If you are considering embarking on a career in nursing, there is a lot to find out and carefully consider before you start. Nursing is undoubtedly a very rewarding career where you will make a very real difference in people’s lives. However, no one goes into nursing expecting it to be easy, there are some aspects of the work that prove challenging. While it is not a career path for everyone, those who do become nurses generally find their work satisfying and many say they would not want to do anything else. As with all jobs, there are the good parts and the not so good, and it is worth looking carefully at what these are before deciding if this is the right career for you.
Nursing appeals to those who hate the thought of sitting at a desk all day staring at a computer screen and want a more active career dealing with people. Depending on what field you are in, nursing could mean doing rounds on a busy ward, the fast-paced atmosphere of an emergency room, the challenges of an operating room or even visiting patients in their homes. In addition to working with patients, you’ll be part of a dedicated team of professionals. Unlike many jobs that have a predictable routine, in nursing, you are likely to find that no two days are the same. For many, the varied nature of the work is something that is particularly appealing.
The active nature of the work is, of course, also one of the challenges. It can be physically exhausting, sometimes requiring a degree of physical strength if lifting of patients is needed. Nurses need to make sure they look after their own health to keep themselves in the best possible condition for their work, and to keep abreast of all safety measures to avoid hazards such as contagious diseases or needle stick injuries.
As you grow older, it is also worth considering where this career might take you if you are unable to cope with the physical demands of your existing nursing job. Fortunately, there are a number of nursing roles that are less physically demanding, such as nursing education, research roles or school nursing, and many nurses choose to move into these as they grow older, so they can continue to do the job they love until retirement.
A key reason of many nurses for entering the profession is that they enjoy helping others. Whatever setting you work in, you will make a real difference to people’s health and overall lives. Nurses get huge job satisfaction in seeing patients recover or improve their quality of life, whether it is a minor injury easily dealt with or a life-threatening condition. For those who want a career where they help others every single day, nursing is an ideal option.
The downside of this is that nursing can be emotionally and physically demanding. For those who go into a career where they want to help people, it can be hard when they see their patients deteriorate or die, but this is something nurses must accustom themselves to. While this can be true for any medical professional, nurses are often the ones most involved in the day-to-day caring of patients, particularly if they are long-term patients, getting to know them and their families. This increases the joy when a patient recovers, but makes it harder when they don’t, sometimes even bringing a sense of failure that is typically unjustified.
Nurses need to become resilient, and also know how to switch off, so the tougher aspects of nursing do not impact their lives away from work. Learning to cope with the sadder aspects of nursing gets easier the longer you are in the profession, but it is never likely to be truly easy. Nurses are, after all, only humans, and the nature of the work requires empathy. It is important to remember that even when a patient dies, you still made a difference, helping them meet a more comfortable end than they might otherwise have and reducing the trauma for their families.
Something that is both a joy and a challenge to nurses is that when starting a nursing career, you are embarking on a lifelong learning path. Change is always happening as new medicines and methods are introduced. Nurses also must adapt to changes that are happening to the world as a whole. Technology has changed all our lives, and this includes the world of nursing. A less positive change is the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which has led to a steep learning curve for the entire medical profession, both for those treating the virus and the entire practice.
As well as the day-to-day learning that comes about because no two days or two patients are the same, there is also always the option of study to advance your knowledge. This begins at the very start of a nursing career with the training to become a registered nurse, with further qualifications available for those seeking promotions who might choose to embark on master’s or doctoral programs. These options for career progression are another aspect of nursing that many enjoy.
This further study is becoming increasingly accessible with the option of studying in-person at a university or choosing an online course. For those opting for the latter, one good example is Walsh University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program. This online course results in a DNP that prepares nurses for a future as a nurse leader, with study covering vital areas such as health-care policy, evidence-based problem solving and quality improvement, as well as providing support to enable students to secure convenient clinical placements.
Whether through formal study or day-to-day learning, this life-long learning journey that nurses embark upon is inevitably challenging and hard work, but most nurses thrive from these challenges, enjoying the stimulation of always learning something new.
