6 Things to Consider When Choosing a Nursing Career
Nursing is a fantastic career choice that has a huge amount of benefits, ranging from fantastic opportunities to personal fulfillment. Before you jump into a nursing course or role, however, it’s important to make sure that the role fits you. Nursing can be one of the most rewarding careers in the world, but it does require commitment and compassion, so it’s best to get a realistic understanding of what’s involved before you start. We’ve highlighted six key things to consider before pursuing a career in nursing.
To give some insight into how these points affect real nurses, we’ve spoken with Beth Hawkes, a Registered Nurse, to see how she balances them in her work.
Beth Hawkes is a Nursing Professional Development Specialist with a long and diverse background in acute care. She’s a published author, owner of the award-winning blog, nursecode.com and popular career columnist for allnurses.com. She is widely known on social media as Nurse Beth.
1. Caring is Key
As a nurse, you’ll be there for your patients through the good times and bad, you’ll become a vital part of their support network and often play a pivotal role in their comfort and happiness. Being able to make a difference in people’s lives is one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a nurse. But it’s not without its challenges.
Supporting patients can be emotionally and psychologically draining. A busy schedule can mean you don’t always feel like you’re there as much as you like for your patients. It can also leave you finding yourself emotionally drained at the end of a difficult day. To be a successful nurse, you must be driven by compassion and the desire to help people. This will enable you to get satisfaction from your work, even during the tougher times.
Nurse Beth says that creating these caring connections is her favourite thing about being a nurse. She says “I didn’t know this before I became a nurse, but my favourite thing about my job is the connection I make with my patients in times of need. It’s a privilege to be allowed in that space. There is nothing more gratifying to me than providing comfort and safe passage. Sometimes it’s when I recognize early signs of sepsis and intervene. Other times it’s creating a safe, non-judgmental space. And sometimes it’s simply a warm blanket tucked in just so.”
2. Be Resilient
Resilience has long been cited as a key characteristic of those in nursing. The nature of the job you’re doing means you have to take the highs with the lows. Choosing nursing means you can be with people as they overcome some of the biggest challenges they’ll face in their lives. But you may also be there at their lowest points too.
It’s important to establish this skill at the beginning of your career. Nurse Beth learnt resilience early on, working in emotional situations. She says “I would empathize with a patient or family, maybe to the point of tears, but then step out into the hall and quickly be composed and available for my next patient. It’s when I cared for a brain dead 45-year-old mother of two being kept alive for organ harvesting while the eleven-year-old daughter was at the bedside. Being therapeutic means meeting my patients at their point of need, which calls for both sensitivity and resiliency.”
This can be emotionally draining and may mean you have to work with people at their most vulnerable and upset. It’s important for nurses to be resilient enough to work in a wide variety of situations and still be there for their patients. If you are compassionate and resilient, nursing is likely to be a fantastic and incredibly rewarding career for you.
3. The Pros and Cons of Shift Work
The demand for nursing never stops, so the reality of life for most nurses includes shift work and some unsociable hours. A regular nursing shift pattern involves three days working 12-hour shifts, followed by four days off. 12-hour shifts let nurses become involved in and familiar with their patients’ care plans and lessen the number of changes of staff. Meaning more consistency for those under their care.
Taking four days off following three days of shifts allows nurses to rest and relax, giving time to keep themselves in top condition to provide quality care for their patients. The three on, four off pattern of working also allows nurses time to spend with their family or pursue their hobbies.
In order to handle shift work and make the most of the potential benefits for your lifestyle it’s important to get the best sleep you can. Some helpful tips to achieve this include:
- Block out light from your bedroom with window coverings or blackout blinds
- Turn your phone off when trying to sleep
- Invest in a good quality, comfortable, and supportive mattress and pillow
- Ask for support from friends and family by being considerate of your sleeping pattern
Nurse Beth says that it is important to find a pattern that works for you, while pulling your weight as part of a team. “While less desirable shifts have to be shared fairly, I advocate for nurses finding the right fit for themselves, and managers working with their staff to help them do the same. Some nurses simply cannot tolerate night shift. Others thrive. When you find the right place for you, your performance is at its best.”
