Before you pursue a nursing career, figure out if it’s ACTUALLY a good fit for you. Here is a list of the 8 things you might want to know before starting a career in nursing.
And if you are just finishing up nursing school or are changing careers to nursing, please download our free resume writing guide for nurses. Our guide includes a deep dive into resume writing and cover letter writing, as well as a job interview guide. We also offer a wide variety of professional nurse resume templates that are easy-to-use in Word, Apple Pages, or Google Docs.
Let’s get into the 8 things I wish someone told me about a nursing career.
Life as a Nursing Student is HARD
Nursing school is a precursor to what you can expect as a new nurse. If you look at a day in the life of a student nurse, you will find a rigorous academic schedule and demanding clinical rotation schedule. And if you’ve seen any student nurse memes, you get it.
A nursing education will challenge any black and white thinking you may have. Also, if you graduated with a hard science degree like biology or chemistry, nursing is very different!
Nursing school will challenge the way you problem solve and the way you study. And you will most likely have to adjust your study habits for nursing because there is so much information.
Most likely, you will find yourself pouring over Mosby’s Drug Guide for Nursing Students…for hours, wondering if any of it is actually sinking in.
But there is a lot of nursing knowledge beyond textbooks, slides, lectures, and videos.
During clinicals, you put into action all the knowledge you gained during lectures. And before you worry too much, most nursing programs offer a simulation lab to allow future nurses to practices skills in a non-risk environment before touching real patients.
Clinicals are organized by your nursing program. Your clinical instructor acts as a liaison between the hospital and your nursing school. This is the person who will oversee your clinicals, but you won’t be shadowing your clinical instructor. Instead, you will shadow staff nurses assigned to you.
You will learn everything from hand hygiene practices to how to insert an IV.
In the beginning, you will probably not be much help to the nursing staff, however after a while, you will be. In fact, by the end of your program you may have responsibility for a small patient load. This makes some ask, ‘Do nursing students get paid for clinicals?’ The short answer is no.
We suggest you make a little nursing student prayer before you embark on your nursing journey. It’ll help you get through the days when you feel like you haven’t learned a thing!
National Student Nursing Association
If you need extra help or guidance during nursing school, you can join your states’ National Student Nursing Association. It is a nonprofit organization founded in 1952 in the United States to mentor nursing students preparing for initial licensure as a Registered Nurse and promote professional development.
Some of the biggest NSNA chapters include the California Student Nurses Association, the Kansas Association of Nursing Students, and Michigan Student Nurses Association.
Not Everyone is Cut Out for a Nursing Career
Before you even think about applying for nursing school, realize that not everyone is cut out for nursing. And that is okay!
According to Angela Marie Goudman, MN, RN, she says this about who isn’t cut out to be a nurse:
” I teach nursing and I occasionally see a student who I can just tell isn’t cut out to be a nurse. Here are a few things I look for:
- Reluctance to be involved in lab. You won’t learn if you aren’t willing to actually DO it.
- Constant reliance on “the plan”. It’s good to have a plan. But you need to be able to recognize when the plan might need to be changed.
- Difficulty with talking to people. Yes, you DO have to talk to strangers. Yes, you DO have to ask THOSE kinds of questions.
- Need to have their instructor verifying their actions constantly. There are times when you absolutely do need your instructor. But they don’t need to monitor every single thing you do.
Basically, you get a vibe. Nursing means that you have to ask embarrassing questions, you have to be comfortable touching people’s bodies and occasionally causing some discomfort, and you have to use your critical thinking skills. If a student isn’t prepared to do that, nursing may not be for them. “
From Goudman’s experience, a prospective nurse needs to be involved, adapt to new situations, be social, and think critically. If you’re missing any of these elements, you might have a difficult time as a nursing student or new nurse.
However, before you give up on your nursing ambitions, know that there are so many nursing specialties. So even if speciality doesn’t suit you, perhaps another will! More on this below.
There Are SO Many Nursing Careers
If you’re ready to throw in the towel for your nursing dreams – don’t! There are over 100 different nurse specialties.
