becoming a nurseWith fewer prospects available in the job market, many people are thinking about becoming a nurse. After all, it is one of the few professions that offers many career options in different areas. And with various accelerated nursing programs available today, it has become a very attractive option for people who seek a second degree to increase their career options.

However, it is important to go into this profession for the right reasons. Here are 6 questions that you should ask before enrolling in a nursing program:

1. What is being on call all about?

The idea of being on call is the most important consideration when entering the nursing profession. While not all nursing positions require it, many do. This is something that you should be prepared for, especially if you have a family.

Being on call has good and bad aspects. A good aspect is the pay. Most jobs requiring this pay the nurse a small hourly rate for each hour on call. And nurses are generally paid 1.5 times their hourly rate for each hour they work when they are called in. It also varies from job to job. Some jobs may require being on call, but actually being called in to work is rare.

With other jobs, being on call is almost a guarantee that you have to work. Generally a call lasts for a 12-hour overnight period or 24-hour period on weekends. Some may even require being on call for the entire 48 hours of a weekend. Jobs that typically (but not always) require a call include ones at the operating room, recovery room, and labor and delivery. Any position, however, may have a call policy in place.

2. Am I going to make good money as a nurse?

Many people choose a nursing degree thinking they are guaranteed a job with excellent pay upon graduation. However, this is not completely true. It is important to find out what you are going to be paid before accepting any job. Standard nursing jobs are paid on hourly schedules and amounts can vary based on several factors.

Location is also a huge factor in what you make. Nursing salaries vary greatly from state to state. Pay also varies between jobs in a large city institution compared to a small town hospital. Pay can also be determined by the hours the nurse works. Nurses are typically paid more to work nights or weekends.

Pay is also influenced by the type of job. The more demanding jobs—like emergency room or critical care—tend to pay higher than the more standard jobs working in the units or in clinics. The less desirable the job, the higher the pay.

3. Is it better to work with children, adults, or the elderly?

That is entirely up to the individual. Think long and hard about what age you want to work with. One nurse may swear the best jobs are in the pediatric field, while another nurse will say working with the elderly is most rewarding. You will have an opportunity to experience them all in nursing school, so really pay close attention to what age you seem to work best with.

4. What is it like to lose a patient?  Does it ever get easy to deal with?

Losing a patient is never easy. Some areas experience more patient losses than others, so obviously those working in areas of higher patient loss will be better equipped to deal with it. But it is never easy, regardless of age or area. It is just something nurses learn to deal with, as it comes with the territory.  

Be sure you would be able to handle the death of a patient before you take a job in a nursing area like critical care, oncology, or emergency. Most hospitals and departments offer counseling and debriefing sessions for nurses involved in patient deaths, which does help the nurse to better deal with it.

As a nurse it is almost impossible to completely detach yourself from the situation and the patients you work with. If you work with a patient a few times, you are most likely going to form some kind of nurse-patient relationship, even with the difficult patients. It is a very real part of the nursing profession, and while it is difficult, it is not impossible to handle.

5. What is nursing school and the NCLEX like?

You have probably heard many things about nursing school. Most of it is probably true. Nursing school is not easy. You must be committed in order to graduate. Most institutions require an entrance exam, which serves to show the faculty which students are capable of the demands nursing school will require.

If you pass the entrance exam and are admitted, it will be hard work. Nursing students are usually held to a higher standard than students majoring in other fields. While other majors require a 2.0 grade point average to pass, nursing school requires a minimum of 2.5 (sometimes higher). This is due to the importance of the knowledge you are acquiring. You are going into a field where human lives will be in your hands.

Nursing school is divided into two parts: classroom and clinical settings. The clinical setting is very important. It is where you get hands-on experience for your future nursing career. You will have clinical rotations in most of the major nursing areas:

  • Medical/Surgical
  • Mother/Baby (labor and delivery, nursery, ante-partum and post-partum)
  • Pediatrics
  • Public health (state health departments, school nursing)
  • Critical care

Clinical rotations can vary from school to school. Some may offer other clinical courses as well. While this all may seem very difficult, it is not impossible. It is a realistic look at what is in store for you if you plan on becoming a nurse.

Once you graduate from nursing school, there are a couple of obstacles to overcome. The first is the NCLEX, the state board exam. All nurses in every state are required to pass this in order to obtain your license and get nursing jobs.

Your school will do all they can to prepare you for the exam. It is not easy, but the important thing is to stay calm when you take it. Many people fail the exam their first try simply due to test anxiety. They have the knowledge, but their fear prevents them from scoring well. Once you pass the state board you are eligible for just about any nursing position.

6. What can I expect from my first nursing job?

As a seasoned nurse, I am offering one piece of advice. It is normal to feel like you don’t know anything when you start a job. You may have just gone through two or four years of school, but once you start your job you may feel like you didn’t learn anything at all!

The truth of the matter is you did learn what you needed to know, but most of a nursing education occurs after nursing school. Once you get your job and start your career, you will go through an orientation period. The first few weeks are very difficult, I won’t lie. Many nurses lose faith in their knowledge and abilities during this time. It will get better though. You will begin to feel more comfortable with your new job and the things you learn will be amazing. You will get through your orientation period and before you know it your career as a nurse will flourish!

The most important part of becoming a nurse is the determination and endurance, two things that are absolutely essential.  If you are determined to become a nurse, however, you can and will excel.