Nursing is one of the more lucrative careers in the healthcare sector, and a nursing degree can provide you with an important education and a chance to enter into this highly sought-after professional field. Nurses are also highly valued members of society, and nursing is viewed as one of the most trusted professions in the US. The profession also appeals to those who enjoy providing care to people and find satisfaction in helping others when they are at their most vulnerable.
That being said, there are many aspects of nursing that can surprise newly qualified nurses and that can be difficult to manage. We have broken down some of the most important things that prospective nurses should be aware of before they decide to pursue a career in nursing.
Understanding what your degree means
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is the degree that you need to attain to become a registered nurse (RN). However, before you get started, you should know that a BSN is not the only thing you will need to obtain in order to get a job as an RN.
Firstly, you will also need to pass your exam as a nurse. The exams will differ depending on the country you live in, but in the US, the exam is the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). If you are not feeling confident about the exam, you can always take an additional cram or student course beforehand, which will be designed to help you prepare.
Secondly, although there is a great demand for RNs generally, you can and should take steps to improve your CV to attract the attention of potential employers. You will especially want to boost your CV if you are interested in working in a competitive field of nursing, in a big city, or in a high-demand job such as a traveling nurse.
You can improve your resume through taking your clinical experience seriously, pursuing higher education where possible, and even through learning another language. These are all accomplishments that will help you to polish your resume and give you an important edge over other candidates.
You might want to pursue further education
For many of us, after getting through the BSN and passing board certifications, it is hard to consider going back to school right away. However, after working for a few years in the field, you may find yourself drawn to a particular specialization or aspect of nursing that you would like to develop further in your career.
There are many different certifications and postgraduate degree programs that nurses can pursue that will not only increase your employment prospects but will also help you to hone your skills and develop a much deeper understanding of your subject area. You might surprise yourself and find that you have a marked aptitude for a particular area of study. Many people find that they enjoy education much more and perform much better when they are returning to school after working for a few years.
The prospect of returning to school can be daunting for professionals who do not want to take a break from work and who instead want to keep earning an income. The concerns about returning to education intensify when you also have family obligations such as caring for children or older family members.
Thankfully, online education has risen in popularity over the last few years and become a viable option for working professionals who are too busy for a traditional, classroom-based style of learning. Remote learning may not be for everyone, but it has made education incredibly accessible for working professionals who are looking to jump start their careers.
Communication is key
Everyone knows that it is important to be detailed oriented and have a solid grasp of biology and anatomy as a nurse, but many people do not realize the importance of communication and a good bedside manner. Most patients you will encounter have very little understanding of human health, the healthcare system, or what care entails. It is one aspect of your job to explain to them what is happening, what their care will look like, and to clarify anything they are confused about.
Being able to communicate effectively and clearly with patients is an incredibly important skill, but as a nurse, you will also need to work with other nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals. It is important that you know how to advocate for your patients when needed; work in a team; and communicate your ideas, plans and work to your other colleagues.
Good communication styles and skills are not necessarily taught in nursing school. Instead, these are skills that you will need to develop from your own experience either volunteering in hospitals or doing your clinical work as a student.
And if something goes wrong or you have a conflict with a patient, do not worry – every nurse will occasionally come up against patients who they just cannot get through to or work with. The important thing is being able to address the issue and find a solution to the problem when it does happen.
Good time management is vital
You may not have been taught this in university, but good time management is truly essential to your success as a nurse. One of the reasons why nurses are so sought after is because there are simply not enough professionals to fill the current demand.
This means that most nurses are, at least in some way, stretched. Most nurses have more work than they can handle and they are working rigorous hours, sometimes on an on-call basis. The strain on nurses means that when they are at work, they need to be highly efficient with the care they provide, and they also need to be able to manage their time outside of work.
