I struggled for many years, as many do, with trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It took me 6 years and a (semi) useless Bachelor’s degree in sociology to realize I wanted to pursue nursing. My mother is a nurse and for the majority of my life she has worked in the emergency department. You would think that would drive at least one of her children to pursue a career in nursing but I honestly had no interest when I was a fresh out of high school college student. In fact I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, which on particularly hard days at work as a nurse, I wish I had continued down that path. So at the age of 26 I went back to school to pursue my nursing degree.
It’s been almost 4 years since I started working as a full-time nurse. This Saturday, February 24th, will be 4 years exactly since I started my nursing career which also happens to coincide with my birthday. I started out as a brand new, eager to learn nurse on a medical surgical unit at a large hospital 45 minutes from home. After about a 1 1/2 years I felt I was ready for a new challenge and transitioned to the cardiac cath lab at the same hospital. While the hours were amazing for a nurse (Monday through Friday 630a-4p, no weekends, no holidays), I quickly realized hearts were not my thing after 6 months. I decided to make a jump and leave the hospital I started out at, transitioning to a smaller hospital 10 minutes from home in the Emergency Department which actually happened to be the hospital my mother worked at, and continues to work, for many years. It’s now been 2 years and I have no regrets about my decision to make this change. It’s been a journey and I have learned many important things that they don’t necessarily teach you in nursing school.
- You will never stop learning
There are days still where I have absolutely no clue what I am doing. The wonderful thing about working in the Emergency Department is that you will see just about everything come through the doors. I have seen countless heart attacks, cardiac arrests, strokes, kidney stones and even a couple of births. It’s an adrenaline rush that can’t be described when something critical rolls into a treatment room. At the same time it can be incredibly scary especially when it’s something you have never seen before or not often enough in order to be comfortable taking care of that patient. I will never pretend like I know everything nor will I never stop asking for help if I feel I am in over my head with a patient because I believe that there is always a chance to learn something new.
- The loses will hurt
One important thing I learned soon after starting as a nurse was that people aren’t invincible. You will never be able to save everyone and when you lose a patient that loss will stay with you and sometimes even keep you up at night. I still remember the first patient that unexpectedly died on me. I spent days thinking about what I missed or could have done for that patient that I didn’t do and lost countless hours of sleep. When I talked to a friend about it they advised that sometimes people die and there is nothing we can do to stop it or change it and reassured me that it was in no way my fault. While this is an incredibly powerless feeling to watch life slip away it is something that I have learned to accept. The deaths still take their toll on me but I pay my respects, mourn the loss and move forward because that’s what you have to do in nursing.
- Nursing is a thankless job
I have been yelled at, called several inappropriate names, spit at, hit, kicked and unfortunately even peed on. I didn’t go into this field thinking that patient’s would be grateful for the care they received because the majority of people will not be thankful. In fact, when the doctor doesn’t give them what they want (narcotics) or they have to wait for a long period of time (welcome to the Emergency Department) before being seen it somehow becomes the nurse’s fault. No matter how hard you try, some people find any and every excuse to complain whether it be about the care that they received or the time they had to wait. Despite this, I will still continue to try each and every shift to provide the best care I can because nursing is not about receiving a thank you.
- Nursing can be extremely rewarding
Yes there are many difficult times in this line of work but there are some moments that are extremely rewarding. I have held the hand of a dying patient, comforted a child who was sick, have done everything in my power to make a patient with extreme pain from a fractured extremity more comfortable and have even watched a mom bring a new baby into the world. Those moments make me feel good and make me feel as though I made a small difference in that patient’s life, even if it was just for a moment. The patients that leave in better health then when they came in or when you hear a positive outcome on a patient that was critical and ended up being shipped out to a larger facility make the craziness and stress of the job worth it.
- You will make amazing friends
I have met the best people working in this field and in fact some of my closest friends have been ones that I have met because they were my coworkers. While it may be hard to find times to actually hang out (thank you random nursing schedules) you don’t have to censor the things that you say. My non nursing friends tend to get grossed out when I talk about my job while my nursing friends consider it par for the course. These are the people that you can depend on during working hours and non working hours. They will also be the ones to listen to you when you want to complain about work life as well as your home life. If I never went into nursing then I would never have met these amazing people and my life would be a little emptier without them.
- Following in your mother’s footsteps is hard
My mother is an incredible mother, grandmother, friend and yes, even a nurse. My mother worked for many years at the hospital that I wok at currently, even in the same department. Some of my coworkers were her coworkers which can be extremely difficult to live up to. I always hear about how smart and intuitive my mother is when it comes to this profession from co-workers, doctors and even EMTs that have worked with her. I am proud of my mom and I am so lucky to be her daughter but sometimes it can be hard at work to form my own identity separate from my mother.
I’m only 4 years into this career and I know I still have a lot to learn about myself and this field. I love my job and I am excited for what it has in store for me and where it will take me through the next 4 years of my life.