Since the pandemic, much of the discussion in the nursing profession has centered around the stress, staffing shortages and shortcomings within the healthcare system. While there’s no denying there are some extremely difficult aspects to the role, we anonymously surveyed established nurses to share more context about the profession and shed light on the things that keep them motivated.
To highlight the shifting trends dominating current news headlines, Google search data reveals the following for searches in the U.S., as of April 20, 2023:
- “Is being a nurse worth it?” searches were up 53% over the prior month
- “Nursing career” queries were up 15% vs. 2022
- “Nursing progression” searches increased 19% over last year
- “Patient care” had 101,000 monthly queries, up 4% over the previous year
If you’re a prospective or newly graduated nurse looking for support, the experienced Registered Nurses (RNs) we interviewed offer some golden nuggets of information that could be key in grounding your anxieties about the nursing profession.
5 Things Established Nurses Would Tell Their Younger Selves
When asked what advice they’d give themselves when thinking back to their first month as new nurses, the RNs surveyed provided qualitative emotional responses that hit much deeper than the statistics often dominating the headlines. Here’s some key advice from these nurses, some of whom have been in nursing for over 37 years.
1. Get Ready To Learn – A Lot!
Many of the survey responses suggested that self-doubt shouldn’t get in the way of beginning your nursing career, emphasizing that learning is a continuous job for nurses. As one respondent illustrated, “Always go to work ready to learn 1,000 new things every single day.”
According to the professionals, new nurses should be proactive and “look [out] for the learning opportunities” and “use [their] resources.” One respondent explained how nurses must remain open to the fact that a lot of learning takes place on the job, “Nursing school prepares you for your career in theory, but there’s so much you have to learn on-the-job . . . patient care is far more complex than the textbooks might let you in on.”
A good starting point in being more proactive in your learning came from the answers of one respondent, who said they “focused on learning time management techniques” to enable themselves to “effectively juggle multiple patients.” They would also “review the healthcare facility’s procedures and policies during downtime” to expand their knowledge beyond the day-to-day.
2. Prepare to Make Family Out of Colleagues
Many responses emphasized that the bond between staff, referred to by one respondent as a “nurse bond,” also exists. One nurse expressed that they had made “lifelong friends” among their fellow nurses, with a bond so close that they would now consider their colleagues “family.” Another gave insight into the reason behind this deep connection, “When you’ve been through the trenches together, you grow pretty close!”
Many nurses surveyed also discussed how leaning on your fellow colleagues can be a great source of education. One advised their younger self to “learn as much as you can from your senior colleagues” and another advised to seek out nurses who are “willing to mentor you.” It seems that knowledge comes from the relationships you build, with one nurse commenting, “Build strong relationships with your colleagues. Specifically, the best option is to find a mentor and seek guidance from a supportive, experienced nurse.”
3. Feeling Overwhelmed Is Normal
Several nurses emphasized the importance of being kind to yourself at the beginning of your career. Where this was raised, respondents stressed that it’s normal to feel “overwhelmed” or “unsure” of your capabilities. That’s why it’s crucial to “keep calm,” “remember to breathe” and remind yourself it’s “OK to make mistakes” since it “takes time to find your rhythm” in nursing.
One RN spoke about how your experience as a newly qualified nurse comes full circle saying, “Your first months will develop your patience and emotional resilience. It will feel tough, but it doesn’t last forever. The next cohort of nurses will be coming in before you know it, looking to you for guidance and inspiration.”
4. Prioritize Work/Life Balance
According to those with more experience, part of being kind to oneself as a nurse involves maintaining a healthy work/life balance. One respondent stressed this by saying, “Don’t bring patients home with you.” A separation between professional and personal life is key. New nurses should also make the most of their time outside of work, with one respondent advising their former self to “relax on days off” and another emphasizing the importance of “self-care time.”
5. Leave Your Bias in the Parking Lot
Prioritizing patients over everything was another common theme among experienced nurses. Our survey responses revealed how nurses should set out to “get to know their patients” to deliver high-quality care and remember how much patients rely on them to “guide them through the most challenging times in their lives.”
One respondent suggested prioritizing patients over charting. Another summarized how important it is to keep patients at the heart of your work and treat all patients equally, “Most importantly, a nurse needs to leave biases in the parking lot. You are a nurse and are there to serve with excellence.”
Top 3 Most Surprising Things About Being a Nurse
Within our research, we also asked experienced nurses what they found most surprising in their nursing careers. The three most common themes are highlighted below.
1. Patient Care Makes It All Worth It
One respondent said, “Nursing is physically, mentally and emotionally taxing, but the satisfaction of caring for your patient and seeing him or her improve makes it all worth it.” Other nurses commented on the “sense of fulfillment” from seeing a patient improve and recover, which ultimately “takes away all the doubt and stress.”
Nursing is a demanding profession requiring a lot of pre-shift prep. One nurse expressed that nurses ought to project an image of health to their patients, saying, “Be a living example of whole health… the nurse needs to be fully rested, come with a clear mind, and be fueled with nutrient-dense food and hydration.” This same respondent also emphasized the importance of being prepared regarding the equipment you carry (i.e., pen light, stethoscope), down to the clothing you wear, discussing how compression socks and comfortable footwear are a must.
2. Patients Teach You About Life and Loss
One of the more poignant responses within the research spoke to the grief experienced when patients don’t make it, despite being taught not to let emotions get in the way of your work. This nurse said, “There is an inexplicable sadness that comes from losing patients. As healthcare professionals, we learn not to get emotionally attached to cases. We’re merely extending a helping service. Regardless, there’s still this wave of reflection that overtakes you when a patient passes.”
Responses also revealed how surprised some nurses had been by the significant bond which forms between patients and nurses being stronger than they expected, with one making the following moving comment, “[Patient] stories and personalities teach you so much more about yourself and the intricacies of life.”
3. Opportunities for Career Development
When asked what surprised them the most about the profession, one survey respondent talked about being shocked at the “endless opportunities” available through nursing. They felt that there was “more to nursing than just the bedside” and even went on to say, “If there is a niche or specialty in nursing that doesn’t exist, you can literally create it.”
Another respondent spoke of pursuing entrepreneurship through nursing, which they felt was surprising since business classes were “not in the curriculum for nursing school.” They felt they didn’t fit “the traditional mold in terms of a hospital position,” and were surprised at how the nursing profession can “take you to so many places.”
One of the nurses we surveyed gave a motivating response on how nursing defines your career for you, regardless of any plans you may have previously made, saying, “The biggest surprise is that nursing will tell you what kind of nurse you want to be, not the other way around. Throughout my nursing career, I have never pictured myself to be in the position I am in now or doing the types of career activities outside of bedside.”
If you’re searching for more positive insights into a nurse’s daily work, read 10 Reasons Why I Love Being a Nurse Practitioner for insights from seasoned nurses working in this integral profession.
© Vivian Health 2023. Media Contact: Abbie Johnson
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