I have been a nurse for just over 9 years now. Yeah, I can’t even believe it myself. I’m what you would call “seasoned” in the nursing world. I’ve seen a lot, and done a lot, and pretty much nothing phases me at this point. I’ve tried to get out of nursing in the past. In fact I have my massage therapy license and do that on the side. I’ve taken a few breaks from nursing but always, somehow, end up going back. There are so many things I love about nursing, especially the idea of it. The idea of being at the bedside with your patients and giving amazing care because you have all the time to do so. But that’s not the reality of nursing. The reality of nursing is that you will work long hard hours, with very little, if any, breaks. You probably won’t sit down for most of your shift. You will not be appreciated most of the time. In fact, management will treat you like dirt most of the time. I have had a few excellent managers, but for the most part it’s always the same. You will do mostly everything right, and give excellent care to your patients. But the one time you do something wrong (like mislabeling something) you will know about immediately, and then get in-serviced on it. On every floor or department I’ve worked on, the theme is the same– do more with less, faster, and don’t complain about it. Then there are the patients. I’ve met some amazing people, and have heard some amazing stories. In general I like working with people, but for the most part it can be very draining. You get the ones who are just miserable to be there and are not satisfied with anything you do. Or the ones who are just downright mean. I try to be nice to everyone no matter how mean they are to me, and it usually changes their attitude. Although sometimes it doesn’t, and I just have to do my job and move on. You will go home exhausted, and it will be hard to do anything productive, even on your days off. It kind of consumes your life. I really try not to let it, but it’s tough because nursing isn’t just what you do, it has a way of becomming who you are.
I became a nurse because I like to help people and because I love all things health related. I love all the knowledge I’ve gained during and after school, from 9 years of hands on experience. I think it’s sad that nursing doesn’t seem to be about helping people so much anymore. It’s a lot of charting, and multitasking, and clerical things. Nurses are somehow responsible for what it now seems like, everything else besides patient care. Like making sure all the other consulting services are doing their jobs, making a million phone calls, taking a million phone calls, refilling the coffee machine, finding usable equipment on the floor, making sure the clean equipment is put in the proper ‘clean bag’ with a label on it (really?) etc. etc. The list goes on. In the ED we don’t even have the luxury of waiting for housekeeping to clean the rooms before getting the next patient. Unless the room was an isolation room, the nurses have to discharge their patients, and then run to wipe down the stretcher, wipe all the surfaces, change the sheets, and get the monitor set up for the next patient who is probably being wheeled down the hall right now. I feel stressed just thinking about it. It’s no wonder nursing has a high burn out rate. I’ll admit I’ve been burnt out a few times now. It’s hard because I feel like nursing is the only thing I know in life. I don’t have any other skills really. I can’t just quit my job and open an Etsy shop making crafts and jewelry (if only). I’ve thought about starting my own massage place a few times now, but in order to have the money to rent a place, I need to continue my nursing job. If I continue my nursing job I don’t have enough time or energy to do massage. It’s a vicious cycle.
The other problem with nursing is the pay. Not that it’s bad. No, in fact the pay is pretty darn good. But this makes it extremely difficult to get away from nursing. I can make in 3 days what most people make in 5. So even when it gets really tough I just tell myself I have to suck it up. Money is not the reason I became a nurse so it bothers me that this even becomes an issue. But I’m human, I have bills (ugh, student loans anyone?), and I can’t justify taking a 50% or more pay cut doing something else… then again dunkin’ donuts is sounding really good right about now 😉
There are so many things I love about nursing as well. I love seeing all kinds of different pathologies and illnesses and learning something new every day. I love seeing peoples’ resilient spirits and watching the ways they cope with difficulties. I love hearing everyone’s story in life, and getting a glimpse into how they live. I have worked on thousands of patients in my time of being a nurse and have seen some incredible things. I love the technical aspects of nursing and am proud of myself for being able to perform all kinds of difficult skills. It’s neat to me that I’ve had a hand (sometimes literally) in saving someone’s life, or just being a part of their healing journey. I love that I get to work with other amazing nurses, and even more amazing doctors who are always willing to teach something new. Nurses really do unite. It’s a nice camaraderie.
In nursing school when you learn the history of nursing, it’s hard to imagine that today’s world is so far off. You have all these visions in your head of doing wonderful bedside care and spending tons of time with your patients. In reality you always have one more patient than you should. You have a list of tasks that you might be able to get done if you hurry and don’t take a break. You will be short staffed and your tech will get pulled to a different unit. Oh and make sure you get that charting done before the end of your shift because 1. If you didn’t chart it, you obviously didn’t do it and 2. Overtime will NOT be approved so you had better punch your ass out on time. You’ll wonder where your nursing school vision went. “Is this what I went to school for?” You’ll be asking yourself. Then you’ll wish you were born 20 years sooner so you could nurse in a world that didn’t have all these crazy regulations. I’ve never had a more stressful job in my life. I don’t think people understand the amount of stress nurses are under at work. I know for a fact my husband just doesn’t get it. It is not only a physically demanding job, but it is mentally and emotionally draining as well. You are constantly thinking, and trying to figure out what is going on with your patient, what is your plan for them, and what is the next step you are going to take. You are doing this by analyzing vitals, lab values, medications, the general appearance of the person, and of course that gut instinct that you just can’t scientifically explain. Physically you will be lifting and turning heavy bodies who are too sick to help on their own. Emotionally, this is the hardest part. You will get attached to people, even though you try not to. You will see a person that is way too young, or even a child, die. As if that didn’t bother you enough, the reaction of the family will just rip your heart out of your chest and stomp all over it. You will see people suffering in all capacities. You’ll grow up quickly, especially if you start when you are 21, like I did. Because life is so fragile, and so short. It can all be gone in an instant. You will learn to be thankful for what you have.
This is where the lines get blurred between the hate and the love. All of the hardest aspects of nursing will teach you something. I can honestly say I have learned some of my greatest life lessons being a nurse. Through all the bad, comes a lot of good. I may be burnt out, but my experiences are priceless. It really is a noble profession, and as much as I want to leave it, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to permanently. As hard as it is, it’s equally rewarding. I should probably just go per diem and call it a day, but we’ll see. In 30 more years you’ll probably find me as one of those old crochety nurses who really should retire, but is still dragging herself to work everyday because after all, being a nurse is just who she is.