Quote from juicykins
I would like to know what a day in the life of a pysch nurse is like - in my head (please don't be mad) I see them only passing meds and doing paperwork, plus occasionally tackling an agitated patient with an injection of haldol. During my pysch rotation, that is all that I ever saw the nurse do. Please set me straight, because I wonder if I would like it and I have the opportunity to cross train at my hospital. . .
Not mad at all that you asked
Keep in mind that as a student you are there for a 6-8 hour snippet of time, most of which is probably spent conferring with your instructor (pre-clinical, post-clinical, etc.). So you don't have the chance to see patients improve day-by-day...and that's one thing you need to get used to in psych. It's not like med-surg where you administer the metoprolol and watch the patient's critically high BP go down in minutes. Improvements in psych patients aren't as automatic...or always as visually manifested.
Also keep in mind that you may have caught the unit on a "good day" where the patients are stable...good for the patients and the staff, but bad for eager nursing students who want to see full-blown psychiatric conditions at their finest.
Paperwork is a lot of the job, but that's how it is in any nursing specialty.
Medications is a big part of the job--it's one of the primary nursing interventions. And you need to be on top of your medication knowledge because of the nature of psychotropics...and because you're still giving them their regular meds as well. Oh yeah, did I mention that we have to take care of patient's medical as well as psychiatric conditions? Because despite rumors to the contrary, when admitted, patients don't check their medical baggage at the door. We may not be inserting Foleys or playing with IV drips as much as the med-surg floor, but we have got physical as well as mental assessments to do and the issues of both to be addressed. And those physical issues can get very sticky if you throw substance addiction and detox into the mix, since some of those detoxes can be fatal.
Therapeutic communication is another primary nursing intervention. It's often hard for nurses to talk to the patients during the day shift, between doctors rolling through with orders and patients in groups all the time. But later on in the day when things slow down there's a lot of chances to talk with patients, lots of opportunities to find out how they're doing mentally and teach coping skills, med ed, aftercare planning, etc. In fact, a lot of nurses also run groups.
Despite the challenges of talking to patients on the day shift, we in psych probably see and interact with our patients more so than most other specialties. Psych facilities have minimum observation levels where we have to visually see each patient and what they are doing every 15-30 minutes. Come hell or high water, we have to observe them and see that they are safe. That doesn't mean we always only look at the patient and move on; often we'll exchange a few words with them, do a quick MSE if we have to...whatever it takes to make sure they're safe. Of course, more acute patients means increased observational frequency.
And contrary to belief, we don't rush to tackle, restrain and shoot them up with Haldol. In fact, our goal is to NOT to have to resort to those drastic measures if we can help it. So agitated or hallucinating patients get frequent assessing and reassessing; if we see things going south, we step in fast to deescalate the situation. We can be very creative in coming up with ways to help them deescalate when we have to--I've jogged up and down the hallway with a patient for 15 minutes once because that's the only way I could get through to her and find out what we could do to help her.
And often we can help the patient bring themselves under control without resorting to the drastic measures...again, a good thing for us and the patient, a bad thing for nursing students hoping to see some excitement.
The other posters are right: one day--or in a student's case, one small part of a day--is not enough to see what psych nursing is like. And no two days are ever the same.
As far as whether it would be a good fit for you...only you can decide that. If you can, try to shadow a psych nurse for a few days, or try a PRN job in psych. If you're not a nurse yet, try being a psych tech--that will get you on the floor and into the action.