Many times we are asked why we choose to become nurses. We’ve all been through this inquisition turned inward for our choice in vocation: we were asked as we were growing up, right before enrolling in nursing school, often when we hit the wall in nursing school, in job interviews, and as we struggled with the trials and triumphs of our jobs. Even further along the road, we're asked about our choice in specialty. Why did I choose psychiatric nursing?
A nurse is a nurse, right? We all do the same job, so we can do everything and setting is irrelevant. You and I both know that while we start off learning the same skills, some of these become more prominent in our day to day jobs than others. When I worked Telemetry, I had to start IVs, set up patients on cardiac monitors, complete bed baths, draw blood from PICC lines and give blood, pretty much on a daily basis. As a psychiatric nurse, it is unthinkable to even have an IV pole on the Unit; occasionally I have to complete an EKG, maybe draw a lab, and sometimes send a patient to the ER if any medical concerns arise that require blood or IV fluids.
I became a psych nurse because I loved my work experience in the psychiatric setting. Is it because people are less ill? Physically, yes. Emotionally, no. Am I avoiding taking care of people with physical diseases? No, because I get in there and listen to lungs, examine surgical and self-inflicted scars, check BGs, change dressings, observe people as they ambulate, palpate abdomens… need I go on? Is it because I have my own mental health issues and I’m trying to resolve them as a psych nurse? No. While I have lived with depression and anxiety for about 20 years, I manage the physical aspects of both through exercise, diet, and medication. I manage the emotional aspects by saying “no”, by meeting with my psychiatrist and sometimes a counselor, and by examining the positives in my life. Would I recommend psychiatric nursing to new grads? The jury is out on this. I work with a woman who worked in the Juvenile Justice system for several years, as well as human resources, who completed a fast-track nursing program 9 months ago. She has the poise and confidence of a psychiatric nurse with 20 years experience, and I would let her take care of anyone in my family without reservation. I myself acquired 6 months of Telemetry experience and then was hired as a float/psych nurse in another facility. I wanted the organization and medical experience gained from working other floors before I worked exclusively as a psych nurse.
If you are curious, I suggest giving it a shot. But just like orthopedics and mother-baby nursing aren’t for me, psychiatric nursing may not be for you. Sometimes the best psych nurses are the ones who don’t go into that specialty, who know their limits and their own issues, and can manage themselves to be the best nurse wherever they work.
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