. Furthermore, there will be an estimated 194,500 openings for registered nurses each year, many of which will result from the need to replace nurses who have retired or moved on to different occupations.

If you can’t secure a position in a hospital, there are plenty of other healthcare facilities that will be crying out for qualified and enthusiastic nurses, such as care homes, correctional facilities, rehabilitation centers, and schools.

Dealing with trauma

Of course, you expect to see worse things as a nurse, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be affected by the sheer amount of pain and suffering that you will see on a daily basis.

Even if you are not squeamish when it comes to blood and other bodily fluids, most people still struggle with seeing others in pain, and this can take its toll on even the strongest person.

However, that doesn’t mean you should give up your dream of becoming a nurse and helping people in need. It just means that you need to be prepared for dealing with trauma and have the right coping strategies in place to help you deal with the mental pressure of working as a nurse.

There are several positive coping techniques that you can adopt, as well as several negative ones that you should avoid:

  • Make sure that you get enough sleep
  • Do not turn to alcohol or drugs to cope
  • Stay active
  • Focus on doing things that you enjoy
  • Talk to someone such as a colleague or friend

Click here to learn more about coping with life as a nurse and how to practice self-care.

Career progression

When it comes to advancing in your career as a nurse, you need to be proactive. As most healthcare professionals are run off their feet each day, it is highly unlikely that your supervisor or your boss will take the time to push you about your career.

Therefore, if you move up the ranks in nursing, you are going to need to do it yourself.

The majority of advanced nursing careers, such as nurse practitioners, nurse educators, and nurse administrators, require an advanced degree. This means that if you want to obtain one of these lucrative and prestigious positions, you are going to have to go back to school.

Fortunately, if you are worried about juggling your studies and your current role, then you will be pleased to know that there are many accredited online universities that offer a more flexible way of learning.

Whether you want to gain a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctorate in Nursing, you can find full and part-time online degree programs to fit your schedule. Plus, you can expect to pay lower tuition fees when you study online, and you don’t have to worry about the cost of commuting, housing, or childcare.

Looking after yourself

As a nurse, you become used to putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, sometimes to the detriment of your own wellbeing. However, this is not sustainable and can lead to a whole host of physical and mental health issues. It can also prevent you from doing your job properly.

Therefore, you need to make sure that you are taking the time to look after yourself and maintain your overall wellbeing; otherwise, you are highly likely to experience burnout.

There are many self-care habits that you can adopt as a nurse, including:

  • Physical exercise
  • Meditation/breathing exercises
  • Hobbies
  • Taking a mental health day
  • Spending time with friends
  • Aromatherapy/music therapy
  • Eating healthily
  • Getting sufficient sleep

While it can be all too easy to become a martyr and always put your patients’ needs above your own, by taking the time to keep yourself well, you will be able to provide better care and enjoy your job more.

Unlimited potential

If you think that all nurses wear scrubs and work on the front line, then you couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that nurses work in a wide range of rewarding roles in many different settings.

There are highly patient-focused roles that put you right in the thick of all the action. There are behind-the-scenes roles that focus on policies and reform. And then, there are educational roles that involve shaping the next generation of nurses. Basically, there are nursing roles to suit all types of healthcare professionals.

In terms of where you can work, again, there are multiple healthcare settings to choose from depending on the type of working environment you thrive in and the type of people that you want to work with.

For example, if you don’t mind working very long shifts and you thrive in a hectic environment, then you may be suited to working in a hospital. Or, if you want to work with the elderly, you could look for a position in a care home.

Other healthcare facilities where you could work include:

  • Physician’s office
  • Schools
  • Military hospitals
  • Private practices
  • In-home healthcare settings
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Correctional facilities

Ultimately, if you choose to become a registered nurse, you can expect a diverse and rewarding career where you will never be bored.

Unionized and non-unionized hospitals

If you want to work in a hospital once you have qualified, you need to be aware that there are both unionized and non-unionized hospitals in the United States.

While some healthcare professionals prefer the support and protection that you get from working in a unionized hospital, others prefer the flexibility of a non-unionized one.

Being part of a union means that you will be provided with guidance and support if ever you find yourself receiving disciplinary action. A union will also negotiate your work contract and ensure you get good benefits raises and that the patient-to-staff ratio is fair.

On the other hand, if you choose to work for a non-unionized hospital, you have to take more responsibility for your own working conditions. Some people prefer this level of autonomy, while others favor being part of a group.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing between a unionized and non-unionized hospital; you simply need to find out what type of environment works best for you.

Be thick-skinned

Being a nurse is not for the easily offended, and if you think that you will receive an outpouring of gratitude each day, then sadly, you are mistaken. In fact, you may find that you receive very little thanks for all your hard work.

You will also be required to work in highly stressful situations so having a thick skin is a must. Very few patients want to be in hospital, and it can be all too easy to take their frustrations out on the person who is closest to them at the time, which, more often than not, will be the nurses caring for them.

Although it can be difficult not to take things personally, if you want to succeed as a nurse, you need to develop a thick skin and be able to understand that people are reacting to their circumstances rather than something you have done.

While it can take time to master the art of bedside care, you want to try and address any worries your patients have and simultaneously keep up their spirits, as well as carry out your nursing duties such as checking charts and carrying out assessments.

Time management

If you think you don’t have time as a student, just wait until you are actually working as a nurse, and then you will really see what a lack of time means.

As a nurse, you may envision yourself sitting down with your patients and listening to their life stories, getting to know each one individually, and providing them with bespoke care and support. Sadly, this is not the reality for most registered nurses.

Instead, you are more likely to find yourself rushing from one bed to the next, trying desperately to get the job done.

Therefore, it is essential that you develop exceptional time management skills before you start practicing, as otherwise, you will struggle to keep your cool and do your job to the best of your ability.

It doesn’t matter if you work in a busy hospital, a care home, or a school; as a nurse, you will need to be able to manage your time effectively, as well as realize that you cannot do everything that you want to do.

Are you ready to become a nurse?

Although the above may be difficult to digest, it is important to know what it will be like as a working nurse before you commit to a degree program or start to apply for jobs.

That being said, it is important to know that it is not all doom and gloom working as a registered nurse. In fact, there are so many positives in choosing this noble profession, including good rates of pay, great benefits such as health insurance, dental insurance, and paid holiday, high levels of job satisfaction, optimistic job outlook, and the ability to advance in your career.

So, are you ready to become a registered nurse?

Only you can answer that question but, if you have got to the end of this article and you are still wanting to train as a nurse, then you have probably got what it takes.


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