Good long-term career prospects
Nurses have always been in high demand, but this is becoming greater than ever with nursing considered a strong growth career. With an aging population, this trend is likely to continue. A competent, qualified nurse can be confident of secure employment throughout their working life.
This also gives nurses greater flexibility as even if they move to a different geographical area, there are unlikely to be any problems in securing employment. Your qualifications may even still be valid if you move abroad. For many countries, good nurses are people they are keen to attract. So, if you have always dreamt of living in a certain country, it is possible that as a nurse that dream can come true.
A variety of working environments
Even within a hospital, there are many different environments that nurses can find themselves. They may be on the wards or in the emergency room or the operating theatre. Many nurses work in environments other than a hospital, such as a clinic, a nursing care facility or in a school. Even beyond the regular nursing environments there may be job opportunities. Cruise ships carry nurses or why not consider emergency flight nursing? With a choice of environments, there is likely to be one that you will enjoy working in.
A choice of specialties
With so many different areas of nursing, the biggest challenge with the variety of specialties is choosing between them! Your interests might lie in psychiatric nursing, pediatrics, oncology, surgery, neonatology or occupational health to name but a few.
Fortunately, it is usually straightforward to change between specialties, particularly if you are willing to undertake further study to facilitate it, meaning that nurses do not ever need to feel that they must work in an area they feel doesn’t fit. A particular joy of nursing is that it provides opportunities to work in an area that you have a real passion for.
Working hours and patterns
It is impossible to say whether the working pattern of a nurse is an advantage or a challenge. For night owls, who would struggle with a regular nine to five working life, the chance for night shifts is an advantage. For others, this can cause challenges. Changing shifts can be a problem, particularly for those juggling work with raising a family, who will need to continually adjust their childcare arrangements. You may also have to accept working on holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, since the need for nurses never takes a break. This can cause problems socially.
Fortunately, the variety of nursing environments will have different work patterns and you should be able to choose one that suits you. Some can be flexible, offering longer shifts over fewer days. If the nine to five routine is what works best for you, a physician’s office or clinic may be the ideal place to work.
Working with people
When nursing, you will continually be in contact with other people, both fellow professionals and patients and their families. For most nurses, this is one of the positives of the job, as they thrive on helping others and become skilled communicators as they keep both patients and other staff informed.
However, working with people can be challenging and this is never truer than in a medical environment. This can often be fast paced and stressful and you may be working in a team under pressure, while feeling stressed yourself. The working environment should be a positive one, but on exhausting shifts and in challenging circumstances, it may not always be so.
Patients and their families will cause challenges too, as you meet people who may be at one of the lowest points of their lives. People who are ill, injured, scared and vulnerable are not going to be at their best, and nurses do need to acquire a thick skin to cope with the criticisms or even anger that can come from some patients.
These challenges do need to be balanced against the many joys that working with people can bring. Usually, you will build up good working relations with colleagues, becoming part of a team where your skills can flourish and perhaps also form lasting friendships. Your relationships with patients will often be positive, as you share in the joy of their recovery. For every critical or angry patient, lashing out in a moment of vulnerability, you will encounter many more who are grateful for all you do.
With demanding work, long hours and the possibility of awkward colleagues and patients, stress management is one of the key challenges nurses face, and staff shortages can exacerbate this issue. It is a good idea to build a solid support network both in your professional and personal life and you should never be afraid to seek help if it all starts to seem like too much.
It is important to leave work at work, allowing you to use home as a place of relaxation. Perhaps debrief your day to a colleague at the end of the shift and then leave the concerns behind. In free time, nurses should make sure they have time to rest and to enjoy activities they enjoy doing, including exercise, hobbies or fun social events with friends and family. A good night’s sleep before each shift can do wonders to minimize the pressure.
Be part of a community
There is a vibrant online community among nurses that often spills into physical communities. From nation-wide groups such as the American Nursing Association down to local groups or groups associated with a certain specialty, you will find community boards, blogs and podcasts that can help you through any low points in your career and celebrate the many joys.
This may be one of the greatest joys of nursing. You are not alone. You are part of a large, skilled group of people who are as committed as you to making a difference every day.