In addition, there are many different degrees you can receive for a career in nursing. Here is a quick guide to them:
|Here are the types of nursing degrees available:|
– Nursing diplomas » Community colleges and vocational schools
– Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) » Community colleges
– Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) » Available at colleges and universities
– Master of Science in Nursing (BSN) » Colleges and universities
– Doctoral degrees (DNP, ND, PhD, DNSc) » Colleges and universities
For example, if you’d like to become a nursing assistant, you would need a post-secondary certificate or diploma which takes anywhere from 4-12 weeks. This is a great way to quickly join the nursing field without having to commit to nursing school.
Alternatively, if you are definitely interested in nursing and would like to provide more comprehensive care to patients, perhaps being a nurse practitioner is for you! To become a nurse practitioner, you will need a Master’s degree (2 years) and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) will be required by 2025 (4–12 weeks), after you’ve received your Bachelors degree.
Also, if you think that all nursing careers require you to be at your patients’ bedside, watch this video!
Nursing Specialties You May Not Have Known About
In addition to the different levels of nurses, there are also many nursing specialties available. Here are some nursing specialties you may not know about: have considered:
- Burn care nurse – Burn care nurses treat patients who have burn injuries from chemical, electrical and fire accidents. Burn care nurses are also highly skilled in pain management.
- Myelomeningocele nursing care – These nurses work with infants who are born with the birth defect known as Spina bifida. In spina bifida with myelomeningocele, there is a protrusion of the spinal cord and the meninges, with nerve roots embedded in the wall of the cyst. These nurses are very specialized.
- Travel wound care nurse – These travel nurses work specifically in wound care. Often times they work in emergency rooms and critical care wards.
- Long term care travel nurse – These travel nurses develop long-term care plans for patients with progressive and chronic conditions. Long term care travel nurses also provide educational and emotional support for patients and family members.
Horizontal Bullying in Nursing is Real
You don’t have to go further than searching nurse bullying on Reddit (or work as a new nurse) to learn that horizontal bullying in nursing fields is prevalent. In fact, bullying in healthcare is 3x higher than all other professions. And it’s not just nurse to nurse bullying. There are also instances of nursing instructors bullying students and charge nurses bullying their staff nurses.
New nurses can also experience quite a bit of bullying. For example, of the newly licensed nurses (nurses licensed for under three years) 72.6% report being bullied recently.
What is Horizontal Bullying
According to Relias, “Horizontal violence, or also known as lateral violence or workplace bullying, is described as non-physical, hostile, aggressive and harmful behavior toward a co-worker or group via attitudes, actions, words and/or behaviors”
Horizontal bullying in nursing is characterized by:
- Making belittling or sarcastic comments
- Publicly humiliating the victim
- Isolating a colleague from a group
- Ignoring or avoiding
- Patronizing or condescending language
- Undermining personal values and beliefs
- Behaving passive aggressively
- Harassing and intimidating
In this Ted Talk by Kathleen Bartholomew, she tells her experience of bullying as a nurse and how it is indicative of larger systemic issues.
There are many institutions and groups that address nurse to nurse bullying to promote nurse retention. Here are some resources if you or someone you know is experience bullying in their nursing job:
National Institutes of Health
The Physical and Emotional Demands of Nursing
Nursing is one of the most demanding career paths – both physically and emotionally. This is a really important point to make because not everyone can cope with the very real demands of nursing.
The Physical Strains of Nursing
According to this article by the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, nurses experience a high level or workplace injury due to several factors including:
- Ergonomic workplace exposures including:
- Lifting patients
- Standing and walking for extended periods of time
- Long work hours
- Sleep disruptions
Before you start your nursing career, it’s important that you focus on these four things to ensure a healthy body:
- Proper Nutrition – With long shifts, it may be difficult to find the time to eat properly to nourish your body. Pro-tip – Plan your meals ahead of time, meal prep and opt for healthy foods.
- Good Sleep – Your long work schedule may prevent you from getting good sleep, which is essential to your physical and mental health. Pro-tip: This one is really tough, but try to sleep to a consistent sleep schedule.
- Strong Muscles – You may be on your feet for long periods of time, lifting patients and putting your body into awkward positions. Pro-tip: Make time to go to the gym and work on core strength.
- Proper Hydration – With a laundry list of tasks you must finish by the end of your shift, it may be difficult to remember to stay hydrated. Pro-tip: Use an app to track your water intake or a timer to remind you to drink.
Learn more about the physical demands of working in a hospital in this article by UC San Francisco and the Berkeley Ergonomics Program.
