“The purpose of life is to find your gift. The meaning of life is to give it away.” — David S. Viscott
|You get to help people in their time of need
|Doctors get all the credit
|It’s a chance to learn something new every day
|Working with people can be difficult
|You will work long shifts
|You can choose from different specialties
|The working conditions can be intense
|You can work almost anywhere
|Nursing is a physically and emotionally demanding job
Nurses are the cornerstone of any medical practice and the first contact for those seeking care. Human beings have always had to find ways of managing pain and treating wounds and illness, with medicine men and women historically holding positions of high esteem in their tribes and villages. The wealth of knowledge they held about the environment—which herbs could induce labor in a difficult pregnancy, which spiderwebs were the best at healing wounds, or which tree bark could cure a certain stomach ailment—made them some of the most valuable members of ancient societies.
As civilizations progressed and villages expanded into towns and cities, medicine men became mostly obsolete as the medical professions grew more scientific. The oldest known mention of nursing as a profession was written around 300AD when the Roman Empire set out to build a hospital in every town under their rule and needed large numbers of nurses to accompany and assist the doctors. Fast forward to the Crimean war of the 1850s, and we meet the most famous nurse of all time, Florence Nightingale. Working tirelessly to improve the appalling conditions at the British base hospital in Constantinople, where more soldiers were dying of cholera and typhoid than their injuries, Nightingale reduced the death rate by two-thirds after having soldiers scrub the hospital from floor to ceiling (among other hygiene methods). In 1860, she established the first nursing school in the world, in London, thereby founding the profession and setting the standard for generations of nurses to come.
While historically, nurses were female, it has become increasingly common in modern society to find male nurses, and gender is not a barrier to entering the profession. Nursing can be rewarding, but as a career, it has many demands and understanding some of the pros and cons of the job can help you decide whether or not it’s right for you.
Pros of Being a Nurse
You get to help people in their time of need
Most people who enter the nursing profession will tell you that they did it because they want to help people. Nursing schools have seen a surge in enrollment during the Covid-19 pandemic, as concerned citizens line up to do their part in fighting the coronavirus. If you care about other people and want to make a difference in their lives, nursing is a good job for you because it will provide the satisfaction of knowing you go out and do something that helps people when they need it most, every single day. You get to heal the sick, tend the wounded, and save lives on a regular basis.
It’s a chance to learn something new every day
No matter who you are or where you come from, illness and injury affect us all at some point in our lives. As a nurse, you are constantly exposed to people from different walks of life, and your job is never dull. Whether that’s someone from a foreign country, culture, or socioeconomic status, each interaction helps to better inform your worldview, which can be a rewarding experience if you’re interested in people. Almost without realizing it, you’ll acquire knowledge about all sorts of things, places, and people, and see the world through a wide range of different perspectives.
Most people don’t become nurses for the money, and while you may not get rich doing this job, you will have financial security. There is almost always more demand for new nurses than there is supply, which makes it unlikely that you’ll ever be at risk of losing your paycheck. With each new clinic or hospital that is built, more nurses are required to staff it. The average salary for a nurse in the USA is about $72,000 per year, which works out to $35 per hour, five times the minimum wage. And there’s always room to make more money by picking up extra shifts and getting overtime pay.
You can choose from different specialties
The nursing industry has grown alongside the medical profession, and you can now specialize in a vast array of nursing practices. If you love working with children, you can train as a pediatric nurse, working side by side with pediatricians. If you enjoy working under pressure, you can study to be an E.R. nurse, or focus on oncology if you would like to work with cancer patients. There are over 80 specialties to choose from in this career, which offers vast room for growth and can be leveraged to gain a medical degree.
Within your organization, you can go from working in a specific unit to becoming a shift leader or floor manager. If you tire of the long hours working the hospital grounds or have a keen interest in how hospitals are managed, you can make a move into administration. You could work in a nursing home as a nursing practitioner or in management, helping the elderly and invalid navigate the remaining years of their lives in peace and comfort. The opportunities are endless, and your work will differ according to the field you choose.
You can work almost anywhere
With nurses being needed everywhere in the world, you can apply for a job almost anywhere. If you want the fast-paced life and access to amenities offered by a big city, you can move somewhere with a large, bustling population and a correspondingly large hospital. If you’re someone who prefers a quiet life, you can find work at a small practice in a rural country town. Want to travel the world? Spend a few years working as a cruise ship nurse, visiting different countries while providing care for guests and crew. And if you work with an organization like Doctors Without Borders, you get to experience first-hand a completely new way of life while making a difference.
