Nursing is an incredibly rewarding yet challenging career path. Before committing to years of education and training to become a registered nurse (RN), it’s important to understand exactly what the job entails. This article explores key considerations including the roles and responsibilities of nurses, education requirements, salary and job outlook, potential work settings, challenges of the role, alternative nursing paths, and tips on how to decide if nursing is right for you.
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Roles and Responsibilities of Nurses
Nurses have a wide range of responsibilities focused on providing competent, compassionate care. Core duties include:
- Performing hands-on patient care – administering medications and treatments, monitoring vitals, changing dressings, etc.
- Coordinating care and collaborating with doctors and other healthcare professionals
- Educating and advising patients and families on health conditions, self-care, medications, etc.
- Documenting patient health information
- Operating and monitoring medical equipment
- Ensuring infection control and safety protocols are followed
Nurses use critical thinking, communication, technical, and interpersonal skills to care for patients. They must be able to act decisively in emergencies, display empathy, and educate patients. The role requires physical and mental stamina to handle long shifts.
You must complete an accredited nursing program to become an RN. This includes:Diploma Programs – Typically 3 years long, offered at hospitalsAssociate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) – 2-year community college programBachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) – 4-year university nursing programA BSN is increasingly preferred by employers. Some nurses with an ADN later complete RN-to-BSN programs.Licensure is also required. You must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to practice as an RN. Continuing education is also essential throughout an RN’s career.
Salary and Job Outlook
The average annual salary for RNs is over $75,000 in the U.S. Those working in certain specialties or advanced roles can earn over $100k.The job outlook for nurses is extremely positive. The healthcare sector is growing rapidly and over 200,000 additional nurses will be needed yearly in the coming decade per projections. Strong job security and evolving new roles make nursing an appealing long-term career choice.
RNs work in diverse settings including hospitals, physicians’ offices, nursing homes, schools, and home health services. Possible work environments include:Hospitals – Inpatient care units, emergency rooms, operating rooms, neonatal intensive care units, oncology, etc.
Ambulatory Care Settings – Physicians’ offices, clinics, surgical centers, outpatient care centers.Nursing Homes & Extended Care Facilities – Caring for elderly, chronically ill, and disabled patients.Community Health – Public health departments, school health services, health education.Home Health Services – Providing at-home care for patients requiring assistance after hospitalization or due to chronic illnesses.Other Environments – Military/VA healthcare, prisons, summer camps, cruise ships.
Challenges of the Nursing Role
While nursing can be tremendously rewarding, the realities of the job present substantial challenges including:
- Working long or irregular hours, nights, weekends and holidays, often standing for prolonged periods
- Exposure to communicable diseases, hazardous materials, and potentially violent patients
- Witnessing patient trauma and deaths
- Risk of work-related injuries like back injuries or getting stuck by needles
- Managing high levels of responsibility and complex life-or-death situations
- Coping with grief and emotional toll of caring for severely ill patients and their families
Self-care is essential for nurses to avoid compassion fatigue, anxiety, depression, and burnout.
Alternative Nursing Career Paths
If the day-to-day realities of bedside nursing seem daunting, there are alternative nursing roles to explore with less direct patient care, including:Nurse Educator – Teach future nurses at colleges/universities or teach patients about health conditions and self-care.Informatics Nurse Specialist – Utilize technology to analyze patient data, improve healthcare delivery, and support clinical decision-making.
Healthcare Policy Nurse – Work for government agencies, advocacy groups or healthcare systems to advance health policies.Legal Nurse Consultant – Provide medical recommendations and advice to law firms regarding medical malpractice and personal injury cases.Nurse Administrator – Oversee nursing staff and operations for a specific department or care facility.
Deciding if Nursing is Right for You
As you weigh becoming a nurse, reflect honestly on questions like:
- Are you comfortable performing hands-on patient care duties like drawing blood, changing wound dressings, bathing patients, etc? This makes up a large part of a bedside nursing role.
- Do you handle high stress situations well? Nurses must react swiftly in emergencies and juggle heavy workloads.
- Can you adapt to working nights, holidays and overtime? Irregular schedules are common.
- Are you emotionally prepared to work closely with severely ill and dying patients? This can take a heavy psychological toll.
- Is furthering your education feasible? At minimum an ADN is required, with many employers preferring or requiring a BSN.
If you feel confident you have the skills, empathy, critical thinking abilities, physical/mental stamina, and comfort with medical procedures and equipment to thrive in fast-paced healthcare environments, a nursing career may be an excellent fit providing immense personal and professional rewards.
Aspiring nurses should thoughtfully analyze the varied roles, rigorous demands, high levels of responsibility and range of workplace settings nurses encompass before pursuing this challenging yet meaningful career pathway. Weighing both the attractive salary projections and job stability along with the stresses and required competencies nurses must develop can clarify if this uniquely demanding yet highly rewarding profession aligns with your abilities, interests and lifestyle.
Reach out to working nurses, shadow at healthcare facilities, or seek informational interviews to further illuminate the realities of the job. Assessing whether you are cut out for the challenges in addition to the fulfillment nursing offers is crucial to make the best-informed choice possible about your future.