Those of you who know me in real life may be aware that I spent a great deal of time pondering whether I should attend nursing school or medical school. For a number of reasons I chose nursing, not the least of which was my scholarship to attend nursing school. Even after graduation & moving on to “the real world” for a while I still had a lot of days (or nights) when I wondered if I’d made the right choice. To further complicate matters I’ve even been told by well-meaning but clueless folks “You’re too smart to be just a nurse” or some variation on that theme. Those comments used to really bother me & I couldn’t help but wonder for a while if maybe there was some truth in them. But the longer I’ve been a nurse the more I’ve realized that being “smart” has little to do with whether one should be a doctor vs a nurse (or anything else for that matter). Both fields require a great amount of intelligence along with many other important skills. For right now I’m very content that nursing was the right path for me. Someday I will probably “move on” to nursing education, Nurse Practitioner, or maybe even med school. I’m not ruling out anything at this point. But for right now nursing seems to be a perfect fit for me & I’m so glad I chose this path.
To be honest when I decided to attend nursing school I intended to be a bedside nurse for only a few years, maybe 5 years at most. My sole intention was to advance to being an NP. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I actually love bedside nursing, a lot more than I honestly thought I would, & I’m in no hurry to leave it. Yes, I have stressful shifts in which I wonder why the heck I chose this profession, but thankfully those are few & far between, & even on those shifts I know that I’ve made a positive difference in someone’s life in some way, no matter how small. I’ve been blessed to work with some AMAZING people at both of my nursing jobs, from fellow nurses & nursing assistants to doctors & respiratory therapists. What I’ve realized is that in healthcare (as everywhere) no man (or woman) is an island. None of us can do our jobs alone. I am not one of those nurses who feels the need to “cut down” doctors or compete with anyone for attention or glory. The truth is every single healthcare team member is irreplaceable. From housekeepers to nursing assistants, from doctors to pharmacists, from physical therapists to nurses, we are all invaluable. And our patients receive the best care when we treat each other with the respect & dignity we all deserve.
With this being nurses’ week I’d like to send out a salute to all my fellow nurses for the excellent care you provide in whatever function you serve. I’d also like to share what I believe are some of the best things about the nursing profession & why I can’t imagine a better career.
1. OPTIONS. I for one cannot think of any other career in which you have as many options as nursing. In the hospital alone, nurses can work everything from ortho & med-surg to ICU & ER to OR & endoscopy. Or we can select a specialty like wound care, case management, or infection control. If we tire of working with adults, we can switch over to babies or children or vice versa. Outside of the hospital nurses can work with hospice, home health, or in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, schools, & clinics. With additional training we can move on to nursing education, Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Anesthetist, management & administration, informatics, & many other roles. The possibilities are truly endless.
2. Working 3 days (or nights, if you’re a night shifter like me) a week is awesome!! I truly do not think I could ever return to the 9-5 grind. Such a pain in the butt! I love working my 3 12-hr shifts & then being done for the week. Yes, I have NO LIFE outside of the hospital for those few nights but when it’s over, it’s over & I have more time left over for just LIVING.
3. Working with sick people is a constant reminder that life is short & good health & long life are never guaranteed, even for the young & seemingly invincible. Since becoming a nurse I know I live my life with greater purpose & intention. I hold those I love closer. I don’t take tomorrow for granted as much. I appreciate my good health & work harder to maintain it.
4. It’s often been said that nurses “eat their young,” & lateral violence is a well-documented phenomenon in the nursing world as well as in the healthcare field in general. However, I must say I am blessed to have never really encountered this kind of behavior. On the contrary, the nurses and nursing assistants I have worked with have been some of the kindest, most intelligent & hard-working people I’ve ever known. From relatively new nurses in their 20’s like me to experienced nurses in their 50’s & 60’s, we all have so much to offer, & I’ve learned so much from my coworkers, not just about nursing but about life. Some of my best friends are other nurses & I love you all.
5. Nurses can talk about ANYTHING. And I really do mean anything. If you’ve ever had a gross question about the human body, as a nurse you can ask it in front of your coworkers with no fear of embarrassment or scorn. No topics are off the table with us. It’s so much fun, trust me!
6. Nursing is never boring, at least any field I’ve worked in thus far has never been boring. Whenever I have free time at work, there is always something to be done, from organizing supplies to helping out my coworkers with their patients. Though I certainly have a routine, no two shifts are ever the same. I never know what I’m going to see or encounter at work & that is part of what makes it so exciting.
7. On a similar token, the learning never ends. I’m constantly taking classes to further my nursing knowledge or to learn about a new technology, piece of equipment, or computer system. The continual learning curve, I believe, keeps my mind stimulated & interested & hopefully young as well.
8. Hearing a patient say thank you is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Sometimes they don’t even say it but you can see it in their eyes & their smile.
9. Watching a patient who you thought would never recover start to improve is so inspiring. I’ve seen patients I thought would never leave the hospital alive, much less walking & talking, recover & prove me wrong in so many ways. Of course I’ve also seen lots of horribly sad things, but in order to survive in nursing you have to focus on the good stories.
10. As I emphasized previously, healthcare is always a team approach. No one saves a life on his or her own. But I know without a doubt that there have been times in my nursing career when my own critical thinking & quick actions, along with the help of others, have quite literally saved a life. I can’t describe to you how great it feels to know you’ve helped save a life but those of you who’ve been there know what I mean.
11. Nursing is hard. There are times when you will want to quit. There are times when none of the stress seems worth it. But the bad days make the good days sweeter. And the challenges remind you that this really is a worth-while career. As so many wise folks have said before, nothing good ever comes easy. All jobs are hard at times & everyone has bad days. But at least when I have a bad day as a nurse, I still know I’ve helped someone, & that makes the bad days easier to tolerate, at least for me.
12. Helping someone die peacefully & helping their family process this loss is one of life’s greatest challenges but also one of life’s greatest rewards. There are some patients you will see more often than your own family members & losing them will be very difficult. But knowing you made their last few days, weeks, or months at least a little more comfortable is an incredible blessing.
13. I don’t do OB nursing & never plan to, but I did get to witness both a C-section & a vaginal birth in nursing school & both were amazing experiences. Though it’s not something I ever plan to pursue as a career, watching a baby enter the world is pretty miraculous.
14. I know it may seem unlikely that a profession that centers on caring for the sick & dying could possibly be humorous, but trust me when I say I’ve laughed more at work than almost anywhere in the past few years. From crazy things that patients say (both confused & not confused) to crazy discussions with coworkers & everything in between, I’ve laughed a lot as a nurse the past few years. And also trust me when I say that having a “wicked” or “twisted” sense of humor is a serious requirement to survive in the healthcare field.
15. Nursing will change you. If you work in a healthy atmosphere & can maintain a positive (but realistic) attitude, nursing can & will make you a better person. I know nursing has made me more confident, more resilient, more assertive, & so many other important things. When I think about all the times I’ve stayed up 24 hrs straight or worked on just a few hours of sleep & still balanced the needs of 3-5 challenging patients, I think “Motherhood might be doable after all!” In all seriousness, this profession does change you. It will expose you to a lot of dark, scary, & tragic things. You will see the “underbelly” of humanity so to speak. But you will also see wonderful, life-affirming things that will renew & restore your faith in humanity.
If you’re a nurse, I hope this post has helped to remind you why our profession really is so amazing. If you’re not a nurse, say thank you to those nurses who’ve helped you during times of illness or injury. Trust me when I say you will make their day by doing so.