Realistic expectations of a nursing career


Good Morning,

I am contimplating going back to school to be a nurse in the near future, and was wondering if anyone is willing to share any expectations I should have about choosing this as my career? Realistically, how many hours does one work a week, what are the shift times like, what is the pay like (if you're comfortable sharing), how hard is it to get into your preferred speciality (I'd like to L&D)? Any information is appriciated. I just don't want to go into this with rose colored glasses. I am also a single mother with no other parent in the picture, so am I crazy for wanting to go into nursing?


50 Posts

I'm just doing pre-req's right now, but I would love to see the replies to this.

I'm a single mom as well. Doing pre-req's online is super hard. Thankfully my parents will help once/if I'm accepted into the NP!


11 Posts

I am starting the nursing program on the 29th. I am a single mom of two both under 3 years old. I am curious what people have to say about this too. I expect it to be hard (what worthwhile is easy anyways right?)

Unknown member

120 Posts

I am a nursing student... and from what I hear, school is much different than the real world of nursing.

Nursing school is a HUGE committment. Not only do you spend a lot of time in clinicals and in lectures, you also have to do clinical paperwork (mine's ~6-8 hrs/week) PLUS actual studying and reading. It's hard, draining, basically becomes your entire life, but I'm hoping it's well worth it. There are many people in my program who have children and who work. I'm sure it's alot harder for them than for me (I'm 22, no kids, work part-time). It's possible, but just be ready to work hard and have NO life! :)

As for an actual nursing career, I hear it's "easier" than school only because you don't have to take your work home with you. You don't have to study for exams or do 100 pages of clinical paperwork. However, when you're an RN, the responsibly is ALL on you and you're expected to know what you're doing (as opposed to NS lol). Depending on where you work, you'll feel like you have too many patients and too little time. A woman I work with said her first job as a new grad was about a year ago at a LTC facility...she got 2 days of orientation and was assigned 26 patients on a daily basis (yikes!!) Of course, not all jobs are like this. There are all different shifts depending on where you work as well... some places will have you do three 12-hr shifts/week, others four 8-hr shifts/week, it really depends on the location and type of facility. There are SOOO many different areas in nursing and that's why I love it! You can really pick and chose where you want to be especially after gaining real life experience.


21 Posts

Has 6 years experience.

Hello to all,

This site has so much information available if you all search the website go back to past post I know you will find information for everything specfic to your state/region and specialty. I personally enjoy going back to read previous post and I have found the answer to many questions without posting a new post. Hope this helps:D This website is AWESOME!

Best wishes!!!!!!:nurse:


68 Posts

Nursing is awesome, hard, draining, fulfilling.

You might work four ten hour day or nights. You might work 12 a week in a private home. You could work in a slow clinic,a crazy ED, or rural Alaska. You may walk to work our commute two hours.

You could start as an LPN at $12, or an RN making $35, or $18.

You might start in med surg, or get your dream assignment on your first try.

The thing about a nursing career is that it can be anything and everything, anightmare or a dream come true. Ultimately flexible, the nuances lay in the palm of your hand.

Where you live and who you are make all the difference. Be the kind of person who makes things happen, work hard and be strong. It will likely never be worth it if you become a nurse for money or job security. But if you do it because you want to be a nurse you will find your options in hours, pay, and choice of departments will eventually lead you to a happy place.

Good luck on your journey, if you do it for "the right reasons" you'll find it a challenging and rewarding path where you have nearly limitless options.




133 Posts

This site is full of the answers to your questions. I am also a mom, although thankfully not a single parent. Here is what I know, from working in the healthcare field as a CNA/patient care tech for over 3 years/and a student about to apply to a BSN program:

Nursing school is hard, and a huge committment. There will be long hours, lots of reading, studying, paperwork, and clinicals. Once you finish, you must pass a National exam to receive a license. Due to the current economy, it may take months to secure a job once you graduate. Over $30 an hour is largely unheard of for a new graduate, unless you live in a city where the cost of living is higher and the pay will reflect it. In the state of NM, new grads are hired on making $21-$24/hour.

