Nursing is a complicated and often-overlooked profession. Some people may think of nurses as friendly women in white-and-red uniforms checking temperatures and adjusting bedlinens during a stay in the hospital. Those who have slightly more experience with healthcare may have an image in their heads of a friendly but busy person in fun-colored medical scrubs, speed-walking into the room, checking charts, and fiddling with complex technological devices before speed-walking back out again. We’ve seen both versions of the nurse in pop culture, that’s for sure.
The truth is that nurses are the lifeblood of any medical environment: as the people who enact the instructions of the doctor and therefore ensure the patient gets the precise care they need to recover, nurses are responsible for a great deal more than simply checking charts or making beds. Some days as a nurse are rewarding and wonderful, while others might be tragic, exhausting, and even dangerous.
If you’re curious about what it might be like to work as a nurse, here are some of the main pros and cons of the nursing profession.
Pro: Human Connection and Caring Work
Studies have shown that nurses assign a higher value to the non-financial rewards of their profession: that is, the elements of their work that make them feel needed, capable, and social. This may be because one of the best things about being a nurse is the amount of work you get to do with people. Nurses are totally patient-facing – unlike doctors, who can spend a great deal of their day in offices compiling reports or checking treatment plans, nurses spend their days actively engaged in the work of treating patients. This means checking vitals, administering medication, and taking tests, but it also means making sure patients are being cared for and are feeling good.
Nurses are responsible for liaising with patients’ families and friends, too: the nurse is the person who is most likely going to get to know the regular visitors to a patient’s bedside. Nurses provide a critical human link between the often rushed and incoherent explanations of a specialist doctor (who has only minutes to assess and write a plan for each patient they see) and the confused, scared, and often pained patient and their loved ones. The relationships nurses develop while playing this communicative role – with the people in their care, as well as with those who surround them – are some of the absolute best parts of being a nurse.
Con: Difficult, Exhausting, and Often Disgusting Work
Of course, nursing work isn’t always a matter of watching healed patients walk into the arms of their joyous loved ones. A lot of the day-to-day work of being a nurse is administering precise doses of medication to complaining people as quickly as possible, or else dealing with the complaints and abuse of patients who are either mentally unstable, or unhappy with the fact that they need care at all. Because nurses are the people who are communicating the diagnosis and reports of the doctor, they are also the people who are fielding panicked (and often uninformed) questions from patients or dealing with people’s refusal to do what they are advised to. Many nurses struggle particularly with having to see patients repeatedly precisely because they refuse to take the instruction of the doctor, keep up their medication use, or who fall back into the same bad habits that made them ill before they came in the first time around.
Nursing is also very tiring work. Nurses spend nearly all day on their feet, moving between rooms of the hospital or clinic, and are constantly having to keep track of detailed information while answering questions from everyone around them.
Of course, some parts of nursing can be really disgusting. Bedridden patients, for example, need everything done for them. Yes, that includes going to the toilet. However, there’s also a spectacular amount of other bodily fluids to encounter on a day-to-day basis when you’re a nurse. Being repeatedly covered in other people’s blood, urine, bile, snot, and sweat is not always the loveliest way to spend a day!
Pro: Opportunities for Personal and Professional Development
Nursing is such a broad profession that there are always ways to develop once you’ve started a career as a nurse. After a few years of working as a general nurse, for example, you might begin to specialize in certain aspects of care that make you an indispensable member of a specific department. If you have a particular interest in children’s nursing, for example, you can specialize in that area and become a children’s nurse.
You can also build on your nursing degree to take on roles with more responsibility. Many nursing programs offer the opportunity to become nurse practitioners. These include nursing clinicals that provide hands-on training in the realm of diagnosing and treating as well as caring and enacting treatment.
There are lots of opportunities to personally develop as well: volunteer organizations and NGOs are always in need of nurses to help support charity events, grassroots political movements, humanitarian trips to warzones or developing countries, etc. Most major conferences and other city-wide events need teams of nurses to run smoothly: if you’re a nurse, you have the chance to be involved with all sorts of incredible stuff!
Con: Everyone Comes to You With Their Problems
Although it is wonderful to have the knowledge that comes with training and working as a nurse, once you are one, all of your friends and neighbors inevitably begin to come to you with their weird and worrying ailments. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself being bombarded with questions about skin rashes, foot pains, strange headaches, different uses of perineal spray, and odd bowel movements: not exactly the type of conversations you want to be having with your friends at brunch!
Overall, nursing is one of the most important roles in our modern society. While it may have many benefits both personally and professionally, it isn’t always the easiest job in the world!