Top 10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Nursing

Top 10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Nursing

I bet when you decided to become a nurse (or if you are thinking about becoming one), you imagined the big things, like saving lives.

Maybe you were a trauma junkie from the start. All Greys Anatomy or Chicago Fire. You were ready to shock the patient with paddles and perform CPR with the best of them.

You may have thought about the tiny humans and bringing them into the world, shiny, new, and joyfully giving that infant to mom to hold for the first time.

In reality, nursing is messy and raw. Those beautiful moments are there, but there are a ton of not so pretty moments in between. Here are 10 things I wish someone had told me before I became a nurse:

  1. How hungry you will be. Like literally all the time. If you work nights, you eat to try to stay awake; if you work days, you spend the whole day trying to get to lunch only to be interrupted 4 minutes into your halfway nuked left-overs. Let’s not talk about the hospital cafeteria…
  2. How emotionally draining the first year is. Did you know that the highest turnover rate for nurses is in the first two years of their careers? Over 18% of nurses will quit after the first year, and even more new nurses will leave in their second year. The first year is spent learning how to care for patients AND balance required tasks, often juggling life and death situations. It does get more manageable, and the nurses who make it past two years are usually happy with their decision. Still, too many nurses give up before they get good at it.
  3. How your dream job may not be what you thought it was. We see this in nurses all the time who are dead set on their dream unit, only to find that the ER on TV is a totally different ball game than the one in your backyard. Or they find that the OB unit isn’t all warm and fuzzies and rocking babies. Many nurses start in one place only to truly find joy in a different department. If you aren’t happy, do your time and then keep searching.
  4. How families can be the hardest part. Drama llama alert: the sweetest patient sometimes has the worst family members. You care for your patients, you want them to get better, but the daughter in room 5 is positive you aren’t doing your job. The sooner you learn how to make family members see how much you are doing for grandma, the easier those extra snarky encounters become.
  5. How much time you will spend searching for something. The roll of tape, 5B’s meds, the pen you just had a second ago. Half your steps are from getting stuff, moving stuff, and losing stuff.
  6. How little information people around you know about nursing or, frankly, general health. You will become the resident expert. You will also start to have little patience for keyboard warriors or google MDs.
  7. How long and physically challenging the shifts are. Sure, you knew it would be 12 hours, but it’s really 12 and a half. Sometimes 14. That drive time adds up too. Working 3 in a row? You’ll spend more time at the Hosptial than you will in your bed. Standing on your feet all day is enough to make it challenging. Add patient lifting, turning, and moving, and it can quite literally break you if you aren’t careful.
  8. How many options there are. Yes, we need bedside nurses, but we also need quality nurses, infection prevention nurses, care coordinators, stroke/STEMI/trauma coordinators, nurse educators, managers, and nurse informaticists. The possibilities are endless, but you may not always have someone there to tell you all the options. If you need a change of pace, do some research first!
  9. How the patients you care for will stick with you. You will remember the ones you cried for, the ones you were glad to see leave. You will remember your mistakes and your triumphs. Some of them will haunt your dreams, and some of them will be your greatest achievements.
  10. How overwhelmingly wonderful it is to help people. Sure, it’s exhausting, but there is something so much more significant about being a nurse. There are days you will float through the challenging shifts because you know in your heart this is where you are meant to be. On the other hand, there are days it will be a little harder to recognize that you landed in the right place. At some point, you will pause for a moment and realize how many lives you touched and how grateful you are to have an opportunity to help your patients and their family members.

Was it worth it? We think so!

What do you wish you had known about nursing before you started? Would you have changed your mind or jumped in sooner?

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Author

Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?

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