The Emotional Strain of Nurses
Burnout is a phenomenon that is getting a lot more visibility these days with the stresses on healthcare staff due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, burnout in the nursing and healthcare field is not new. If you are new in your nursing career, here are the top 3 nurse burnout symptoms to watch for:
- Emotional exhaustion – This is a chronic state of physical and emotional depletion resulting from continuous stress. It can be described as feeling psychologically and emotionally ‘drained.’
- Depersonalization – This is what happens when we become so emotionally exhausted, that we become numb to emotion to protect ourselves.
- Lack of personal accomplishment – This is the the tendency to negatively evaluate the worth of one’s work. It is often accompanied by feeling insufficient having low professional self-esteem. The is frequently found in ICU settings where nurses often experience death and trauma.
And burnout isn’t limited to er nurses or critical care nurses. There is burnout in psychiatric nursing and nursing school burnout.
Again, nursing career burnout is not new, but is exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here are some coping methods to curb the nurse burnout:
Check out this Ted Talk about nursing burnout that aired before the pandemic:
Nursing Career Salaries Vary (Wildly)
As we have learned in this article, a career in nursing is not a monolith. Thus, nursing salaries also vary depending on your education. Depending on what nurse specialty you enter or whether you opt for more schooling to become a nurse practitioner.
Nurse salaries also vary depending on where you work in the country. For example the registered nurse salary in Oregon is $96,230, whereas the registered nurses salary in Indiana is $67,490.
Here’s another stark example of nursing salary differences across states: South Dakota has the lowest wage per hour for nurses at $28.63—which is nearly half what they make in California.
Here are the main factors to consider when you are exploring nursing salaries:
- Level of education
- State you are licensed in
- Your specialty
- The demand for nurses in your area
Highest Paying Nursing Jobs
According to Provo University, here are the top 5 highest paid nursing positions. As you can see, most of the require the additional education to become a nurse practitioner
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist – $181,000
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner – $125,000
- Cardiac Nurse Practitioner – $114,000
- Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner – $113,000
- Oncology Nurse Practitioner – $113,000
Before you start a career in nursing, it is important to first figure out your salary requirements. Then, you can decide the nursing education you need and determine which state you prefer to work in.
Nursing Career is Constantly Changing
Whether you are making a career change from business to nursing or from making a teacher to nurse career change, nursing has experienced a huge change in the last 100 years. For example, in the early 19th century, the path to nursing was generally dependent on your gender (female) and your willingness to be a nurse. At this time, most nurses learned from their mothers and other nurses.
Historians widely accept Florence Nightingale as the founder of modern nursing with her work during the Crimean War in the 1850s. Nightingale and her team of nurses transformed the public’s perception of female nurses, vastly improved hospital hygiene, and reduced the death rate in Crimean military hospitals by two-thirds. Her work in nursing set the stage for modern nursing as we know it. She changed hospital protocols and in the 1870s, formal nursing schools emerged in the United States.
Fast forward to today and we have standardized nursing education. Technology has also vastly improved patient care and there is a plethora of various nursing specialties. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a need for telehealth services and more nurses.
Now, let’s look to the future. By 2028, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives to increase by 26%. That is nearly six times the average for all occupations.
A Nursing Career is SO Rewarding
So now that we’ve written an article mainly focused on why being a nurse sucks (we’re joking!), let’s look at reasons why you will love being a nurse.
Many of the nurses we’ve interviewed report loving their jobs because of the following reasons:
- Everyday is different
- Always room for career growth
- Ability to work with a team
- Serving patients with care
When we ask nurses ‘Why are you proud to be a nurse?’ overwhelmingly we hear the nurses feel that they are making differences in the lives of patients.
And this is so true! Everyday, you will be working with people at their most vulnerable. You will truly be a lifeline to a healthier life and will save lives everyday. Not every professional can say that! By pursing a nursing career, you will be making a valuable difference in the lives of individuals and families. And there is no price There is no price w
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article about the 8 things we wish we knew before starting a nursing career.
If you are an ambitious nursing professional who is looking to learn more about advancing your career, then please download our free writing guide for medical professionals. We also offer a wide variety of professional nurse resume templates that are easy-to-use in Word, Apple Pages, or Google Docs.