Nursing is such an incredible career path for those who find themselves drawn to helping people, while also earning good money and find value in living a flexible lifestyle. But the path to becoming an RN isn’t always easy. It’s paved with failed tests, long hours of studying, student debt, and jobs that will turn you away. The funny thing about this is that all of that crap… it’s normal. Every nurse goes through hardships on their journey to becoming an RN. I only wish I had known that as I was going through those hard times, drowning in papers, tests, and quizzes. Worried about the NCLEX and wondering what the point of writing care plans was. Now that I’ve gone through the process of becoming an RN myself, here are 10 things that I wish I had known before becoming a nurse.
10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming a Nurse
1. There Will Be a Lot of Bad… But There Will Also Be a Lot of Good
In nursing you’ll deal without a lot of bad. Bad days, unfair deaths, families taking their anger out on you, missed meds, mistakes, things that will make you want to throw in the towel and give up. But you’ll also deal with a lot of good. Miraculous recoveries, fun memories with co-workers at 3 in the morning, letters from patients that you didn’t know you impacted. So while there is bad in healthcare, there is also a lot of good.
2. The Best Way to Prevent Burnout is By Taking Care of Yourself
Nurse burnout is real and the only way to prevent it is to take care of yourself outside of work. This looks different to everyone, but I highly encourage you to find what you’re passionate about and pursue that when you’re not working. Maybe its traveling, maybe its massages, maybe its just a good book in bed. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating enough, and drinking plenty of water (at work and outside of work). By taking care of yourself outside of work you’ll last much longer in the profession plus you’ll be a better nurse for your patients.
3. Nursing is the Best Career if You Love to Travel
I think that one of the best things about the nursing profession is the flexibility! And the more flexibility you have in your career, the more you’re able to do what you love. In this case, if you love to travel, nursing is a great career choice. Not only can you be a travel nurse which will allow you to live all over the United States and take ample time off between contracts to see the world, but as a staff nurse who only works three days a week, you also have plenty of time off to travel. This is even true if you don’t have PTO! Another thing I recommend staff nurses to do so that they can see the world, is to give themselves eight days off by working the first three days of week one, and the last three days of week two, giving you eight days off in a row to take a trip! I call this “The 8 Day Vacay“.
4. Hospitals Might Not Always Stick Up For You, So You Need to Learn to Stick Up For Yourself
I learned the hard way that hospitals aren’t around to act in nurses best interest. Hospitals, even non-profit hospitals, are business’s and their main goal is to make money. The sooner you realize that the hospital is looking out for themselves and their best interest, you can start to look out for yourself and your best interest.
I also think it’s important to understand that if you don’t like where you’re working, you need to leave before you get in too deep. Once you’ve been a staff nurse for a certain period of time, you become so much more invested in where you’re working and it’s much harder to leave. As a new nurse, if you spot red flags and you don’t like the hospital you’re at… it’s okay to quit and find somewhere else to work. In fact, I encourage it.
5. It’s Okay to Ask For What You Need
When I was a new grad, I had a hard time sticking up for myself and asking for the types of assignments that I needed. Unfortunately, it really set me back in my career and I highly advise any new nurse to ask for exactly what it is that they need. I had always thought that everyone knew better than me, they had all trained nurses before successfully so I figured that the assignments they would give me would be the assignments they thought I should have. Turns out, everyone around me was asking for what they needed besides me and I was the one falling behind.
6. Nursing School is Hard and Everyone Starts in the Same Position – Not Knowing a Thing
The bad news is… nursing school doesn’t show you what bedside nursing is actually like in the real world. The good news is… every nurse starts in the same position – not knowing a damn thing. So when you’re feeling overwhelmed and frustrated that you were sitting in classes filling out care plans when the real world isn’t like that… just remember, we have all been in your shoes at one point. Take a deep breath, and just take it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. You’ll get there.
7. No Matter Where You Work, There Will Always Be That 1 Bully – Don’t Let it Be You
I’ve worked in 12+ hospitals and am sad to say that in every single unit there is always that one nurse who is a bully. Do NOT let that nurse be you. Be nice to the new nurses, be nice to the senior nurses, be nice to the housekeeping staff that keeps your units clean. Healthcare is hard enough as it is and we don’t need to be tearing each other down and making anyone’s lives more difficult. If you have an issue with someone, respectfully address it and move on. No need to harbor ill will, bad feelings, or talk poorly about people behind their backs. Be kind, help out your co-workers, and do it all with a smile on your face.
8. Nursing School Doesn’t Prepare You For Becoming a Nurse
Nursing school absolutely does not prepare you for becoming a nurse. Nursing school doesn’t teach you compassion when your patient passes away. Or how to celebrate when you bring new life into the world. Nursing school doesn’t teach you how to be a team player, it doesn’t wipe your tears after a long day, and nursing school certainly doesn’t teach you how to care for yourself in the emotionally difficult career path that you chose. It’s just something that you have to accept and do in order to becoming an RN.
9. You Can Go into a Specialty As a New Grad Without Working Med-Surg First
Med-surg is a great floor to work on, and if you’re a nurse that wants to work med-surg, good for you! But it isn’t for everyone. I don’t know where the notion comes from that you have to work on a med-surg floor before switching into a specialty unit, but it’s absolutely not true. You can work on any floor you want right out of school!
In my experience, I wanted to work in the NICU so I applied for NICU jobs all over the United States. I was turned down from a lot of jobs, but I finally landed one and moved to Kansas City to pursue my love of NICU nursing. If you want to be in a certain hospital on a certain floor but don’t get the job, then maybe you apply at that hospital for a different floor and move into the role you want when a position opens up.
Unsure what floor you want to work on? Read: How to Pick a Specialty When You’re in Nursing School
10. It’s Okay to Say “No”
The sooner you realize that it’s okay to say no, the easier your life will be. You can say no to switching shifts with co-workers, picking up extra, no to an unsafe assignment. Remember, you are your own best advocate and you know how to best take care of yourself. If that’s saying no, then it’s something that you’re going to need to be good at. And remember, “no” is a complete sentence, you don’t need to explain your actions to anyone else.
Like any profession, being a nurse has its ups and downs. My only hope is that you don’t feel defeated when times get rough, remember everyone has walked in your shoes at some point. Everyone has felt lost, helpless, and like they didn’t know what they were doing when they started out. Just stick with it, it does get easier.