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Can't handle nursing home job, should I still go to nursing school?

by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist) Educator Columnist Innovator Expert Nurse

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Hi Nurse Beth,

I recently started my first medical job as a nursing home CNA, and I ended up quitting in less than 2 weeks. I couldn't handle it, I hated it. Not everything about it, I loved the care and didn't mind the dirty work like toileting and such, but I worked with people in the earlier/middle stages of dementia, still functional, but often angry, not making sense with their requests, confused, etc.. and I hated the nursing home environment, lots of people were depressed, we had too many residents so care was always super rushed.

I planned on going to nursing school next year and working in a NICU or ER after graduation, but now I'm afraid I won't like it or handle it. Is there any chance I'd be OK in nursing school? For context, last year my grandma who raised me and who I cared for full time in the last 6 months of her life died from complications due to late stage Alzheimer's disease. I'm afraid that witnessing her suffer and die might have an impact on my ability to work professionally with elders who have dementia. What do you think about this? will I still potentially be a good nurse? 

Dear Afraid,

I'm so sorry for your loss. It's completely natural that working with patients that are suffering like your Grandma did is triggering emotional feelings if not post-traumatic stress.

Once when I worked ICU I reported to work at 0700 as usual. During the night, a teenage boy had been admitted after a car crash. Four teenagers had been driving on a 2 lane road that curved sharply under an overpass. They ran straight into one of the cement support pillars. The charge nurse assigned me to the teenager, who was severely brain injured, and I had to ask for a change of assignment.

At the time, I had a teen-age son of the same age at home and the transference was too much for me to handle. I knew the parents and siblings would be coming in to visit and I didn't trust that I could keep it together. It was better all around for another nurse to care for the teenager, and I cared for an adult who had suffered a heart attack.

In no way does your experience mean you shouldn't pursue your plan of becoming a nurse. There isn't a nurse or doctor alive who doesn't have the same experience to some degree. We all have mothers and fathers, and grandparents, and often our patients remind us of our loved ones. Sometimes it hits too close to home, but knowing when to ask for help or make a change is the key.

For the most part, our feelings help us to remain compassionate. You chose nursing for some reason. Think back to that reason.

I hope you make the best decision for you.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth