10 Problems Only Nurses Understand


By Tess Koman

1. Every day tests your emotional endurance. With the things I am exposed to on a daily basis — literally life and death, weird family dynamics, different habits of grieving — it's sort of difficult to relate to somebody in another field who says they've just had a stressful week and their boss yelled at them. My boss does that too, but the emotional ups and downs are very different than what other people experience.

2. You have no idea what you're walking into each morning. Even when the shift before yours says their day was really easy, that means nothing. People can change so quickly — sometimes you have someone who seems perfectly healthy, but you catch something wrong with them because you notice a little thing that's not right. I've heard older nurses say, "The minute you are confident, something happens," and I think that's completely true. A good nurse always second-guesses everything — literally everything — because your license is on the line and because you just have to. You have to know what you are doing at all times because you're the last line of treatment. If you do something wrong, you were the one that administered it.

3. While it's only one of about a million tasks, you do indeed clean up poop every day. People who know nothing about nursing always ask me first: "Do you clean up poop all day?" Yeah, I do, but that's because your grandma is sitting in a pile of poop. I'm trying to make sure everybody is really comfortable at all times.

4. People assume you're just doing "easy" tasks like changing IVs and giving shots. I think the only people that understand what nurses do are the people that have been sick before. Most people have no idea what I do all day. I don't even know what I do all day! It's really hard to describe what specifically a nurse does, but good nurses are the ones conducting the orchestra. Yes, we do shots. We also hand out pills in a cute little plastic cups. But we're also making things go smoothly, checking on all our patients and making sure they're OK, dealing with any immediately life-threatening issues, dealing with lots of non-life-threatening issues, studying patients' charts for when doctors come to check on patients, and following up with the pharmacy to make sure patients have their medications.

5. Going out with friends doesn't happen nearly as much as it used to. Something any nurse will understand is rarely being able to go out with your non-nurse friends because all you want to do some nights is go home, sit in a corner, and process what the fuck happened today. The last thing you want to do is small talk.

6. The relationships between seasoned nurses and new ones are sometimes complicated. Everybody thinks nurses eat their young, which I don't totally agree with, but there are nurses who do ask you a ridiculous amount of questions they probably don't even know the answer to or who will be really rude when you ask them questions. I think that other professions probably have those bullies too, but more often than other fields, older nurses will be very tough on younger learning nurses. One of the nurses who trained me would tell me, "You have to catch that, this is your life," and she made me cry, but it helped me be a better nurse. The tough nurses are the ones who make you really good.

7. Even when you're scared, you have to stay on top of everything. Usually I have six to seven patients. The interns [first-year residents] have 15 patients to deal with, so they don't have time to sit there and tell us what's going on. New interns tend to look to experienced nurses for guidance — not medical guidance really, but help with understanding patients the nurses have been with all day. I had a patient yesterday who was really sick and the doctor ordered an infectious disease consult, but the interns don't know when the doctors are going to come see the patient. They just order the consult, wait for it to happen, and check back at the end of the day. But I knew when that doctor had come, and that he changed the patient's antibiotics to a really specific one that the patient wouldn't get for hours unless I found the other doctor and made him order it right away. After it was ordered, I called the pharmacy to say, "Heads up, I need this antibiotic and I need it STAT."

8. Not everyone has the same sense of urgency as you do, so you have to be your patients' advocate. Some people are too busy to pay attention to charts and follow up on pharmacy orders because they have other things going on. But you really have to stay on top of things because patients need their medications or different kinds of help. Sometimes I'll page specialists who didn't show up more than once because they just don't realize how severe the situation was. I'll call them directly myself and say, "Hey, you really need to go see the patient. They are really sick and we called you twice already and nobody came."

9. Even when you're juggling a million things, all your patients are relying on just you to keep them comfortable. I've learned more recently that little things matter more than even trying to take care of people. When you first start nursing, you're very task-oriented and you don't really focus on your patients as individuals because you're trying to get everything done. You think, I'm not there to make them comfortable, I'm there to save their lives. But once you have more time and confidence, you begin to be more present. Recently, instead of getting annoyed that [a very sick patient] kept getting mad at me because his tests and antibiotics were taking forever, I got him a Coke and it made his whole day.

10. No matter how hard you work, you can't fix everything — but little things help. Even though you might do everything you are supposed to do — give medicine, manage their care plan — your patient is ultimately in pain and not happy about being in the hospital. While you can't exactly break them out of the hospital, if you take just two minutes to sit with them, look them in the eye, and hear what they have to say, it makes a big difference.


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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