5 Things to Know Before Becoming a Nurse

Nursing is an excellent career path today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a registered nurse makes an average of $70,000 per year, whether you’re working in a nursing home, a hospital, or a physician’s office. This means you can make a very comfortable living through helping other people.

Most importantly, the job outlook is very impressive. There are nearly 3 million nursing jobs in the United States, and it’s not enough to keep up with the demand. The need for nurses is expected to grow at a rate of 15 percent, which is much faster than the national average for other careers.

Now is your opportunity to enter a burgeoning healthcare field that’s in need of your willing expertise. However, before you get your degree, there are a few things you’ll want to know first.

You’ll have to memorize a lot of facts

From memorizing facts about colon cancer to learning each bone and muscle in your body, you’ll spend hours and hours committing information to memory. Are you up to the challenge?

Research from Boston University says that some people are predisposed to have a better memory than others. BU professor Howard Eichenbaum, who specializes in the hippocampus of the brain, says that a person’s good memory has to do with the way they use their brain.

“There seems to be this extreme organizational capacity, kind of like the tricks that mnemonists use,” Eichenbaum says. “But the brain is doing it subversively under the radar so to speak. This process must interact with the hippocampus, which is taking these autobiographical memories and helping to sort things out the way that mnemonists sort out a long list of words.”

If you’re the kind of person who is great at memorizing facts, this is the perfect educational path for you. If you’re not, but you’re still interested in becoming a nurse, consider working on improving your memory before getting started. You’ll be grateful you did.

Get used to long hours before and after you earn your degree

Whether you’re working towards an associate’s degree in nursing or beyond, expect to put in long hours as you study for exams and the NCLEX. You’ll probably spend more hours in the library studying than other students, and that’s just something you’ll have to get used to.

You can also expect long hours at work, particularly if you work in a 24/7 care facility or a hospital. Many nurses work 12 hour shifts, sometimes more. That aforementioned shortage of nurses doesn’t help. A primary reason behind the shortage is the aging baby boomers — not only does this decrease the number of nurses in healthcare because so many are retiring, but it also increases the number of people in need of nursing care.

All of this creates a perfect storm of a workload for you. Mark Bielawski, APRN and President of the Connecticut Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Society, says that finding a purpose is the key to staying sane during all of this.

“Find a purpose. Money, hours, and benefits are important, but if you are not passionate about your position it will be harder to handle the stress and daily grind, leading to burnout,” Bielawski told Nurse.org. “Seek a balance between financial compensation and personal satisfaction.”

Amidst the exams or the long shifts, you’ll also be grateful for a coffee subscription that sends your favorite coffee to your door every month, so you can stay awake and alert during these long hours.

Nursing can become political

Nursing is not always just putting on bandages, giving shots, and keeping your patients’ spirits up. You want the patient to come first in every situation, and usually they will. However, the politics of the job will rear its ugly head from time to time.

Several studies examined the way that certain policies, whether put in place by insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, national organ registries, or the hospital administrators themselves, can get in the way of patient care. You still have to follow these rules, even when it goes against your instinct to help a patient.

For example, if it’s determined that a patient awaiting a liver transplant had one drink of champagne at his daughter’s wedding, that patient will have to be put at the bottom of the list. It doesn’t matter how deserving you believe that patient is — you have to follow the rules, and that can sometimes be hard.

Other times, you’ll be called on to do things outside of your realm as a medical professional. For example, you might help with a personal injury case. You may be contacted by an auto accident lawyer in Mobile, AL to give a deposition on a patient you treated. A doctor will likely attest to the injuries sustained in this case, but since you spent more time with the patient, you may be called on to report the pain and suffering you witnessed.

This may be an uncomfortable experience for you, but just remember that it’s all about helping the patient. Someone who is seriously injured at the hands of someone else shouldn’t have to go through that pain and suffering without proper compensation, after all.

You don’t have to treat the gruesome injuries if you don’t want to

We’ve all seen movies or television shows where bleeding patients are rushed into the emergency room, inches from death. These dramatic scenes are popular on shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy. That’s not to say that this isn’t accurate, because emergency room nurses do see their fair share of gruesome injuries. However, you don’t have to deal with it if you don’t want to.

As a nurse, you can choose where you want to practice. If you can’t handle blood and guts, you can always work in a nursing home or a family practice where the treatment you administer on a daily basis is for minor incidents. You’ll be checking vitals, giving flu shots, removing stitches, and assisting with minor procedures.

It’s one of the most satisfying careers there is

Yes, getting your degree in nursing will be challenging. No, it will not always be easy to treat patients. Yes, you will work long hours and be exhausted at the end of the day. But the vast majority of nurses say that it’s one of the most fulfilling careers they’ve ever worked in, making it all worthwhile, according to research published in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing.

“You learn new things every day, and the opportunity for growth is almost unlimited,” shared Veena Baksh, a New York nurse and study participant. “I feel so good inside when I see improvement in my patients and also when giving emotional support by holding the hands of family members who have just experienced tragedy. Actually, it gives me inner peace that I was able to help somebody.”

The altruistic nature of the work can’t help but make you feel good about yourself as you administer caring concern to someone in need. If you’re naturally a compassionate person who loves the adrenaline of helping others, nursing is the perfect career for you.