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Nursing is one of the “classic” careers– the careers that everyone understands, and many people consider entering at some point in their life. Most of us have had direct experience with what nurses do; the familiarity of the job can make it seem like any prospective nurses should have plenty of insight about what to expect.
However, many new nurses find themselves struggling. They suddenly realize that while the job and its basic functions might be well known, the actual reality of life as a nurse is far more complex than they understood. This means that trainees have to both learn the nursing skills they need, and mentally catch up to understand what the job entails– this is incredibly difficult and contributes to the high number of trainee nurses who abandon the profession before they have even qualified.
If you’re contemplating a career in nursing, then there are a few realities you will need to accept about your chosen career. Realities such as…
A huge amount of paperwork is involved in nursing
When you’re considering a nursing career, you probably imagine that your days will be full of interactions with patients, dealing with families, and generally immersing yourself in the busy tasks that are required when caring for patients.
However, a huge amount of nursing is actually about… paperwork. You will need to make thorough records of almost everything you do. Doctors have long called this problem “patients v paperwork”, and you’ll experience the same problems as a nurse. The paperwork requirements are constant, and if you make a mistake, it could lead to the termination of your contract.
You will, of course, spend some of your time interacting with patients and performing the caring duties that drew you to the profession in the first place. However, you have to be ready for the fact that paperwork will consume a huge amount of your working life. Nurses have been complaining about paperwork demands for many years, but there’s no sign of this changing anytime soon– so you’ll have to accept the reality of this if you want to work in this field.
You will have less time with patients than you expect
If you watch TV medical dramas, it’s easy to get a glorified idea of what life as a nurse will be like. Nursing is often portrayed as glamorous and enjoyable; sure, it’s sometimes shown as hard work, but it can’t be that hard given how much time TV nurses spend gossiping with one another, can it?
Of course, as an intelligent person, you’ll know that you won’t have a huge amount of free time on your hands during your shift. You’ll tone your expectations down a notch; you’ll think about being able to shop Amazon for your scrubs, talk with colleagues during breaks, and — most importantly — spend time really talking and listening to your patients. These all seem like fairly reasonable expectations of your time as a nurse, and you’ll likely be looking forward to those patient interactions you’ll be able to enjoy.
The sad truth is that you will spend far less time with your patients than you expect. Every moment you spend during your working hours has to be accounted for; for every patient you are currently dealing with, there are four more waiting for your time. Nurses just don’t have the ability to sit and truly talk to their patients; they are often forced to be brusque, to deliver the information they have to deliver, then move on to the next waiting patient. There are many nursing skills you need, but perhaps the most important is the ability to know when it’s time to move on and bring a discussion with a patient to a close.
While there will be opportunities to talk and connect with patients on an emotional level, it’s important to see these
opportunities are rarities rather than something you can expect every day. Most nurses make as much of a difference as they possibly can to every patient, but acknowledge they will have to walk away, as someone else is also in need of their time.
You will find it emotionally draining
When people think of entering the nursing profession, they tend to focus on the good side of the job. They think about being the one to inform a patient they are cured or soothing a distressed and sick child with a smile and a lollipop. Everyone who enters a caring profession thinks about these moments when their work will produce outstanding results.
However, it’s very important that you also take the time to think about the possibility of unfavorable outcomes, when you will have to deal with the death of a patient. There is no way to go through a nursing career without experiencing this, so you have to ensure you think through how you will cope with this. Sometimes, there is just nothing you can do for someone, and you will have to accept that and walk away.
There’s no doubt this is incredibly difficult, and many nurses suffer from emotional problems due to the toll of their work. Over time, you will learn how to cope when a patient dies, but the first few times will hit you harder than you might expect. You will need to ensure you have a good support network around you and that you are as prepared as you can possibly be for this eventuality.
The above is not an attempt to dissuade you from pursuing nursing as your career of choice. It is merely meant to ensure you have the full facts behind you, so you can make the most realistic choice regarding the next steps of your career. Now you have more of an idea of what life as a nurse can be like, you can commit to a course of action that suits you, safe in the knowledge you’re as informed as you can possibly be.