When people are first thinking about what they might like to do as a career, nursing is an extremely popular choice. How many small children have said, “When I grow up, I want to be a nurse?” While some of those children may eventually settle for a job that is less demanding, or more suited to their adult interests and skills, many do indeed go on to a long and fulfilling career in the nursing sector.
The reasons for choosing nursing as an early career choice are obvious. Nurses help people and it is a rewarding, fulfilling profession that is universally admired. Saying that you want to be a nurse earns you the respect of your peers and elders, and no-one will argue that it isn’t a worthwhile ambition. But before you embark on your training and education, there are several factors you should seriously consider.
From the outside, nursing may project a certain glamor. The starched white uniform, the air of competence and authority, and the impression of being a trusted confidant and caregiver, all create the aura of someone to be admired. It is true that good nurses have an unshakable sense of purpose and vocation which others might envy. However, the reality of their day-to-day routine is often far from glamorous.
It is important to shake off any unrealistic or romantic expectations about nursing before you begin working towards a nursing career. This doesn’t mean that nursing isn’t hugely rewarding in any number of ways: in fact, nurses demonstrate one of the highest levels of job satisfaction of any profession. But knowing what nursing really entails will help you decide if it is really the best career choice for you.
Training and education
One of the first factors you should consider is that qualifying as a nurse can be a long and intensive process. This in turn can make it expensive, although there are several great ways to offset this. In some cases, once you start work as a nurse, your employer may reimburse the cost of your training.
It’s worth looking around to discover which nursing education path is right for you. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than nursing, then considering the question of what is an ASBN may prove helpful. Taking an accelerated degree course could enable you to qualify in as little as 16 months, leaving you ready to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) upon graduation – a compulsory requirement for anyone going into nursing.
A popular choice
Nursing is one of the fastest growing professions, both in Canada and worldwide. Despite this, there is an ongoing nursing shortage, with demand for trained and qualified nursing professionals still outweighing supply. This means that most nursing students have no trouble finding a placement after graduating and can start their career immediately.
Pay and hours
Although salaries will vary according to experience, qualifications, location, and the type of nursing role you are filling, nursing is a well-paid career. Many people are also attracted by the flexible hours, which typically involve three 12-hour shifts a week, although other shift patterns are available and may be required.
Besides salary, nurses can expect generous employment benefits. These might typically include full sick pay and vacation pay, paid family leave, health insurance, tuition and student loan reimbursement, dependent care reimbursement, retirement benefits, subsidized travel, childcare, wellness programs, and bonuses for working extra shifts.
Nursing is a 24-hour job, so your 12-hour shifts could be in the day or night. The reason longer shifts are favored in nursing is to ensure continuity of care. The longer a patient is attended to by the same individual, the more personalized their treatment will be. There is also less risk of mistakes being made, or information not being passed on, when the nurse hands over to their colleague if this handover occurs less frequently.
One of the benefits of working longer shifts is that you may have a longer block of time off. A 36-hour working week can potentially be done in just three days. If this isn’t for you, then shorter shifts may also be available. In some roles, you may be on call for 24 hours, but the amount of time you actually must work over that period will vary.
In nursing, no two days are the same. You need to think on your feet and react quickly to changing circumstances. In addition, your responsibilities will vary depending on what type of nurse you are. The variety of tasks, and the opportunity to work in a wide range of different settings, means that nursing is never boring. You will find that you are constantly on the go, with new challenges to meet throughout your shift.
You will need to enjoy helping people and learning new things, all the time. Nursing is both emotionally rewarding and emotionally exhausting, not to mention physically draining. As well as thinking on your feet, you will find that you are literally on your feet most of the time, and your job role may involve lifting patients and other strenuous tasks.
Being extremely observant and paying close attention is a requirement for any kind of nurse. Although in many cases you will be working under a doctor, you may have to personally administer medication, make diagnostic assessments, compile chart notes, and report to the attending physician.
Sometimes a patient or their family may be happier confiding in a nurse than in a doctor. In all cases, you need to pay close attention to what a patient is telling you, and what they are not telling you as well. As you spend more time with a patient, you may notice details that a doctor missed. A good nurse will have an eye for details and nonverbal cues as well as a grasp of the broader picture.
Consider your future
Because there are so many options within nursing, it is easy to get lost when thinking about what path you want to follow. For this reason, it helps to have a clear idea of where you want to end up before you start out. At the same time, it’s sensible to remain open to other possibilities and try out different roles to learn new skills.
For instance, even if you had never considered working as a midwife, you may find that you have a natural aptitude for the role and enjoy it. Having a route map for your career while being prepared for the eventuality that you will change direction entirely partway through, may be a difficult balancing act to maintain but it is one that is worth attempting.
Nursing offers huge opportunities for professional growth, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of these as fully as possible.
Look after yourself
As a nurse, you can become accustomed to putting other people first and thinking only of the mental and physical health of your patients. But it is important to look after yourself as well. Physical, mental, and emotional burnout is a very real occupational hazard in nursing, but it can be avoided by practicing constant self-care.
At a basic level, this means being mindful of what your body is telling you and knowing when it is time to slow down or take a break. There is no shame in stopping before you crash. A nurse who can pause, take stock, and recover will do a better job than one who makes mistakes because they are over-tired or get seriously ill through overwork and must take more time off.
