You Know You’re a Nurse When . . .

I originally wrote this as a Facebook note about two years ago, but I decided to revise & add to it a bit & share it on the blog today in honor of Nurse’s Week.  This is aimed at all my nursing friends, but I think just about anyone who works in the healthcare field will be able to appreciate, & probably get a good laugh from, many of these.

  • You constantly find yourself staring at people’s veins at the gym, the grocery store, the mall, basically everywhere.  Furthermore, you have to stop yourself from telling strangers “Hey, nice veins!  I’d really like to start an IV on you.”  And maybe sometimes you have actually said that . . .nurse porn veins
  • You can’t imagine ever going back to the dreaded 9-5.  Then again maybe there a few nurses who actually miss that kind of schedule . . . But I know I’m not one of them.
  • You work the majority of holidays, & the only time you’re jealous of your 9-5 friends & family is on those holidays or snow days when everyone else is relaxing & you’re working.  Then again, our 3-day work-weeks are pretty freaking amazing, & I for one wouldn’t trade them for snow day
  • Every time you see an abbreviation on a truck or advertisement that has a different medical connotation, you can’t help but laugh.  For example PSA (public service announcement) makes you think prostate specific antigen.  PTL makes you think pre-term labor & CBI makes you think continuous bladder irrigation (these are both abbreviations I’ve seen on tractor trailers or delivery trucks).
  • You feel really guilty whenever you find yourself complaining about some stupid annoyance in your life because you immediately think about the sick patients you care for whose lives are so much harder than your own.
  • As a consequence of the above observation, you constantly find yourself prioritizing your life & focusing on your friends, family, & pets & spending as much time with them as possible & generally making the most of every day of your life.  I swear we really do have the best job in the world for so many reasons!
  • You truly believe you learn more from your patients than they will ever learn from you.  To be clear, a lot of times the lessons you learn from your patients are “Here’s how NOT to live your life,” but such lessons are still important.mistake cartoon
  • You have gone running into your patient’s room because of the crazy heart rhythm on their telemetry only to discover that the patient (who may well be in his 80s or 90s) is masturbating . . . or actually having sex!  Trust me, I couldn’t make this crap up if I tried.
  • You have had patients ask you out on a date, for a massage, & for all number of completely inappropriate things.  And subsequently you’ve had to remind said patients that you are a professional nurse, not a call-girl or potential girlfriend/boyfriend.
  • You constantly have to remind yourself that taking care of yourself is absolutely vital to being able to care for others.  This can be as simple as taking a bathroom break before it becomes a real emergency.
  • You have to remind yourself that you do not need to record & measure your own I&O (intake & output, that’s what you drink & what you pee, for you non-nursing folks).I&O
  • You have seen & touched every part of the human body.  Every single part & on people of all ages.  And on way too many people to count!
  • Medical TV shows are basically unwatchable because all you do is scream at the TV every time you see an error (shocking asystole) or something that is just painfully unrealistic (like doctors giving medications or performing their own MRIs).medical tv show
  • You have come to realize that there are some things that only nurses can really understand.
  • You understand that the old adage “attitude is everything” really is true.
  • You have realized that you cannot & will not change the life of every patient you meet.  But you understand the value of trying anyway.
  • You often find yourself sharing stories from work at the dinner table only to realize half-way through that not everyone has the stomach of a nurse . . . Oops!gross story eating
  • On a related subject, you can stop half-way through eating your lunch to go collect a stool sample.  Then after washing your hands you can go right back to eating & never think twice about it.
  • You can diagnose C. Diff & GI bleeds based solely on smell.
  • You have witnessed countless times how the sweet little old lady who the day-shift nurse described as adorable can have quite a different personality at night.  Sun-downer’s is real, folks.sundowners
  • You have held the hand of the dying & watched people breathe their last breath. And you have felt incredibly blessed to be able to share in these very special moments.  You have come to realize that there are fates SO much worse than death, & you have guided families in understanding this also.
  • You have cried at the death of a patient you only knew for a few days or even a few hours.  You have hugged the families & provided comfort to them while your own heart is hurting too.
  • You have learned that what people DON’T say is just as important as what they do say.
  • You know how to set aside your emotions & get to work when a Code Blue is called.
  • You constantly find yourself assessing for “falls risks.”  This includes when you’re out in public shopping or running errands.fall risk
  • You have realized that a good nursing assistant is your best friend & can make such a vital difference for you & your patients.
  • You learn something new every time you work, & it’s awesome!
  • You have realized that you will never know it all.  And that’s ok.
  • You have also realized you will never please everyone.  And that’s ok too.
  • You have a really dark, twisted sense of humor that non-nurses often find disturbing or just can’t understand.  But you realize that this is absolutely vital to surviving the insanity of today’s healthcare field.nursing humor 1
  • Just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone goes & proves you wrong.
  • You can’t remember what you learned in nursing school & what you’ve always known.  Like doesn’t everyone know the difference in type 1 & type 2 diabetes?  Oh, maybe that isn’t common knowledge.  Did I know that before nursing school?  I honestly don’t know.
  • On the same subject, you are continually appalled at how little the average person knows about their own body.  For example, you’ve seen women insist that they have a prostate!  It’s no wonder our country is so unhealthy!
  • Every time you get sick, you think you’re dying because you’re trained to think “worst case scenario” for everything.  However, this doesn’t mean you actually go to the doctor, just that you have random thoughts of appendicitis every time your stomach hurts or meningitis/brain tumors every time you have a headache, etc.nurse mommy
  • People you rarely or never actually talk to send you Facebook messages or texts asking about random medical questions, sometimes about rather “sensitive” subjects . . .
  • You have some of the best coworkers in the world from whom you have learned so much & with whom you have shared at various times both laughter & tears.

