When the topic for this article was suggested to me, my initial response was that it would be fun to think back and write about my life before and after becoming a nurse. Nursing has been one of the best decisions that I have made in my life. Law school was a good career move for me and opened up some doors of opportunity that I had never imagined, but whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, my first response is always, “I’m a nurse.”
I became an Associate Degree RN at age twenty. I went from a small private high school directly into a medium-sized university 50 miles from my home. There were several nurses in my family already, so I thought that I knew what I was getting into. To some extent, I was wrong. Hence the following list of five things that I wish I had known before becoming a nurse:
- We can’t always help people. I was one of those people who went into nursing for the stereotypical reason of, “I want to help people.” Imagine my surprise when I found out that this isn’t always possible for a variety of reasons. Sometimes no matter what we do, nothing can change an inevitable outcome. Sometimes patients just don’t want our help. We can’t take it personally if that happens. What we can do is always try our best and do what we can to work towards the best outcome possible.
- The amount of responsibility that we have is incredible. I’ll never forget the first time that I signed my name with “RN” behind it. My first response was “Wow, that looks great!” This was shortly followed by “Wow, I’m the RN and other people are going to come to me and expect me to know the answers, and I’m going to be accountable for the nursing care that these patients receive.” After the terror subsided, I remembered that it was okay that I didn’t know everything, and that the important thing was that I knew when to ask for help.
- Just because someone has a license to practice nursing doesn’t mean that they can or should. We’ve all worked with someone who fits into this category. Maybe at times we have fit into this category ourselves. It’s a hard thing to admit. One of the great things about nursing is that there are so many options to choose from in terms of nursing specialties. If one doesn’t suit us, maybe we can find another that does. Sometimes, however, it just isn’t a good career fit or a person isn’t able to safely practice for some reason. Acknowledging it often helps everyone.
- We don’t need to hear our patients say, “thank you,” to still be committed to doing a good job. I had visions of grateful patients and families giving frequent positive feedback for a job well done. That didn’t happen as often as I had hoped. I came to realize that it wasn’t that important to me. I didn’t need to rely on that to know that I had done my best.
- Only another nurse can really know what we do every day. When I first became a nurse, I would relate nursing stories about my work to my friends who would look at me with blank stares or the sympathetic, “That must have been tough,” after a bad day. They tried, but nobody could really understand what a “bad day” really meant, except another nurse who had also been there. It made me appreciate my co-workers even more, and recognize that when I needed to de-stress about work, they were my best support group.
Everyone has their own “five things.” Think back, what are yours? Leave a comment and let us know what you wish you had known before becoming a nurse.