Your patients will remember you for years after you treat them
You form unique bonds with your patients.
Nurses have a much different relationship with our patients than physicians do. We spend all day with patients taking care of their every need, as opposed to doctors who spend less time directly with patients. So when you go into work for an eight- or 12-hour shift and you're working with the same group of patients — many of whom are very sick — you form a special bond with them. They're depending on you to make sure you assess them correctly, to make sure they're stable, to watch their lab work, to give them the right medications. But above and beyond that, you're there for them and you get to know them. I usually start off meetings with patients asking about their personal life. I know about most of my patients' families, how many kids they have, how many grandkids. Being able to get to know somebody and support them when they're at their most vulnerable and sick is a really wonderful, gratifying feeling.
You're not just taking care of patients — you're taking care of their families too.
Fathers, wives, partners, kids — everybody is scared and everybody at the bedside wants information. Sometimes the patient is too sick to even absorb what you're saying, so family members are the ones who need updates on how their loved one is doing. And they don't always understand everything the doctor has told them. Sometimes the doctor is using all these big words and medical terminology, and they're nodding their heads, but when the doctor leaves, they still have questions. So you help clarify and explain things in terms that families can understand.
Your patients will inspire you every day.
I worked for years in the emergency room, and I saw so many tragedies. Now I work with cancer patients. While you'd think that'd be a depressing place to work, I've found it to be the opposite. I've seen a group of women cancer survivors, some of who have been pretty sick and have incurable breast cancer, decide to band together and complete a triathlon as a team. I've seen patients diagnosed with cancer go through treatment and come out on the other side cancer-free and get their life back. On the other side of it, there are lots of people who know from the beginning that they're not going to make it. But to see them fight the disease anyway so they can spend more time watching their kids grow up, watching their grandkids grow up, or just doing whatever it is they need to do to close out their life, that's just as inspiring.
You don't have to worry about losing your job.
You'll never have to worry about finding a job to begin with. There will always be a need for nurses. Other people graduate and struggle for months to find jobs, but nurses have a job lined up before they even walk out the door. And it's a pretty good-paying job with solid benefits; you get health and dental insurance, and paid vacation.
You have many opportunities to advance in your career.
Sometimes I think people think that nurses are just wiping butts and emptying bedpans, but it's not at all like that. It's a very, very technical, high-level job. A lot of nurses go back to school and complete additional training to become nurse practitioners. You'll make slightly more money and you'll have more autonomy, so you can see and treat patients for a lot of the same things that doctors do. You can write prescriptions, and you could even open your own practice where you manage your patients' health like a primary care doctor. Other nurses become nurse educators. They're sort of the leaders in a hospital or health care organization, and they're in charge of educating nurses who are going to a different floor on the hospital, training new nurses, and providing continuing patient education to current nurses.
You have the ability to figure out a schedule that works for you.
While you don't have a lot of flexibility in the length of your shift, you have some flexibility whether you work a day shift, a p.m. shift, or a night shift, and what days. There are part-time nursing positions where someone only wants to hire for X amount of hours. There are weekend-only programs, where during the week you have off and you just work longer shifts during the weekend. When I was doing in-patient nursing in a hospital when I was younger, I liked to do third shift. I would work all night long and then sleep during the day when everyone else was working. But once I got married and had kids, I worked longer shifts fewer days a week so I could spend more time with them. When they got a little older, I switched to shifts during the day so I could be with them when they got home from school. Throughout my career, I've been able to adjust my schedule based on the kind of life I was leading so I was still able to raise my family.
Your coworkers can turn into your best friends.
When you're working long, challenging hours with people in any field, you tend to form a bond. Nursing in particular is great opportunity to meet people who think like you. When you work in a challenging environment with someone and you have the same values, it adds an extra dimension to the friendship. Some of my best friends now are my past and present nursing colleagues.
You can change your career path without changing careers.
All you have to do is find a different area that you like to work in and then complete the training required of that area, which the company you work with usually pays for. So many nurses do go from one type of medicine to another until they find the place they like the best. I've worked on many different floors during my time as a nurse. I was an orthopedic nurse for a couple of years, then decided I wanted to switch and go to a cardiac floor. And then I worked in the ICU for a little bit before getting into oncology, which I'll do now for the rest of my career. Working in the cardiac unit and the emergency room were great experiences along the way, but it's nice to have the flexibility to change if you get tired of something.
The skills you learn in nursing translate to your personal life.
Whenever my kids or my family members have gotten sick, I don't overreact because I usually know what to do and where to go. Same with emergency situations. If you see someone who's sick or in an accident, you can stop and help. When you're a nurse, you're going to be very patient and not get easily rattled by things. I think that makes you a better spouse, a better parent, and a better family member. Being a nurse also changes how you view the world. I've helped patients at their very worst, and because of that, I've learned not to be as judgmental of other people, and more tolerant. I have empathy for others' situations even if I can't really relate to it in my own life.
Your patients will remember you years after you take care of them.
I run into patients and their family members all the time, at the grocery store, at a movie theater, a restaurant, wherever. And it's always such a gratifying feeling to see patients out and about doing well and for them to recognize you. I don't know too many professions where that happens; where you run into people two years later and they come up to you and say, "Oh my gosh, it's so good to see you. Thank you so much for what you've done for me and my family."
Jamie Cairo is a registered nurse and nurse practitioner in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
By Kate Beckman | Cosmo Politan