You’ve always wanted to be a nurse -- an angel of mercy -- serving patients with compassion and a smile. It’s a nice rosy picture, but it’s important to remember that nursing, like any career, has both advantages and disadvantages. Some disadvantages, such as sore feet, can be managed with better shoes. Others, such as burnout, will require emotional support and counseling. Be sure to take time for yourself, eat a healthy diet, exercise, get plenty of sleep and find a good support system of family or friends.
Most nurses, especially new graduates, work shifts. The 12-hour shift is the norm in many areas of nursing, particularly in hospitals. If you add on an hour of overtime, it makes for a very long day. Nursing is also a profession where you often work nights, weekends and holidays. New graduate nurses wind up on the less desirable shifts or cover the weekends because they are at the bottom of the seniority totem pole.
Nursing is a physical job. You spend a great deal of your shift on your feet, and even the best shoes can’t compensate for long hours on concrete floors. You will also spend time moving patients from beds to gurneys or chairs and back again. Patients who are very sick may need to be moved in their beds, with equipment such as intravenous poles or ventilators in addition to the bed. Back injuries are one of the unpleasant side effects of all that lifting, pushing and pulling.
There are other risks involved in a nursing career. You care for patients who have infectious diseases, and even if you take precautions to protect yourself, there is still a risk that you may catch something. In an emergency situation, you may be accidentally stuck by a blood-covered needle from a patient with hepatitis or another blood-borne disease. Some diseases such as chicken pox or tuberculosis can be spread by coughing and sneezing before the patient has even been diagnosed.
Nursing is emotionally demanding and you can develop burnout from emotional stress. You will be there when a woman with young children gets the news that she has breast cancer or when an elderly patient you’ve cared for dies unexpectedly. Other patients may be mentally ill or in severe pain.
Your emotional connection with a patient helps foster the healing process, but it’s much like a well -- when you’re constantly giving to other people and don’t recharge the water supply -- the well of compassion can run dry.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.