14 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became A Nurse


By Allyson Lenoci, RN

1. Your schedule sounds great on paper, but it's way more work than it looks like. People swear nurses have the best schedule ever. For most nurses in hospitals, it's advertised as just three days a week for 12 hours. But when you factor in the time it takes for you to report on your patients to the oncoming nurse and vice versa (not to mention your commute), your day looks a lot more like 15 hours — and it starts before the sun comes up. Oh, and three days a week? Hilarious! Be prepared to regularly receive calls at 5 a.m. begging you to come in on your "day off" because the team is short-staffed. And you'll go in, because you were begging people yesterday for the same.

2. Being a nurse is not only medical care. It's being a patient advocate, a waitress, housekeeper, electrician, technology expert, mediator between families and doctors and families and families. You will be shocked by how many times a day someone asks you what channel NBC is or to reheat their food while you get them the Wi-Fi password. And if you thought illness brings families together, think again: I've seen everything from siblings who haven't spoken in years fighting over their mother's treatment to divorced parents that need assigned visiting hours because they can't be at the hospital at the same time.

3. If you don't have a good memory, you better come up with a system to help you remember everything. You need to remember more than anyone else — the doctors you work with will count on you to have answers about all your patients, including every disease process, every medication and time it needs to be administered, lab results, vital signs, urine output, lab schedule, and all new orders for the day. Be prepared to write down every single thing that you do.

4. Mistakes happen. Your first mistake is the worst, but they never get easier. You will never forget them and never make them again. If the mistake you made doesn't have immediate ramifications, you'll constantly worry about it until you're positive everything is OK with the patient. Medication errors are the hardest mistakes to cope with. You 100 percent will cry (just when you are alone, in a closet where no one can see you).

5. Nursing school will never prepare you for your first or 20th or last death. I've seen more deaths than I can count now. You will wish someone told you what to say to the mother who's showing you videos of their dying child before she got sick. You also wish someone told you what it was like for the 80-year-old man to tell you he's ready to go because he's lived a long full life. Each death affects you in a different way.

6. If you don't have a sick sense of humor already, you will develop one quickly. You will joke about anything and everything you've seen. Anyone else who heard your conversations with your coworkers would probably think you are terrible people, but it's truly a helpful a coping mechanism. You need one to be able to go on with your day and help all your patients even though you're so stressed.

7. You'll be on the phone even more than you were when you were a teenager. I wish someone told me how much time you spend on the phone with other departments in the hospital to get things accomplished. Pharmacy, laboratory, central supply, respiratory, social work, nutrition, case management: plan to call them each day multiple times. Start practicing your nice phone voice now, because impatience will get you nowhere.

8. Your body will hurt. Your body will age quickly. Standing and walking for 12-plus hours, holding your bladder, lifting patients who weigh more than 250 pounds: these are just a few of the physical feats you'll do each day. Many nurses develop back problems, so learn to use proper body mechanics early and buy a great heating pad. Crossfit has nothing on you.

9. You will get calls, texts, pictures, and emails from all your friends and family asking you for medical advice. People will always want to tell you a story about their health, like you don't see this all day, every single day. It can get annoying, but you love these people, so you will try to find them answers. If I get a text like this at work, I get the entire team of nurses evaluating your problem.

10. You'll feel underpaid, but nursing is one career that does offer extra opportunities for more money. We should be paid more money for our base work, as we monitor our patients more closely than anyone else. And while unfortunately you don't have a ton of control over your base salary, nursing is one career where you can always make extra cash by picking up more shifts at night, on the weekend, or overtime.

11. You may not always work five days a week, but you'll still miss out on a lot of your social life. No matter how many times you explain your schedule to your friends and family, they still won't understand why you have to work on weekends and holidays. Be prepared to miss birthday parties, holidays, beach weekends, happy hours, and more.

12. Your coworkers will truly feel like family. You will grow closer to the people you work with faster than any other friend or significant other you've met; you love them and you hate them, just like "real" family. You now celebrate holidays with them. They understand your stress and love of work more than anyone else in your life.

13. Eat breakfast on your commute, because it may be the only meal you get to eat all day. Some days you walk in and you may not leave just one patient's room for three or four hours depending on how sick he or she is. I can't count the number of lunch breaks I've missed or the grab-and-go lunches I've stuffed in my mouth — I highly recommend learning how to eat a lunch in two minutes.

14. Make sure this is really what you want to do. This is a very thankless, underappreciated job. You do this every day for yourself alone, so your heart has to be in it. You will have the biggest love-hate relationship with your career; while people in many industries feel this way, lives literally depend on you. There are days you leave work and you cry your whole ride home after the death of a patient you grew close with, but there are also days you walk out tall and proud of your job because you helped save someone's life. So on your hardest, most frustrating days, try to remember the good ones, because those make you the best nurse.


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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