I recently took care of a high school student, mom confided that she wanted to be a nurse. I was curious what attracted her to nursing. She replied (monotone, and without eye contact):
"I want to be a nurse because I want to help people"
I love that response, but it's a knee-jerker.
So did I. I still do. So did we all.
If I knew then what I know now, I would say nurse candidates should be prepared for a different mind set.
Along with the mushy feels, having a sharp, inquiring mind, excellent critical thinking skills and an ability to problem solve is essential. Nurse Nancy expectations is a good start only.
I wanted to be a pediatric nurse. It seemed cool, helping sick kids. When I decided that I was, like, 7. I wanted to be an LPN. I liked the caps.
My parents wanted me to go to a 4 year college and be an RN, but I never thought I had the right stuff academically. Also, they didn't really have the money to waste on an average, unmotivated student who would probably drop out when there were a couple of genius siblings coming along. As the family was stretched kind of thin in spite of the earnings from my lucrative after-school baby sitting and pharmacy clerking, we compromised on a 3 year diploma program. I applied too late for the fall class after my high school graduation (ok, I procrastinated), but was immediately accepted for the following year. I took a six week nurse's aide course and did that at a busy city hospital for the year. Well, 11 months. I worked as a lifeguard for the next summer, it being in my DNA to sleep until 9:30 and be on the beach all day.
The three year diploma program prepared me very well. In my senior year I was, prophetically, voted most likely to be an ER nurse.
Which I did, about a year after I graduated, and I did work in pedi. In the last 40 plus years, I have worked in myriad other areas in addition to the ER. In the medical tent at sports events in my town. Giving flu shots. Lots of teaching. CPR, EMT's teaching first aid classes.
I burned out on teaching, but I still like the helping people part. I have become a bit more discriminating about the kind of help I provide because I am so inundated with tasks. I am really, really tired of the constant concierge demands. People are so grabby. Cab vouchers and gourmet meals do not exist in my realm. The drunks and constant psychiatric holds are tedious. We generally run out of turkey sammiches by 7 PM, and I refuse to make toast. Too many steps.
I never, not once, sought a degree in hospitality. My degree is is a BSN....bachelor of SCIENCE.
I use science every day. I dig it. I like how chemistry works, the human body is amazing. I like puzzles and problem solving. Human illness and injury present endless opportunities to figure out what makes them tick...or stop ticking.
Math is important, without solid math skills there would be medication errors galore. People would die. We convert pounds to kilos to ensure safe weight-based dosing. We figure stuff out like how to convert mcg/kg/min and how fast to run drips.
Thanks to relentless drilling from grade one, I can effectively utilize vocabulary and grammar to create coherent documentation.
I freaking love technology. I love computers, machines, gadgets, monitors, pumps, you name it. I'm always willing to learn new programs. I have fun figuring out work-arounds and trouble shooting. Vents are fun. New central monitoring system? New med pumps? Sign me up.
Am I a people person? Not so much. I like people less than I used to. It's not natural for me to put myself out there, unless a sense of humor (mandatory for a nurse) is deployed as an ice-breaker. I don a nurse-persona when interacting with patients. I've said it before: I am a good actress. More importantly, I am good at what I do.
Is it necessary to have empathy? Absolutely. But know that little pieces of your self (or soul) will be chipped away. Small bits of your humanity will be left by the wayside like breadcrumbs. I don't know for sure if these bits die, or will someday be reassembled. Maybe time simply blurs the painful memories. Its kind of like a hard candy shell forms, born of frustration, anger, and because of people who don't do your job constantly telling you how to do it. But mostly because of the hopeless cases, each drug addict you can't help, every sad, neglected, and pathetic elder alone with no family, every senseless death. You will weep buckets. It will change how you view illness, life, and death. And when you think you can't take another day, you will weep when someone survives against all odds...or someone says thank you for caring, and means it sincerely. You will bask in the glow of that save, that thank you, that hug, for days, weeks, You will come to know that is why you put up with so much bad. That one good thing that keeps you coming back.
After you've done the job for awhile, you will not be the same person. Do you have the stuff, dear high school student? I hope you do. But know that the stakes are high. The potential for doing for others? The sky is the limit. So is the potential for harm, not only to your patients, but to yourself. It's not easy. I'm not sure anything that important should be.