A Day in the Life: All You Wanted to Know About Nursing Careers

You’re thinking about becoming a nurse. But how do you know if it’s the right job for you? And is nursing a good career path to follow? Whether you’ve just graduated high school or you’re a working professional looking to make a career change, becoming a registered nurse can be a great move for your professional development, offering a very rewarding career — but it’s not for everyone. Before you get too excited and buy yourself that brand new stethoscope, here are seven must-know factors to consider before becoming a nurse.

1. You Can Choose from Many Different Degree Paths.

You do need a special degree to become a nurse, but thankfully there are many educational options available to aspiring nurses at every stage of their careers. For those who know early that they want to become a nurse, you can get a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN), attend one of the few remaining diploma schools or go to college to get your four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. Another option for those who have already graduated from college and then realized they wanted to become a nurse is a master of science in nursing (MSN) program. If you need to continue working while getting your degree, some universities offer night and weekend classes, part-time programs spread out over more time or online courses that you can complete remotely.

2. There’s No Such Thing as a Typical Day.

Because your duties for each shift will be based on the needs of your patients, no two shifts will ever be exactly the same. The length of them will also vary, even if you’re scheduled for exactly 12 hours each time — some days you might only need to stay a few minutes late, while on other days you’ll get a rush of patients and have to stay several hours past your official clock-out time. Certain activities will give your shifts a rhythm, such as completing a handover from the night team or doing hourly rounds. However, these activities will also vary somewhat based on how many patients you have and what their needs are.

3. Different Shift Lengths and Schedules are Available

The length and number of your shifts each week will depend on the facility where you work. Hospitals are increasingly moving towards three 12-hour shifts per week, which include both nighttime and daytime hours as well as weekend shifts — after all, patients need care 24/7. Many hospitals also require a set number of support shifts or on-call hours each month from each nurse. However, certain private practice offices, such as pediatricians, may keep more “regular” business hours, working about eight hours per day Monday through Friday. Generally speaking, hospitals let nurses determine their shifts in advance. In addition, some nurses choose to only work part-time at either hospitals or private practices.

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4. Work-Life Balance Can Be Challenging

Given the structure and timing of their shifts — 12 hours or longer, nights and weekends, on-call shifts — nurses are often out of sync with the rest of the working world. This can make it tough to take care of a family or even just keep up with friends who have regular work hours and weekends off. Because it’s such high-pressure work, nurses also find themselves bringing that stress into their personal lives even when they’re not on the clock, and many RNs say it takes them a while to calm down and be able to sleep after each shift.

5. The Job Outlook is Good

We need nurses now more than ever: With Baby Boomers aging and many experienced nurses set to retire in the next few years, the U.S. needs more than one million new nurses by 2022 to avoid a nursing shortage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of registered nurse jobs will increase 15 percent by 2026 — more than double the average for all occupations. The median salary for registered nurses was $70,000 for 2017 — 185 percent more than the median annual wage — and more experienced professionals such as nurse practitioners can make far more money. If you become a registered nurse, you’ll probably be able to find a job easily for many years to come.

6. You Can Select from Dozens of Specialties

There are more than 100 nursing specialties to pursue, from critical care to pain management to midwifery to diabetes to HIV/AIDS. Some specialties pay more than others or offer more opportunities for advancement, so do your research ahead of time and try to intern in a few specialties before making your decision. If you find that you’ve reached the ceiling for your particular specialty, you can always go back to school for a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree or a Ph.D. in nursing science to get that promotion or make a switch to a different role.

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7. It’s a Tough but Fulfilling Career

Many people have dreamed of donning scrubs and taking care of patients ever since they saw an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” But real-life nursing is not like TV shows: It can be emotionally and physically draining, and it requires a thick skin and good stress-coping skills. Seeing patients in pain can be really trying, especially if you’ve built a relationship with them and their families over time. But for those individuals who are cut out for it, many say they love working as a nurse: 83 percent of nurses say they are satisfied with their choice of nursing as a career, and only 9 percent report dissatisfaction. Even though the work can be exhausting, nurses love taking care of patients and making a difference on the front lines of care.

A career in nursing is not for everyone, but many love the endless variety and ability to care directly for patients. Whether you’re just beginning to explore a career or are ready to get an advanced degree, keep these seven factors in mind before you decide to become a nurse — and who knows, it might turn out to be one of the best decisions of your life.

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