A lot of retired nurses were forced out of retirement due to the economy, institutions like Pima, National American University, etc are pumping out nurses faster than you can blink (for a 50k price tag) and many PRN and part-time nurses are going into full time.

As for the job itself, while I am not a nurse, I currently work as an aide and typically it's a lot of patients to just one nurse. I am also a Med Tech at a senior living community. I handle meds for 36 patients by myself. Lots of call-ins, work always asking me to pick up shifts, etc. Plus the whole hierarchy of the medical field can be a real mind game. You may care about the patients, but it doesn't mean the "powers that be" do when it compares to making money.

As for L&D as a specialty, that is what I am looking into because my career path will hopefully lead to becoming a Nurse-Midwife. Yes, you can land that dream job right out of the gate, but that is not the typical norm. Where I live, they prefer a minimum of 2 years experience as a nurse before you are even considered for L&D. Most new grads end up in Postpartum or Med/Surg, etc.

Bottom Line: If you are passionate about healthcare, truly want to care for others, and are willing to sacrifice time with your children, than nursing is for you.

If you are looking for a "guaranteed job in the growing field of healthcare" I would say that the media has effectively painted the rose-tinted glasses on. The market is saturated, the economy is poor, and the stress is high. And, most good nursing programs will fail you out if you make lower than a C in more than 1-2 classes. At least, from what I have researched.

As for me, I love women's health, and I am addicted to the healthcare field, haha. I have hard days, complain some days, but I tried other areas for a career field and I just can't keep myself away.

Best of luck to you all!


839 Posts

Expect to be underpaid, overworked, to catch **** from MDs, patients, families and other departments.

Also, everything is your fault.

Hospitals will use and abuse you. If they can, they will throw you under the bus.

Also, don't expect a lunch break, and, unless you've always had a hardy immune system, expect to get sick. Expect your manager to get ***** about you calling in sick.

If you work in the ER, expect for someone who is awake, alert, and oriented (in other words, in control of themselves) to threaten you or assault you, or both.

Don't expect respect.

I need a new job. Or a union. Either one.

tokmom, BSN, RN

4,568 Posts

Specializes in Certified Med/Surg tele, and other stuff. Has 30 years experience.

Hospitals will typically pay more than clinics, offices, etc..Downside, weekends and holidays are a given, unless management. That might be something you would think about as a single parent.

OT is pretty routine, even though management frowns upon it. Not unusal to spend another 30-45 OT.

You may or may not get into your desired field. Most specialties require 2-3 years of Med/Surg, acute care experience.

Shifts are anywhere from 8 hrs, 10, 12. I prefer 12. More time home with my kids.:D

Wage: Depends on union, vs not union, state, shift, etc.. Usually weekend pay is 3-4 more an hour, in WA anyway.

There is shift differential of 2-3 more an hour. Grad nurses where I work start out at 25. I have 18 yrs as an RN, and I will bring home approx 92 k this year. That is day shift, and a 1.00 more for CN. (whoo hoo, lol) and some committee work. Otherwise, it would be high 80's.

Expect to miss lunches/breaks on a pretty routine basis. Management at some facilities expect you to get your lunch, and not accrue OT. Some days that just isn't possible unless you practice unsafe nursing and cut major corners.

Hope this helps.

Has 9 years experience.

First off, I just typed a great response and lost it when I tried to add a smiley...

Anyway - Shifts range from 8 hours a shift to 12 - depending on the hospital/facility. I 'think' most nurses work 3 12 hours shifts a week. I work 3 12s one week and then 4 12s the next week (7 12 hour shifts in a 2 week period). I know of one hospital in my area that has 8 hour shifts but I'm not sure if they then work 5 days/nights a week...