Cons of Being a Nurse
Doctors get all the credit
While nurses are often the first line of defense when someone is in need of medical care, doctors tend to leave a lasting impression and, more often than not, get all the credit. Some people also have a mistrust of the profession, believing nurses to be less capable than doctors, and may treat nurses with little regard or respect as a result. If these kinds of attitudes bother you, it may be hard to deal with them on a regular basis.
Working with people can be difficult
Nursing requires a large amount of contact with other human beings. While most people can be said to generally be nice, respectful, and kind, a medical crisis is a high-stress event that can bring the worst out of anyone. In one twelve-hour shift, you’ll deal with many different patients, all of them armed with differing levels of maturity and respect for their fellow humans. Some people can be rude, impatient, or entitled, and it will be your job to navigate these encounters gracefully. Pain has also been known to bring out the worst in people, as has fear, which can make dealing with them quite problematic. Some patients will also lie or conceal information, making the job more challenging than it has to be, which can be frustrating.
You’ll also be working in close personal contact with your fellow nurses and doctors, who can get as tired and worn out from the shift as you. This can strain relations and make it hard to work with each other. Nursing requires you to rise above whatever difficult situation you are presented with and always do the best you can for your patients.
You will work long shifts
Most nursing shifts are 12 hours, which can turn into 14 or even 16 hours per shift. This is a large amount of time to be on alert, ready for anything, multitasking on the go, and the main reason why so many nurses complain about exhaustion. It takes a toll on your physical and emotional wellbeing, leaving you very little time to do anything else on the days when you have to be at work. Whether that’s going for a jog or attending your child’s PTA meeting, some things will, unfortunately, fall by the wayside on the days when you’ve been pulling an all-nighter at the hospital. If a patient has a crisis as you’re gathering your things to leave, you could find yourself spending an extra hour or more by their side, completely forgetting about your dinner plans with friends.
The working conditions can be intense
Depending on where you live or choose to work, the working conditions could be different from what you would normally expect. Not every hospital or clinic is sufficiently staffed or equipped to do the work that needs to be done. Some countries lack medical and other institutional infrastructure, making the nurses’ job a more diverse one that includes delivering babies, providing education and support, running feeding schemes, and training local nurses. Or you could find yourself called to assist at the scene of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Some places perform operations under war conditions, while others have only an intermittent power supply or none at all. The nearest water source could be miles away, or you could be the only nurse serving a hundred families. Being aware of the different conditions you could find yourself working under will help you decide whether or not nursing really is the right profession for you.
Nursing is a physically and emotionally demanding job
As a nurse, you have to be physically strong and emotionally resilient, often while lacking adequate time to take care of your own needs. You will find yourself constantly lifting people out of bed, walking them to the bathroom, helping them get dressed, and other mundane tasks that become hard for sick people to do. You will run from one end of the hospital and back countless times in your career and need to learn how to do things swiftly but precisely. Wheeling patients around in stretchers is no easy feat either, and if you’re pulling a double or working extra shifts for more pay, the physical exertion and lack of sleep can quickly lead to exhaustion.
Emotionally, nursing can take its toll as well. Working with sick people is never easy, and your job will include comforting your patients and getting to know them. No matter what is going on in your personal life, you need to remain optimistic and friendly in all your patient encounters, as a harsh or dismissive word from a nurse can greatly affect their outlook on recovery. You have to be able to deal with all kinds of emotions, from rage to complete emotional shutdowns, and act accordingly, without taking it to heart or retaliating. You need to manage the feelings of family members and friends of your patients who will look to you for answers, or worse, blame you if the patient doesn’t survive.
All of this can take its toll, and as a nurse, you will need to learn to let go at the end of each shift, even if you’ve lost a patient. If you’re someone who has a hard time dealing with their emotions or the emotions of others or finds it hard to let go, then you might find yourself quickly overwhelmed in this profession.
You will be exposed to sickness
An unavoidable aspect of the job is coming into close contact with sickness, injury, and bodily fluids. As a nurse, you need to have the stomach for cleaning wounds, changing bedpans, and dealing with blood on a daily basis.
You will most likely have to work while others play
Depending on your shift schedule, you could end up working weekends or major holidays, which can be hard if you’re someone who values their downtime and especially enjoys doing things with friends or family over the holidays.