4. Keep Active
Being a nurse will definitely help you keep on your feet and remain active. A common part of the job is spending a lot of your time walking, doing rounds, and helping patients. A study from 2006 found that nurses walk an average of between four and five miles in the course of a 12-hour shift.
A good level of fitness is a great benefit to potential nurses. It’ll help you stay focused and energetic while getting your job done. It’s also worth taking care of your body and investing in shoes and clothing that will support your body and stave off fatigue. Supportive clogs and trainers can help prevent weary feet. If you make the choice to pursue nursing, try changing your shoes half-way through your shift. This way you’ll have the benefit of uncompressed support round the clock.
5. There’s a Balance Between Science and Service
A career in nursing means undertaking the dual roles of providing excellent service and care to all patients and visitors, while also taking a scientific approach to monitoring their condition and analysing their progress. This can be a fine line to walk and it’s okay to be stronger in one area than the other. But it is important that you’re happy and able to work in both of these areas.
The balance you’d have to strike between science and service in your career as a nurse varies depending on the type of nursing work you choose. Certified nursing Assistants (CNAs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) tend to work either under Registered Nurses (RNs) or in care homes or home health facilities. These roles are often more weighted towards service, with some routine medical monitoring.
Specialised nursing roles like Nurse Practitioner, however, may require more extensive scientific skills and understanding. This position requires classification, treatment, and management of chronic diseases, interpretation of diagnostic tests, and performance of a wide range of procedures. It’s important to take into account where you want your balance to be between science and service when you’re planning your nursing career.
There is pleasure to be taken from both sides of the role, as Nurse Beth has found throughout here career. “I apply my expertise to each patient while being cognizant of their comfort and needs. I know how to start an IV with the least amount of pain while paying attention to their unspoken fears and anxiety. Sometimes I can administer subcutaneous insulin and they don’t even know it was given.
“I am as gratified brewing a cup of fresh coffee for my post-angiogram patient who was NPO for twelve hours as I am in recognizing when he shows early signs of a retroperitoneal bleed.
“Patients often don’t know my expertise because my critical thinking skills are always working on their behalf but behind the scenes. Even when they think we are just talking I’m critically assessing them. And in the words of Maya Angelou, they do know how I made them feel.”
To learn more about the different roles and responsibilities of nurse roles, take a look at our information on types of nurses.
6. On-Going Education is Important
One of the huge benefits of a career in nursing is the opportunities it offers for development and progress. There are so many ways for you to shape your career, whether it’s through diving into a specialism, like oncology, or striving for a senior role like Nurse Practitioner.
Nurse Beth has made a career out of advocating for nursing professional development, becoming a Nursing Professional Development Specialist. She believes that life-long learning is what will take nursing professionals to the next level. In her work, mentoring has been a big part of what can drive professional development, whether this is in a formal or informal setting.
To really get the most of all the incredible opportunities open to you on this career path, you need to be committed to on-going education. As a nurse, you’ll find opportunities for learning all around you every day. In addition to this, you should also pursue other opportunities to develop your skills. This could be reading academic articles, attending seminars and workshops, or undertaking new certificates and qualifications.
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If these sound like qualities you possess, then a career in nursing could be the perfect path for you. Although nursing can be challenging, those in the profession are overwhelmingly happy with their choice. 83% of those surveyed by AMN Healthcare’s 2017 Survey of Registered Nurses said they were satisfied with their choice of career.
Being a nurse is one of the most fulfilling jobs in the world. It allows you to make a real, tangible difference in people’s lives and offer them support when they need it most.
It also offers fantastic stability, benefits, and advancement opportunities, so you can support you and your family. If you think you’re suited to a career in nursing and want to get started, sign up for our newsletter written by experts from American Nurses Associations (ANA), to get expert help on taking the next steps.