Dealing with stress and trauma
Having a solid personal support network plus ways to unwind and leave your job behind are all essential. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep will also help to keep you on the ball. For mental stress, anything from meditation to seeing a therapist can be useful in processing the stress and potential trauma that can come with the job.
It’s inevitable that sometimes you will get attached to your patients. In some cases, you will see these patients suffer and die, despite your best efforts. This is one of the hardest parts of being a nurse, but it is also inevitable. While seeing a patient recover thanks to your work is hugely satisfying, doing your best for someone who will not recover is also a great privilege and an important part of nursing work.
As a nurse, you will need excellent time management skills. Working to a strict schedule while also being flexible in an emergency is an essential part of the job. Punctuality can be a life and death matter in a hospital situation, while being able to juggle shifts with admin responsibilities and a home life comes with the territory.
This is especially important if you hope to work as a nurse administrator, as this role may involve managing timetables for an entire nursing department. But in any case, it will be up to you to make sure that you can complete all your required tasks in the time available, which will often require multi-tasking and a high level of concentration and focus.
Another vital skill any potential nurse needs to develop is critical thinking. Although you will have superiors to report to, in many cases you will be required to rely upon your own judgement. You will need the ability to distinguish between different situations that may seem superficially similar, and to be focused on attaining positive results.
Sometimes, you will make mistakes. Being able to learn from these, make good as best you can, and move on is more useful and realistic than holding yourself to impossibly high standards. Follow correct procedure and best practice while making judgement calls when necessary. The more experience you have, the better you will get at doing this, but you should never become complacent or lazy in your decision-making.
Before committing yourself to a career in nursing you should know exactly what you are getting into. This means doing thorough research into what the profession requires. Do you know exactly what a nurse does, and what different types of nursing careers are available? A clear understanding is essential for making informed decisions as you go forward.
A nurse can be described as a licensed healthcare professional who provides a range of different services in a variety of different settings. Although nurses are mostly found in hospitals as part of a large body of nursing staff, working under and alongside doctors and surgeons, they can also be employed in many other institutions.
Locations and specialisms
Some of the settings you might find employment as a nurse include community or private medical facilities and clinics, schools, universities, prisons, rehabilitation centers, senior care centers, hospices, military bases, and insurance offices. You might also be employed in a patient’s home, providing direct one-on-one care for them in a full or part-time capacity.
While many nurses practice general nursing, many others specialize in certain areas or in the care of specific groups of individuals, from the elderly to children, military veterans to those struggling with substance or alcohol abuse. You might also specialize in specific illnesses or chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
A competitive field
While most newly qualified nurses have no trouble finding a placement, it must be acknowledged that nursing is a highly competitive field. This is despite the fact that there is an urgent nursing shortage, caused in part by our aging population.
Many hospitals have a limited quota of new nurses that they can accept each year, and every institution needs to balance staffing requirements with their often-overstretched budget. Some areas may have greater capacity to take on new nurses than others. You might have to travel or relocate to another part of the country to find work.
Competition is even fiercer if you have you heart set on a particular specialism. You might have to be flexible at first and either go in as a general nurse or become qualified in whichever specialism there is a demand for. The more qualified you are, and the more roles you can potentially fulfil, the better your chances of employment will be.
You may get the chance to work in a hospital outside of your local area, or even in another part of the world. Nurses can be sent temporarily to other hospitals where they are needed under what is known as a travel contract. These typically last for 13 weeks and are well-paid. If you like the idea of working in different environments and visiting new places, keep an eye out for these opportunities.
Although the tasks you will be expected to perform vary depending on where you are employed and the field you specialize in, there are still some general responsibilities that any nurse should be prepared for. These include conducting physical examinations, dressing wounds, administering laboratory tests and medication, and coordinating care with your fellow professionals.
Written and oral communication skills are also vitally important, as you will need to take down patients’ medical case histories and keep both patients and their families updated on their treatment and progress. You will need to identify issues and convey these to doctors, patients, and family members, while earning their trust.
Nurses are expected to be compassionate, empathetic, and good listeners. You will often act as a patient advocate to doctors and surgeons, while also preparing patients for surgery or other courses of treatment, mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
Believe in yourself
If, at this point, the duties you will be expected to carry out as a nurse seem daunting, don’t worry! If you are dedicated and work hard then by the time you must meet these challenges, you will be ready for them. This is what training and education is for. Experience counts for a lot, so don’t underestimate yourself. Eventually you will be able to take all of this in your stride.
Nursing is a vocation
Perhaps the most important factor to consider when you are thinking about a career in nursing is that nursing is a vocation. Most successful working nurses will tell you that nursing chose them rather than the other way around.
Ultimately, you will know deep down in your heart if nursing is the right choice for you. If you have the calling, then you will not be deterred by the long hours, the high-pressure environment, or the hard work required. Similarly, a generous salary, though welcome, will not be your main motivation.
Of course, it is still important to find out as much as you can about the reality of nursing before you embark upon your career. But nurses are born, rather than made. Compassion, empathy, a desire to help people, and an interest in wellbeing and medical science all contribute to making you one of a rare breed, a true nurse just waiting to be trained and given their first placing.