And I could go on & on, but I’ll stop because this post is probably already long enough.  Happy Nurse’s Week to all my awesome nursing friends & coworkers!  🙂

8 Essential Characteristics of a Good Nurse

As this is Nurse’s Week, I’ve been thinking about a few different posts I’d like to write in honor of my profession & the many wonderful nurses I know.  While driving around town running errands today, I started thinking about what I consider to be some of the most essential components of a good nurse & decided this would be a good way to start off my blog posts in honor of this special week.nurse pic

*Disclaimer: Obviously, these are all MY OPINION, so feel free to take them with a grain of salt, so to speak.  But these are all based on my (almost) four years of nursing experience.  Also this list is most applicable to HOSPITAL nurses as that is the only type of nursing I have actually done thus far in my career.  (I was exposed to various other forms of nursing as a student, but as far as an actual job as an RN, I’ve only done inpatient nursing.)  I daresay many of these are applicable to all forms of nursing, but in general the list was written with inpatient hospital nursing in mind.

Furthermore, I am by no means 100% faithful to all of these points all the time.  I’m as human as everyone else, naturally.  But these are things I sincerely try to live up to as much as I can because I know they are (some of) the things that make a good nurse, & as with anything else I do, I want to be the best nurse I can be.

These are in no particular order.nursing humor

  1. Organized: Organization is key to being a competent nurse. The great thing is that everyone’s idea of organization can be quite different.  My report sheet & routine don’t look like everyone else’s, just as everyone else’s report sheet & routine don’t look like mine.  And that is just fine.  The point is that you find a system that works well for YOU.  I strongly encourage new grad nurses to get started on this very early in your career or otherwise you’ll always be a few steps behind.  As nurses we are responsible for monitoring vital signs, lab results, diagnostic test results, the mental status of our patients, & myriad other things, not to mention keeping up with & double-checking doctor’s orders, again among other things.  Obviously none of this can be done efficiently without a good organization system.  Show me a disorganized nurse & you’ll show me someone who is probably displeased with her job & who drives her coworkers (& quite possibly her patients) crazy . . . I’ll leave it at that.  P.S. Here’s my report sheet, in case you need something to help you out: Nursing Report Sheet
  2. Adaptable/flexible: One of the first things I learned about nursing, thankfully while still a student, is that being a nurse requires you to be extremely adaptable & flexible. Not only do patients’ conditions change constantly, but so do hospital policies, routines, & equipment.  Just when you think you’re getting up to speed, something will change.  Trust me.  It is just the nature of the healthcare field.  There is no question that the constant change in healthcare contributes to the high stress level nurses experience, so if you don’t handle change well, you will probably be a dissatisfied, easily burnt out nurse.change quote
  3. Willing to learn: Following right along with the above point, as nurses we are constantly asked to learn new things. Whether it’s new equipment, a new computer system, or a new medication, there is ALWAYS something new to learn.  While this can be frustrating at times, it’s also one of the things that (to me) makes nursing fun.  I for one could never be satisfied working in a stale, unchanging environment.  As someone who has always loved learning, the very dynamic nature of nursing is just one of the many things that I believe makes this such a fulfilling career for me.learning is work
  4. Assertive: This is one that hasn’t always come naturally to me but that I’m pleased to say I picked up on fairly quickly (I like to think so anyway). Being a nurse means you will inevitably deal with angry patients, disgruntled physicians, rude family members, inefficient hospital systems, & all manner of frustrating things.  Most nurses, I’ve found, are naturally kind people who long to please others & make others happy.  Considering the caring nature of this profession, that is logical.  However, we must strive to never allow our desire to help & please others to turn us in to doormats (partially because that inevitably leads to burn out).  As nurses, we have to advocate for our patients, many of whom cannot or will not speak for themselves.  I’ve found that being assertive with doctors, patients, families, management, etc is the best way to both advocate for my patients & retain my own mental sanity.  It’s not always easy, for sure, but clearly nursing ain’t a career for the faint of heart.  (Can I get an “Amen”?!)assertive
