Many people desire to have a job that enables them to help other people. Naturally, there are plenty of options for altruistic careers, from teaching to charity work. However, one career path that is a particularly popular choice is nursing. This is understandable given the high levels of job satisfaction and employability you can gain as a nurse, as well as the multitude of courses available to help you retrain in the field. At the same time, nursing can be a tiring and stressful role, and it’s important to think carefully about what the career entails before making the decision to enroll in a nursing degree.
To help you figure out if becoming a nurse is the right option for you, this post will go into more detail about what the role involves, as well as the skills and characteristics you’ll need to succeed. Let’s get started.
The role of a nurse
In some ways it’s tricky to define the precise role of a nurse because the exact duties and responsibilities you have will depend on where you work, the type of patients you see, and the area that you choose to specialize in. Nurses can be employed in a wide range of places, such as:
- Specialist clinics and treatment centers
- Physicians’ offices
- Schools and colleges
- Community centers
- Patients’ homes
- Assisted living facilities
- The military
- Charitable organizations
Having said that, the following list gives a good general overview of the sort of tasks you can expect to perform as a nurse wherever you are employed:
- Examining patients
- Running diagnostic tests
- Taking blood
- Dressing wounds
- Administering medication and vaccinations
- Preparing rooms, equipment, and patients for medical procedures and surgeries
- Updating medical records
- Providing emotional support
- Assisting doctors with medical procedures
- Educating patients about disease prevention and management, healthy living, and similar topics
- Taking medical histories
- Coordinating with other healthcare professionals
Becoming a nurse
There are several pathways you can take in order to become a nurse, however, the most common involve returning to college to take either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Accelerated versions of both are available for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in a different subject. You also have the choice between studying full-time or part-time, and on-campus or online.
As you can see, this gives you plenty of flexibility in terms of how you get qualified. However, in order to embark on this career path, you must be willing to put in the required amount of time and effort. This doesn’t stop after you qualify. There are always new discoveries and developments being made in the field of healthcare, and as a nurse, you will need to keep up to date with those that are relevant to your role. That means you will be expected to complete further education throughout your career – especially if you wish to progress to higher-level job roles.
Whichever type of program you choose, you will be required to complete a series of academic modules and also clinical placements. The latter will be carried out in a real healthcare setting under the supervision of a professional registered nurse, and give you the chance to put what you’ve learned into practice in a supportive environment. Be sure to make the most of this opportunity to get valuable feedback and hone your skills.
Career progression options for nurses
Nursing is a field in which there are always opportunities (and requirements) to further your knowledge and enhance your skills. As such, it’s a sphere in which there are a wealth of choices when it comes to career advancement. This puts you in the fantastic position of being able to find a job role that truly fits your personal interests and priorities.
Generally speaking, advanced jobs within nursing can be divided into direct patient care roles and indirect patient care roles. In terms of direct patient care, one of the most common pathways is to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). This brings you greater autonomy and responsibility in comparison to being a registered nurse, with options to specialize in fields such as midwifery, anesthetics, and clinical nursing. Other options include taking certifications in a field of medicine that you are especially passionate about, such as oncology or cardiology.
For those interested in indirect patient care, the options are surprisingly varied. For instance, you could move into nursing informatics and combine nursing with computing and information science, or consider a management role where you focus on issues such as budgeting, hiring, and staff development. Other possibilities include becoming a nurse educator and training up the next generation of nurses, or working in a research laboratory conducting studies and publishing your findings. You could even think about trying your hand at politics, working on healthcare policy, and lobbying for changes that improve patient outcomes all across the country.
The skills you need to be a great nurse
In addition to the specialist knowledge and clinical skills required to work as a nurse, there are a wide variety of more general transferable skills that will be a great help to you in the role. For example, nursing involves working with many different people – both patients and other healthcare professionals – of all ages and backgrounds. As such, having strong communication and interpersonal skills is essential. You may find yourself having to convey complicated medical information to people with no prior knowledge of the subject, or who are in a state of worry or distress.
Another key skill for nurses to have is the ability to pay close attention to even the smallest details. You will need to be able to handle very precise dosages of different medications, check information such as batch numbers and expiry dates carefully, and pick up on medical symptoms that might not be immediately obvious. This is true even after many hours on shift. In healthcare, mistakes can mean the difference between life and death, so this is critically important.
In addition, strong organization and time management skills will serve you very well in nursing. You’ll be dealing with lots of patients every day, each with their own unique medical concerns, and will need to be able to keep on top of all the duties assigned to you without being reminded or chased up. Being able to multitask in an effective manner will be a great help here, as well as the ability to think clearly under pressure.
Don’t panic if you feel as though you don’t yet have all of these talents! You’ll work on them frequently during your studies – in particular your clinical placements – and can always ask more experienced nurses for advice.
The characteristics of an excellent nurse
As important as the above skills are, they’re not the only factors that affect how good of a nurse you are. To truly excel in the role, there are certain personality traits that you should be aiming to cultivate if you don’t have them already.
The most obvious of these characteristics is probably empathy. Being compassionate and empathetic will enable you to better help your patients, by putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand what they’re going through – then going the extra mile to assist them. This is true not only for providing medical care but also for emotional support for patients and their families. Likewise, as a nurse, you are something of a role model for the community. Therefore it’s vital that you always exhibit integrity, honesty, and professionalism in everything you do. This will also help patients to trust you.
Nursing is a role that often requires you to deal with unexpected problems and emergencies, so flexibility and adaptability are crucial. In line with this is the ability to remain positive and exhibit patience no matter what. You might have to work with patients who are scared or under stress, for example, if they are facing a serious diagnosis, and part of your job is to help them manage this. It’s also a role that frequently involves working long hours in busy environments, and you will often be on your feet all day. As such, you’ll need to maintain a certain level of mental stamina and physical fitness in order to avoid issues such as burnout and exhaustion.
Finally, it’s worth noting that nursing can be a tough job at times. You might face troublesome patients or emotionally challenging situations, and it’s therefore critical that you have the strength of mind to handle this. Similarly, it’s important to be able to draw a clear boundary between your work and home life in order to prevent your job from having a negative impact on your own wellbeing.
Some of this might sound intimidating, however, it’s important that you know what being a nurse truly involves before you start on this career path. Rest assured that if you do decide this role is right for you, you’re sure to find that the good points outweigh the bad, and go on to have an extremely rewarding and satisfying career in the field. Good luck!