For Those Considering A Career In Nursing

Do you want to be a nurse? There's more to it than a calling. Here are some things to consider. Nurses Career Support Knowledge


For Those Considering A Career In Nursing

I've been a nurse for a LONG time -- probably longer than most of you reading this have been alive. Had I known what I was getting into, I probably would not have gotten into it. Fortunately, I had no idea. I say fortunately, because nursing has been an interesting and flexible career that has afforded me a nice lifestyle and kept me from being bored. I wouldn't go back and change my mind about going into nursing if I could..

Oh, and I met my husband at work. Another bonus!

If you're considering a career in nursing, make sure you're clear on why you're considering it. I'm not here to cast aspersions on anyone's motives for wanting to be a nurse. After all, mine weren't all that altruistic. I wanted a degree that would enable me to be a sought-after employee rather than me having to face rejection after rejection while hunting for a job. I know that doesn't apply now, but it did then. And my mother, who had always wanted to be an LPN, told me that I should go to school to become an RN because "all they do is sit at the desk and drink coffee and flirt with the doctors while someone else does all the work." It should be noted that my mother's closest proximity to hospital nursing were her two stays in the maternity ward, as they called it then. The fact that she didn't know what she was talking about has NEVER stopped her from having a strong opinion, however.

Compassion? Critical Thinking!

Some people go into nursing as a "calling." They figure that all they need is a compassion or a desire to help people or a willingness to put the patient first at all times and pour heart and soul into their care. Those things are nice, but a calling alone is not enough. You need to be a good enough student to graduate from a very difficult course of study and then a good enough test taker to pass the licensing exam. You need to be able to memorize drugs and their standard doses, uses and side effects, read and understand written English and be able to make yourself understood both orally and in writing. You need to be able to prioritize, to multitask and to run your buns off for twelve hours straight with only the briefest of breaks. Compassion is nice, but I'll take the nurse who has mastered critical thinking . . . I've worked with both and been under the care of both. In the best of all worlds, a nurse has both compassion and critical thinking skills, but compassion can be faked. Critical thinking cannot.

Strong Stomach Helps, But Not Essential.

Do you hate the sight of blood? You can get over that. My husband did. But it's not just blood. Sputum is my own personal vomit trigger. I've seen other nurses puke right along with their patients. You'll have to clean up poop and pee and all sorts of other bodily fluids, and you'll have to do it with a smile and without making the patient feel worse about it than they already do.

Be Careful What You Ask For: Taking Care of Cute Babies

There are those who go into nursing so they can take care of cute little babies all day, or maybe it's sweet little old ladies. I've taken care of a number of sweet little old ladies, but then there are the emigrants from Hades who make your entire shift a misery, and you have to take care of them as if they were likable, too. The cute little baby who "fell off the table while I was changing his diaper" for the fourth time this month may wind up in your care and no matter what you think of the mother, you can't tell her. If you don't think you'd have the backbone to contact Child Protective Services, consider growing one. Pediatrics is a popular choice because everyone loves little children. Consider the fact that some of your patients may be victims of child abuse, and the abuser is right there in the room with them asking when they can go home. Or that sweet little boy with the big blue eyes may be dying of leukemia. The neonate in your NICU may have been born addicted to heroin and is going home with his mother anyway. Nobody likes to see this things happen, but as a nurse, you'll see them. And worse. It'll tug on your heartstrings, or it'll rip your heart right out of your chest and shred it. But you WILL see these things or worse, and you'll need to deal with them.

Dealing With Crazy Patients AND Visitors

Obviously psych won't be for you, but you'll deal with psych patients in ER, ICU and Med-Surg as well. And in Rehab, the endoscopy suite and even in the nice outpatient clinics with the great fountains and real paintings. Not just crazy patients, but crazy visitors as well. You'll also have to deal with people who are drunk or DTing, high on drugs or withdrawing and with people who are just plain entitled, nasty and mean.

