Thinking of Becoming a Nurse? Here's What They Don't Tell You-Part 2
Nursing, financially stable and secure, yes. Make sure that you understand the cost to yourself.
When I first set out to write this article, I had scribbled a laundry list of things that I considered were the most important things that young people, when choosing to go into the nursing profession are not told prior to entering the field. These were things that I had wished that someone had told me.
The list consisted mostly, of logistical issues that have greatly affected my lifestyle. Much to my amazement, when I got through writing ‘part one’ of this article, I realized that not one thing on my list was mentioned. In addition, I did not intend for this article to extend to a ‘part 2’.
What I have learned from this is that there is so much more that nurses are not told, or asked to consider about themselves, prior to going into the nursing field, than I had even begun to realize. After 30 years in the field, knowing what I know now, it is my belief that research related to the effects of the profession on the overall health and well-being of an individual would be of benefit to all those in the nursing field and especially to those considering it.
The expected and regular occupational exposure to situations that are deeply disturbing for one reason or another, coupled with long hours and physical labor takes a toll on most nurses. There is physical and emotional exhaustion, felt regularly by many nurses, most of which, feel they have little to no choice but to ‘chalk it up’ to another day in the life of an RN. Some, I believe wear their exhaustion like a badge of honor, worn by someone that has returned from battle.
With what is already known about the effects of stress and the importance of maintaining a balanced lifestyle, there is no doubt in my mind that this kind of lifestyle has many long-term, serious adverse effects. Possibly there has been research done and there is some information out there. If there is, it is not reaching the people that need it the most. Furthermore, the young people going to college to enter the profession would not know to seek this information out. Most have no clue or real understanding of what they are getting themselves into.
By the time a person realizes that a career in nursing is not for them, they are up to their eye-balls in student loan debt and the responsibilities that go with marriage and family. Most, that enter the nursing profession, do so for life. Many have attempted to get out and have been unsuccessful. This is where my “laundry list” comes in.
Most new RN’s are encouraged to work for one year on a general medical-surgical floor, gaining valuable experience with patients being treated for a variety of illnesses that require medical and or surgical interventions.
While a new nurse is meeting the first year expectations, in terms of what area of nursing to work in, they are also thrown into a situation where they must juggle a schedule of work hours that makes it impossible to have a regular life, both in terms of outside activities, as well as a normal sleep-wake cycle. Biorhythms become a thing of the past for a long time.
The schedule of hours, “shift work” can be inconsistent from week to week or even inconsistent within the same week. The hours assigned reflect the needs of the unit. The nurse usually has the option to work 12 hour or 8 hour shifts.
It would not be unusual for an RN to work 7AM-7:30PM on Monday and on Tues and Thursday 7PM to 7:30AM. If a nurse works an 8 hour schedule, a hypothetical schedule could be as follows; 7AM-3:30 PM, Monday and Tuesday; 3PM-11:30PM, Wednesday; 11PM-7:30 AM, Thursday. Hey wait a minute; that 8 hour schedule is not a 40 hour work week, you say? That is because I did not include the weekends. Nurses work every other weekend and every other holiday!
Many RN’s choose to work either all 3PM-11:30PM’s or 11PM-7:30AM’s which allows for consistency. It almost always assures no possibility of contact with family, friends or any semblance of a normal life. The nurse interacts primarily with those he or she works with, often partying after work until the very early morning hours to deal with the stress of the job and isolation of the work-related lifestyle.
The nurse sleeps, eats and tends to most outside functions at a completely different time than most of the rest of the world. Trying to have a relationship, take a class or do anything that requires a stable life is out of the picture; at least for the first few years. Nursing at this stage of the game, is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle! The job always comes first. No one ever told ME that!
After learning about the commitment of a nurse related to schedule and hours, a potential future RN might argue that the satisfaction gained from helping people might offset the brutal scheduling and hours.
They might refer to the satisfaction they would get from educating patients about managing their disease processes, medications, wounds and what- ever health issues may be relevant.
Nurses are held accountable for providing patient education prior to discharge to home, however, the education usually amounts to little more than answering questions that a patient may have as they are signing their discharge summary minutes prior to being discharged from the hospital.
The more meaningful aspects of nursing that involve actually relating to a patient long enough to obtain information and provide intervention to address their psycho-social and disease management needs are a tiny fragment of what a nurse in a hospital actually does.
Many nurses, upon this realization, begin to consider all that has been sacrificed in their lives for a profession that has not even come close to the idealistic version portrayed in school. Many nurses at this point feel betrayed and disillusioned as they continue to search within the nursing profession for a job that brings more satisfaction than the last.
Unless a nurse has been unusually lucky and is able to find a job with special circumstances, most nurses come to realize that if they want the kind of job satisfaction they expected to get and a normal lifestyle, they likely will need to seek further education. They will need to further specialize in their field. Some nurses may choose to become’ Nurse Practitioners’ or ‘Nurse Anesthetists’ while others may go into management.
After learning about the grueling schedule and hours, the disappointment in job satisfaction, a persistent future nurse might talk about the great money a nurse makes and the demand for nurses creating economic stability. This is true.
At this point, if our young future nurse is still considering a career in the nursing profession, I would say one of two things. The person either has a ‘calling’ to be a nurse, which, in that case, I would say, “go for it”, because there will always be a demand for nurses, but nurses with a ‘calling’ are in a separate class by themselves. I so admire those nurses and wish that I was one of them!
If our young future potential nurse is basing his or her decision to go into nursing on financial stability alone, then I would have to tell them to consider another field that has the same level of financial security without all the sacrifices. People must not go into nursing for money. It is not fair to the patients or to the person that will find out soon enough that no amount of money is worth selling your soul for. If the potential future nurse, chooses nursing anyway, then all I have left to say is” watch out for the ‘glass ceiling”!