  5. Thick skin: Ooh, here’s another one that definitely didn’t come naturally to me. Trust me, I have more than once cried when a patient, family member, or doctor spoke harshly to me, usually in the bathroom or at the nurse’s station after the fact.  But slowly I am learning to be a bit more thick-skinned.  You have to or you will not survive in this profession.  If you’re a soft-hearted new grad like I once was & wondering how you’ll ever learn this skill, trust me, it will come with time & experience.  I imagine it’s kind of like being a parent: you can’t take every temper tantrum personally & you have to pick your battles or you’ll lose your mind.  Additionally I’ve found that if I make it obvious to “testy” patients & family members that I’m not really ruffled by their behavior, quite often they calm down very quickly.thick skin tender heart
  6. Empathetic: Not disregarding the above point, it pretty much goes without saying that an essential characteristic of a good nurse is empathy. There’s a fine line between having thick enough skin to survive in this field while also maintaining an empathetic heart.  And it’s not an easy line to walk sometimes, trust me.  But it can be done.  Perhaps one of the greatest things I learned in nursing school is that people who are hurting do NOT actually want you to provide them with a solution to their problems.  What they really want is someone to listen to their story & validate their pain & suffering.  This can be as simple as listening with an open mind & saying “I’m sorry, I know this has been difficult for you.”  (As I’ve found, this is a great skill to learn for your personal life as well.)  As nurses, we must also remember that our empathy needs to extend not only to our patients & their families but also to our coworkers & even ourselves.  None of us is perfect & we have to learn to forgive ourselves for not always being the perfect “angels of mercy” we strive to be.empathy
  7. Resilient: This is one I’ve come to appreciate more the longer I’ve been a nurse. Being resilient basically means you’re able to recover & bounce back from the hard times.  As nurses, we witness all kinds of terrifying events that inevitably leave some scars on our psyche.  Because of this it’s inevitable that we’re going to have some bad days/nights as nurses.  It just can’t be avoided.  In order to recover from the bad shifts, we have to have outlets that allow us to mentally recuperate.  For me this comes mostly in the form of music, writing, & of course venting with my fellow nurses.  I also volunteer with a local hospice group (not as a nurse, just as a regular volunteer) which I’ve also found brings me a lot of joy.  Additionally, I see a therapist once a month to work on my innate anxiety issues.  Even though much of my anxiety has very little, if anything, to do with my career, I still find it helpful in handling the inevitable stress of working in the healthcare field.resilient
  8. A warped sense of humor: When one patient is screaming for pain meds, another just pooped all over the floor, the monitor tech is calling to say your third patient had a run of V Tach, & your admission just arrived, you better have a warped sense of humor or you’re going to run out of the building in tears. I’m serious.  This is something I didn’t totally appreciate as a new grad, as most new grads probably don’t.  You just can’t know the insanity of being a nurse until you’ve done it.  The things we laugh at would probably make the average person cringe, but then again the average person isn’t a nurse. And if you don’t learn to find the humor in the crazy things we see & deal with on a daily basis, you won’t survive in this field.  It’s as simple as that.sense of humor nursing

If you’re reading this & you’re considering entering the nursing profession, I hope you’ll take this post seriously.  If you don’t feel that you possess any of the above characteristics, frankly I’d suggest going into another field.  Naturally none of us is born with all of these characteristics or possesses all of them 100% of the time because, as I said, we’re all human.  All I can say is I’m so thankful to have worked with so many wonderful nurses over the past four years who have demonstrated these characteristics to me & helped me develop them as well.  If you’re one of those nurses, or one of the many fabulous nursing professors & clinical instructors I was blessed to learn from, & you’re reading this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.thank you

15 Reasons Why Nursing is the Best Career Ever

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.

nursing humor

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.

nurse comic

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.