Working Nights, Weekends and Holidays

Still interested in a career in nursing? Understand that hospitals are open for business 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Working nights, weekends and holidays is a given. I don't understand how so many people manage to make it all the way through nursing school without it dawning on them that they, too, will really have to work an overnight shift, but there are some every year. And there are those who are convinced that they are so special they shouldn't ever have to work those undesirable shifts. Honey, if you're that special, don't take a job in the hospital. (But that's where the money is, you say? Make up your mind. If you want to work in the hospital setting, you take the bad with the good)

No Time For Self

If you live in the snow belt, you will be expected to work when it snows. Even if it snows a lot. Every year, there are posts from new nurses who don't feel they should have to drive to work in a blizzard. They have small children or their car isn't good in snow or they've never learned how to drive in the Winter. None of those are good excuses, and you WILL be expected to work. If there's a hurricane, bring four days worth of clean underwear and prescription medication, because you'll be at work for the duration. Or you won't have a job. Have a plan for your dog, your children and your elderly parents because part of working in a hospital is coming to work when everyone else stays home. And while I'm touching on that topic, you will be coming to work when the neighbors are hosting the neighborhood Block Party, when your husband is out of town on business and when your kids are sick. Have a plan in place for those times.

Math Is Required.

We see posts frequently from folks who want to know which specialty requires the least math, or if they really have to be able to do math at all. The answer to the second is "Yes." The answer to the first is less polite. Your patient is 198 pounds and the physician has ordered 2.5 mg. per kilogram of medication per day in two equal doses. How much do you give now? And that's an easy one.

Low Stress Specialties? Thank Again.

There are the posts from those who wish to choose the specialty with the lowest stress level. My stress level peaks when I'm in the well-baby nursery and those kids start shrieking for what is probably a very good reason, but I can't figure it out. Home Health makes me shudder . . . I remember my Community Nursing clinical as a special slice of hell and hope I NEVER have to enter a patient's home again. A nice calm, code, though is another story. Your mileage may vary. I haven't heard of ANY non-stress specialties, however, and even if there WAS one, you'd have to get through nursing school and acquire some experience before you'd be qualified for a job like that.

Develop A Thick Skin: There Are Lives At Stake.

If you're the type of person who looks for unfairness or bullying everywhere you go, you'll find it in nursing . . . whether or not it actually exists. Better to go into it looking for smart, helpful team workers who will save your butt when it needs saving and teach you something while they're doing it. You'll find more of those if you're looking for them. And if you cannot handle criticism, get over it. Lives are at stake here, and if I see you doing something stupid, I'll tell you about it BEFORE you can harm your patient. In private if possible, but if not, not. One thing nursing schools don't teach -- and should -- is the ability to handle negative feedback constructively. It's a valuable skill in any career, but it's vital in nursing.

Still Think You'd Like To Be A Nurse?

If you've read all this and you still think you'd like to be a nurse, good for you. In the 34 years I've been a nurse, I've been spit at, slapped, kicked, punched, cursed and threatened. I've also been the recipient of grateful smiles, wonderful thank-you notes and boxes of chocolate. I've had horrible days where I couldn't do anything right and felt behind the whole day, and I've had wonderful days when I know I really made a difference to someone. I've worked night shifts, days and evenings and I've worked all of them in the same week. I've worked Christmases and Thanksgivings and Mothers Days and Easter. But I've had my birthday and my wedding anniversary off every year, and not many office workers can say that! When my car's engine needed to be replaced and I had no money, I worked overtime. Lots of it. Can't do that in the office. When I needed to be home with an elderly parent, I arranged my schedule so that either DH or I would be home at all times. Can't do that in an office, either. I worked every weekend when I was in graduate school, going to school full time and working full time. When my then-boyfriend moved out on Christmas Eve, I traded shifts with a nurse whose boyfriend unexpectedly flew back from the Gulf War for Christmas, and when my father knew he wasn't going to make it through the Winter, someone traded shifts with me so I could drive 1000 miles to cook him Thanksgiving dinner. Not only would that not be an option in office work, office workers probably would not even think about it as valuable.

I've learned to laugh at things that would make me cry if I didn't, and I've learned to appreciate what I have because plenty of people have less. I cannot imagine what my life would have been if I hadn't been a nurse, and if I had to do it all over again, I would.

Ruby Vee has been a nurse for a very long time. She's also read compulsively for long enough to answer some frequently asked questions.

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Specializes in OB.

As always, beautifully stated! Your posts are always so interesting that I wish I knew you and could talk to you in person, to hear more of your great stories and wisdom.