A typical night is hard to describe - some are smooth and some are nightmares... I work night shift by choice; less doctors (though you still have to deal with them...) less family to deal with, less patient procedures, etc.

Most nights I start by getting my assignment, checking to make sure the patient is still 'alive' and in their room and has a good IV (not infiltrated and that will flush without difficulty), then I get report from the nurse that had them last. I do a quick review of the doctors orders, then a quick assessment and see if they need anything immediately - to be cleaned, taken to the toilet, are they in pain? etc... Then start taking vitals on the patient that I think needs it most- we don't often have a CNA/PCA to help with vitals or cleaning patients so it falls on the nurses. We get 4 - 5 patients (in California, so there are 'laws'... but that's another post... :uhoh3: ) After vitals, I start my med pass after making sure that some doctor didn't sneak in while I was taking vitals and change the orders... then chart my assessments, make sure that any doctors orders have been noted and carried out - could be labs, could be a request for a test/procedure, could be a change/addition to medications. Clean anyone who needs cleaning, more meds, more charting, new admissions, discharges, talk to doctors, talk to the family member calling at 3 am to check on their family members, more charting, more meds, more cleaning, more charting etc... then get ready to turn the patient over to the next shift.

Money can be researched online or on this site - under Region - pick your state, there are tons of posts on wages for nurses...

As far as Specialties - you may want to wait until you get through nursing school to pick. I can't tell you the number of nursing students I know who were SURE - ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that they had to be X specialty who RAN the other way once they went through that part of nursing school - so you may be 'sure' you want to be X specialty now - but you may change your mind - so please don't get stuck on one area...

I am a single mother who also worked full time during nursing school - it can be done - there are tons of stories on this site that tell you that it can be done.

HOWEVER, it is HARD, HARD, HARD. I waited until my daughter was in 10th grade before going back to school and it was still HARD. Nursing school was like NOTHING I've ever experienced.

You TRULY need to have a SUPER SUPER SUPPORT System - I'm talking about someone to cook meals, clean, do laundry, pick the kids up from school/day care, drop them off at school/daycare/sports/activities, etc, take them to doctors/dentists appointments, keep them out of your hair so you can study - basically, to replace you until you are done... You'll spend more time studying, preparing for clinicals, going to clinicals, STRESSING over EVERYTHING - grades, skills, clinical instructors, the kids, tests, getting through nursing school, passing nursing school, studying for the NCLEX, taking the NCLEX, passing the NCLEX, applying for that first job, interviewing for the job, getting the job, etc and you will (probably...) feel terribly guilty because you'll feel like you are abandoning your kids... but you will be so busy, nursing school kind of takes over your whole life!

It is true that 'real' nursing is very different from nursing school - but you will use everything you learn and MORE... In nursing school you have an instructor that will stop you from making a critical error - in real life, you have to stop yourself. You will have co-workers (more experienced nurses) that will help you, but you may also have co-workers who will stab you in the back...

After my soap box rant - IF you really want to become a nurse, nothing will stand in your way. But, please seriously consider WHY you want to become a nurse... If it's 'just for the money' or for 'job security' this is not the career for you...

There are tons of posts on this website where new grad nurses are unable to find jobs - It took me 9 LONG, Depressing, stressful, maddening, frustrating, painful months to find the job I have now. it's not the hospital of my choice, but I'm learning so much and some nights are wonderful and some are horrible nightmares...

I wish you the best of luck with your decision! :heartbeat


511 Posts

It's not really a good career but you will never be bored unless you want to be.

Specializes in medical surgical. Has 5 years experience.

I will work only agency or travel--never directly for a hospital facility. I was thrown under the bus so hard that it took me 3 months to repair myself mentally for this career choice again. The people that threw me under the bus were kind to my face. I was never late, tardy, worked extra and I thought I did everything right. I came back from a week's vacation to find myself unemployed. However, since I work travel agency I do not get involved in personal agenda's, cliques or boring committee work. I actually am having a good time now and making great money. Like I said, never again!