Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became A Nurse

Here are a few things I really wish someone had told me before becoming a nurse... Nurses Career Support Article Video


Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became A Nurse

I remember when I first made the decision to go to nursing school. I was 31-years-old and struggling with the idea that I had spent 9 years working in a career that I didn't really like.

In fact, I hated my profession. I had spent nearly a decade selling medical equipment to hospital operating rooms, traveling up and down the west coast, schmoozing with doctors and hospital purchasing managers so they would buy my stuff.

But even though my heart wasn't passionate about my profession at the time, I was passionate about working hard and performing well. So, each year I met my professional goals and advanced in the profession. Which, in turn, also made it harder for me to leave.

But then one day, it hit me. I didn't want to just work in the medical profession. I wanted to be an actual medical professional. I remember thinking how bored I was sitting on the sidelines as a device rep, watching procedures and literally thinking, "this is SO lame, please shoot me!"

So (a few mental breakdowns later) I finally did it.

I signed up for the 7 prerequisite science classes that I needed to take before I was even able to apply to nursing school (as a prior journalism major, I hadn't taken very many science classes at that point).

I took my classes in the evenings after work. And I started studying to take the TEAS. It all took me about a year to complete, and in 2010 I started my journey to become a nurse.

Things You Need To Know...

 #1 Nursing school is crazy hard (and expensive) 

Not only will you have daily classes, labs, weekly exams, and intense competition from classmates, but you will also be working clinical shifts as a student nurse. Many nursing programs also advise against outside work during the program because they warm that you won't be able to keep up with the work.

And in California (like many other states), hospitals are no longer hire nurses who don't have a BSN. As a result, many nurses are graduating from nursing school with 50-100K or more in student loan debt.

 #2 You will probably have to work night shifts, at least in the beginning 

Nurses are needed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Since many nurses don't want to work all night, seniority is often the deciding factor when it comes to assigning nurses to the day shifts. Some hospital units even have a rule that new nurses must work night shifts for at least the first few years of being there.

You will want to invest in a great set of blackout shades, at least one pair of blue blocker sunglasses, and a box of ear plugs (so the guy mowing his lawn at 1100 doesn't wake you up).

 #3 Working three days a week as a nurse isn't as easy as it sounds 

I remember thinking how awesome it would be to only have to work 3 days a week. I mean come on, its only 3 days! But that also means that the days you do work are incredibly long.

Nursing shifts are often advertised as being 12 hours, but they are actually more like 14-16 hours once you factor in oncoming nurse reports, overtime due to short-staffing, and your commute to and from work.

 #4 You will be afraid that you might kill someone 

This one is a real fear because, for example, if a nurse makes a medication error or forgets to check vitals or a patient's neuro status's per order, then you actually accidentally could kill someone.

But as you grow more tenured in your career, you develop a sixth sense for things that might go wrong and you figure out how to triple check in the most time-crunched circumstances. And you learn how to assess your patients quickly enough that if there are any vital or neuro status changes, that you can get the help you need before things go downhill.

 #5 You will learn to balance more information then you have ever had to before 

There really is no such thing as multitasking, because our brains can't actually focus on more then one things at the exact same time. But nurses developed the uncanny ability to juggle multiple ongoing tasks for multiple patients for up to 12 hours a day - such as medical orders, patient requests, vital signs, medications, allergies to medications, lab values, care plans, etc ...

We forget too eat and pee all day, but we remember the important medical information we need to know for our patients. Being a nurse stretches your brain further then you even thought it could go.

 #6 Nurse abuse really does happen 

Sadly, abuse against nurses isn't uncommon. In fact, nurses are expected to put up with levels of abuse that would NEVER be acceptable in just about any other professional setting. I have been cussed at more times than I can count, in just about every colorful way you could imagine, for just doing my job.

Even worse, violence against nurses is prevalent (especially emergency room nurses) and it usually isn't even routinely tracked. I have been lucky not to find myself the victim of direct physical violence as a nurse as of yet. Many nurses have not been so not lucky.

 #7 Your whole body will start to hurt 

There is alarming evidence now that even proper lifting techniques expose nurses's spines to dangerous forces.

If that's not bad enough, chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced-based review at the Texas Women's University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%.

You may not be able to escape some of the wear and tear from being a nurse at the bedside. However, you can pick up healthy habits outside of the hospital like yoga, running or weightlifting to help recuperate on your days off.

 [EXTRA] You will find that there are multiple types of job opportunities away from the bedside 

One thing that I Iove about being a nurse is that there are so many job opportunities away from the bedside for nurses. So even if you decide that beside nursing isn't for you anymore, there are other nurse occupations to look into. Here are a few examples from some of my nurse peers:

  • aesthetics nursing
  • legal nurse consultant
  • nurse blogger/freelance writer
  • medical/pharmaceutical sales professional
  • nurse coach
  • nurse recruiter

Despite the Intensity, I Love Being a Nurse

I'm proud of what I do to help humankind, all within a 12-hour shift. I get to help people in some of the worst moments of their lives, and I am surrounded by other co-workers who enjoy being helpful as much as I do.

And, I am always being inspired to keep learning more.


Violence against nurses in hospitals not routinely tracked, reported

Violence Against Nurses Working in US Emergency Departments

Even 'Proper' Technique Exposes Nurses' Spines To Dangerous Forces

Mind-Body Exercises for Nurses with Chronic Low Back Pain: An Evidence-Based Review

ER nurse, healthcare writer, and blogger at I write about motherhood, nursing lifestyle, current healthcare trends, working-mom issues and family safety. I have a passion for words, evidence-based healthcare, yoga and raising adorable toddlers.

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139 Posts

If I had known and I really wanted to be in health care, it would have been PT for myriad reasons too numerous to list. Most of all, yes, it's a female dominated profession but guess what? They seem to know how to get along and they don't eat their young.


46 Posts

These things are true... and I'm so glad I didn't have a clue when I chose nursing. I put up with so much, put myself through so much, as a student and a new grad. It took some really uncomfortable situations to learn about my own boundaries. 

If I had known all the things going in, I would have chosen a different path. Maybe a more emotionally comfortable path. Probably a more financially tenuous path. Yet I'm proud of the person I have become. I'm a quiet, ethics-driven, compassionate woman, and I learned how rare and valuable that is. I learned what it means to advocate, to be assertive. I'm nobody's doormat anymore.

But no, I do not think I could have done it, knowing then what I know now.  

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