I really enjoyed reading this! The last paragraph actually brought tears to my eyes (happy ones ofcourse!) I'm so excited, proud and blessed to finally be part of this career field :) You have made me look foward to my future as a nurse even more. Thank you for your post


  1. Patient weight is 90Kg, 90*2.5 = 562.5 mg: 562.5/2 = 281.25 mg or 282 mg BID.
  2. Being male (and quite hetero, TYVM), I'd say it's unlikely I'll meet my "husband" in nursing.
  3. My late mother was an LVN for 15 years; between her stories and acting as her caregiver for the last 4 years of her life, I've no illusions about what I'm getting myself into. Incidentally, IT has just as wacky a schedule at times - so far my longest "shift" was 71 hours straight. Fewer bodily fluids, though.;)

Closest thing to a concern I have is that I'm just not going to have the raw speed & fast reflexes of a 20 y.o. (I'm 49); just hoping I can substitute brains (better time management/prioritization skills + plenty of practice in dealing with interruptions) for brawn and make it all happen.

And, it's still a calling for me - although in my case it's a lot closer to a raving mania.

Thanks for sharing, and...bring it awn, baby!:devil:

----- Dave

Wonderful reading!

Specializes in Peds/outpatient FP,derm,allergy/private duty.

Great article Ruby! There aren't very many of us who can be called those seventies nurses, so I really appreciate your perspective.

Specializes in School Nursing.

Ruby, this should be required reading before applying to nursing school! Wonderful article.

Specializes in Gerontology/Home Health CM, OB, ICU, MS.

I love it! It really lays it out. I love the part about the people who think they are too special to work holidays.

The wonderful thing is, every nurse has his or her own stories, and they are all variations on the same thing: life, people, the good, bad & the ugly. (& remember that television is pure fantasy, & usually male fantasy).

... except I love Home Health. But I can understand those who shudder. I think it just adds another layer of complexity (with all the positive & negative that entails).

Somehow, I hope every person going into nursing school can be exposed to this article. I think we would then see a lot fewer articles about all the qualified RNs who aren't/ can't/ won't work at it.

Specializes in Critical Care, ED, Cath lab, CTPAC,Trauma.

Eloquent as usual Ruby.......I think this should be posted somewhere for all the students who post those.....should I be a nurse questions..:) I think this will become a new go to link for me!!!

First, I would like to applaud your post.

I have wanted to be a nurse since high school but ever since I have mentioned the profession, my parents have shown great disdain for it. From telling me that it is a dirty job to how disrespected you get as a nurse, they have always tried to dissuade me!


When my mom had food poisoning, I was there. When my dad got his pacemaker put in, I spent the night.

I do not have to defend my passion for nursing to them anymore.

It's funny because it was never the long shifts or the contact with bodily fluids that would deter me. It was witnessing suffering or death. Many times when I would see it on the news or through my parents I would get so stressed and upset. Something I've realized, though, is that if you want to help people you will see suffering and may experience death. I've finally accepted (what was to me) the hardest part of the job.

As I pursue nursing, I can only hope to have as many years of experience as you do and to pick up the half of the wisdom you have.

Fabulous post! I very much appreciate the considerable amount of thought and time that I know you put into it. Unfortunately, the people we need to heed this are the very ones whose heads it will fly over. They may read it, but they're so into their perception of what a nurse is that they'll unconsciously reject anything that doesn't align with the image.

The sentiments in this post need to be crafted into a checklist form that all aspiring nursing students have to read and sign off on. Nursing programs used to conduct interviews of applicants, or at the least, require essays from them about the reasons they wanted to go to nursing school. Admissions committees could get an idea of whether a hopeful student's expectations were within shouting distance of reality. But even essays are a thing of the past, with more and more programs moving to rolling admissions, in which academic qualifications, emotional maturity, and classwork ethic take a back seat to the speed with which a student can submit his/her application.

It's a great post!! Many thanks for sharing it with us.

Specializes in ICU.

Not only the article made required reading for those interested in becoming a nurse but has to be provided to the patient (yes,patient, not client) and their family upon admission.The public needs to know what a nurse does exactly.

Thank you for the realities of nursing you eloquently put in words.