This is the essay I wrote two and a half years ago as a senior in college--a few months before starting my accelerated BSN program at NYU. I've since finished nursing school, passed my NCLEX, and started a job at a great hospital close to home!
All of the forums here helped me lots in writing this, so I thought I'd give back to the community by posting it. Hope this helps someone trying to make the same decision I was faced with! Thanks to all the nurses I cited here in this essay!
Since my freshman year in college, I have worked steadily toward my goal of becoming a nurse. It is now that I am a month away from graduating, and have been accepted into NYU, the nursing school of my dreams, that—for the first time—I begin to doubt my career choice. Becoming a nurse will require another two years of intense schooling and a no small amount of student loans—so if there is a best time to decide that I won’t like nursing, that time would be now. Hoping to have some light shed on the issue, I spend hours reading the discussion forums on allnurses.com, and talk with two nurses (and trusted friends of mine): Joy and Dawn. Joy is a registered nurse who works in a rehabilitation hospital; Dawn is a school nurse who, prior to receiving her Master’s degree a year ago, had worked for six years in an intensive care unit.
On allnurses.com, some of the first discussion forums to catch my eye are ones about nurses working the night shift. Having watched my fair share of medical dramas, I am familiar with doctors receiving calls and having to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night, but not once did I stop to think about the people who make the calls to those doctors. They are the nurses who stay up all night—not only responding to emergencies, but accompanying patients to the bathroom, making sure that they are comfortable, and ensuring that their vitals are normal. Aches, fatigue, and depression are common among night shift nurses. Shannon5446 reports feeling depressed after just one week of working nights. “I cry about four or more times a week,” she writes, “just to get it out, although I don’t really know what I am getting out.” NICU_3_RN, who has worked the night shift for ten years, writes, “I’m only thirty, but I feel like my body is falling apart. I’ve gained weight, I can’t sleep, my joints ache—I feel like a ninety-year-old.” Although the working schedules of day nurses are better, they are far from ideal. “Hospitals don’t close,” Joy reminds me. “They’re open twenty-four seven. Nurses work on holidays, every other weekend—hours and shifts when the average person is home.”
Nurses face working conditions that many people are probably not aware of. In many hospitals, the nurse to patient ratio is huge, and many nurses find themselves on their feet all day and even working overtime on top of their 8- or 12-hour shifts. Babs0512 reports that some nurses are so busy they don’t even have time for lunch or bathroom breaks. “I used to work 12-hour shifts in the ER, 90% of the time without meal breaks,” she writes. VU_RN_BSN advises nursing students to “get used to working for 12.5 hours with a full bladder and an empty stomach.”
The nature of jobs in medicine is that they are emotionally demanding, and nursing is no exception. Dawn, who began prescribing medications since she received her Master’s degree a year ago, still feels nervous about it. “It’s so easy to make a mistake,” she says, “and it can cost a person their life or debilitate them.” Even on the ICU, before she was allowed to prescribe, Dawn often felt nervous. “Every patient is like a ticking time bomb,” she says. “They could all be tucked into their beds and in good shape, but at any time, all of a sudden, their hearts could stop.” Consequently, death is something that many nurses find themselves all too familiar with. One nurse, VivaLasViejas, writes, “I deal with life and death matters all the time. It’s okay most of the time, that’s why I was built strong enough to handle the load…. but there are times when the burden becomes a bit heavy.” She shares her experience in dealing with the death of a particularly dear patient of hers: “I’m seeing this woman whom I love and admire slip away a little more every day. I’m changing her dressing every night and seeing the relentless progress of her disease. I look in her eyes, and know that even in her Dilaudid haze she knows the truth, though her family is still holding out hope for a miracle…. Some nights I wish I could just run out of the room and cry until there are no more tears left.”
It is not a complete mystery, then, why many nurses express regrets about going into nursing. Reading their comments, as well as discussion forums—including, “I think I’m losing it,” “Completely burned out,” and “Reality shock”—have contributed to more than a few restless nights and have caused me to seriously rethink my career goals. But reading other forums and talking with Joy and Dawn also reminded me why I chose to go into nursing in the first place. As Joy says, “People think nursing is like on TV, like on a sitcom, but it’s anything
but glamorous. But I’ll tell you what—you take good care of a patient and good care of their family and they will just thank you up and down. People really appreciate when you take good care of them.”
In fact, the customer service aspect is what differentiates nursing from the medical model of doctors. “Doctors may see their patients every day,” Joy says, “but nurses know their patients best.” Unlike most doctors, nurses have the opportunity to truly get to know their patients and understand their needs on a holistic level. They tend not only to their patients’ physical needs, but address their spiritual and emotional needs as well. “A doctor might slap a bunch of medications at a patient and say, ‘This will cure you,’ but a nurse takes the time to figure out how they feel,” Dawn says. “Maybe they don’t like medications. Maybe they like herbals—then you can check into the herbs and make sure they’re not interacting with anything else that they’re taking.”
The reward of nursing is simply the opportunity to help someone else through a difficult situation, and to sometimes be appreciated for it. “I see it as being the hands of God,” Dawn says. “God uses us to take care of the sick, to help them, comfort them, encourage them. Each of the patients is God’s creation, and I just think, ‘What a privilege and what an honor it is to do the work of God.’” For nurses like Dawn and Joy, the rewards of nursing are well worth the difficulties, and they have no regrets. Joy says, “You know, I have a bad shift and I come home disgruntled, but I have never wished I had never gone into nursing.” Dawn adds, “I’ve been a nurse for about seven years now, but I still think it’s really cool—it hasn’t worn off.” VivaLasViejas writes, “As every nurse who ever lived knows, there are times that make me wonder what I was thinking when I decided to enter this profession. I could have done without this sort of heartache, without understanding that death is not just at the end of life; it is all through it. But helping people and families through this transition may be exactly what I was made for, and it may be why I’m always able to hold it together somehow, even when my heart is breaking.
Exciting, stressful, rewarding, thankless—there are many ways that one could describe nursing. But nursing, I found, is ultimately what you make of it. As Dawn points out, “you have the power to be a miserable, cranky nurse, or you have the power to be a really nice nurse who really brightens a patient’s day.” I’m not yet sure how good I will be at dealing with long hours, hunger, and the sadness that comes with working with sick patients. I’m not even sure if I will have to, as nursing comes in many and varied forms—there are some difficulties that I might expect but never have to face, and others that will take me completely by surprise. But one thing I do know, is that I, too, desire to take part in God’s work and make a difference in someone’s life. Through all of my research, I discovered a lot about nursing. Most of what I learned can be summed up in one statement by Ozoneranger. “In nursing, we see things that most people never even imagine: lives extinguished, hopes blotted out before they even begin…. The human spirit at its very best and worst can be found, on any given day, and we are there—for better or worse—to offer hope where little can be found.”