If you want to have a well-rounded, enjoyable life as a nurse, then you will need to learn how to be efficient with the care you provide and how to manage the rest of your life outside of work in an organized way. This can be difficult to get the hang of at first, and you may feel as if you are drowning in work. However, if you work at it and try different organization techniques, then you may find that you are able to make it work.
That being said, not all floor managers are fair with their scheduling, and if you have a routine that is truly untenable and makes it impossible for you to enjoy a work-life balance, then you may want to look elsewhere for better employers.
Self-care is essential
One aspect of nursing that was rarely discussed before the COVID-19 pandemic is the toll that it takes on mental and physical health. If you are working directly with patients, then you will find that some days are incredibly emotionally draining and sometimes even physically exhausting or painful. People tend to see nurses when they are not feeling well, and this means that they are not always the easiest people to be around – no one is at their best when they are sick and scared about the future.
In order to provide a high level of care, you also need to take care of yourself. This means incorporating self-care into your daily life and nurturing your mental, physical and emotional health. Self-care is a term that is bandied around quite liberally by companies, marketing campaigns and influencers, but it is still an incredibly important aspect of professional life.
Self-care for nurses will mean something different to everyone, but at its most basic, it involves maintaining a healthy worklife balance whilst working in the nursing field, caring for your body through eating a well-rounded diet, and being active in a way that brings you joy and empowerment. It also means making time for yourself, including your interests, hobbies, needs and relaxation – whether you’re already working long shifts or studying hard to gain the qualifications to kickstart your career. Walsh University’s fully online nursing courses are there for those wanting that flexibility while they study, so they can knuckle down at times of the day convenient to them but also meet other commitments and interests in their daily lives.
If you are not sure what self-care means for you or you do not have any hobbies to spend a few relaxing hours enjoying, then you may want to try out a number of different things and see what fits. For some people, knitting while watching TV is self-care, while for others it is crushing a powerlifting set, taking time for an elaborate skincare routine, or just getting to bed earlier than usual.
You will not be able to help everyone
This is one aspect of nursing that no one really wants to think about – and that is directly tied to self-care. We like to think of ourselves as being in a healing profession, but the reality of human existence is that we all pass away, and some of us pass away in the care of nurses who are trying their best to help us.
An incredibly difficult aspect of nursing is that not everyone gets better and, increasingly, some people do not want to receive a certain kind of care (such as vaccines) that could help them. It is a very important aspect of being a successful nurse to be able to understand that even if you do everything you can, you will not be able to help everyone. Practicing self-care is one way to strengthen yourself emotionally so that you will be able to accept the limitations of the care you are providing.
Join a nursing union
Another aspect of nursing that you may not have previously considered is the importance of nursing unions. Every country will have its own national nursing unions, and once you qualify as an RN, you should consider joining a union. Unions are a topic that may spark controversy for some, but if you weigh the pros and cons and find that the pros outweigh the cons, then why not join?
The most common reasons why some people choose not to join a union are the union fees, the unpaid strikes, the controversy over collective action, and the fact that unions sometimes reward seniority over performance and may protect nurses over patients. On the other hand, thousands of nurses around the world join unions because the unions advocate for better pay, ensure safe working conditions, investigate grievances that nurses have, and ensure due process when a nurse is disciplined. Finally, they provide standards for the hiring, promotion and firing of nurses that are consistent and fair.
In addition to considering the above pros and cons, you can decide to join a union based on other factors such as the union leadership and its ethics and vision, your career goals, and the likelihood of a looming strike or collective action.
Taking the time to decide
These are just a few of the many different aspects that future nurses should think about when considering a career in nursing. Everyone’s experience with nursing is going to be unique and will be influenced by a wide variety of factors, including your education, where you are based, the floors you work on, management styles, colleagues, and the place and time in which you are working.
If you take the time to really reflect and think about what you want from your career and where your strengths lie, then you are likely to enjoy your career in nursing and find fulfilment in your work. Try not to worry if you start working and realize that you are not enjoying your work. Instead, think about how you could change paths through additional education or specialization.