Working as a nurse – what does it really feel like?

Linda Le Phan

Nursing is one of the most in-demand jobs in all of the US and it is definitely THE most in-demand job in the healthcare industry, which makes it a profession worth paying attention to. But on top of that, being a nurse could be a dream profession for many people — good job security, great career options, and the opportunity to care for others.

Like all jobs though, nursing comes with both benefits and challenges. Before pivoting your career to nursing and putting your sights on nursing school, it’s smart to learn what it feels like to work as a nurse. Here’s what being a nurse really feels like!:


The benefits and challenges of working as a nurse

So what is it actually like to work as a nurse? Ask 10 nurses, and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. We’ve compiled some of the major themes from talking to nurses about what they like and dislike about their jobs and what one might see as a main benefit or challenge of working as a nurse:


1. Benefit – Nursing offers an opportunity to do good

When nurses talk about their jobs, perhaps the biggest theme that emerges is the desire to do good. In a nursing environment, you receive tangible, daily reminders that you are helping others in a meaningful way. From alleviating pain to teaching a patient learn to manage a new medical condition, nurses get an immediate reward from helping others.

“What I like about the company – The nurses in the unit worked very hard and were nice to each other and tried to be helpful” – anonymous employer review at DaVita

2. Challenge – It requires excellent people skills and patience

Becoming a good nurse requires more than just knowledge of medical conditions and treatments: it takes a caring personality, good people skills and patience. Nurses are on the front lines of healthcare, meaning that they see people at their worst: in pain, receiving scary diagnoses, or facing the end of life. Communicating effectively with patients and their families is a core skill for any nurse, as is being patient and calm in the face of all of the heightened emotional situations you’ll face.

“I am part of an amazing team that works together to provide the best patient care. Everyone from the medical directors, nurse practitioners, nurses, nursing assistants, social workers, spiritual care coordinators, bereavement coordinators all make it a great place to work.” – anonymous employer review at Heartland

3. Challenge – Nursing is physically and emotionally demanding

Most nurses will tell you that the profession is not for the faint of heart, but it is also not for the weak in body and heart. Nursing is a very physically and emotionally demanding job. You’ll be on your feet for the majority of your shift and you’ll be giving support and care for patients with all sorts of pain and ailments. Plus, you may need to transfer patients in/out of bed, lift equipment, or push patients in wheelchairs or hospital beds. Nurses will often tell you that they feel exhausted by the end of the day and that’s no joke – being exhausted after a super-long shift as a nurse is a type of exhaustion that isn’t really relatable in other professions.

“Working with dying patients and their families is very rewarding as a nurse. I always enjoyed the contact I had with the patient and families.” – anonymous employer review at Cornerstone Hospice

4. Benefit – There is high diversity of setting and experience

Nurses work in a variety of settings, including major hospitals, small clinics, schools, the military, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and patients’ homes. Nurses can provide hospice care, help to deliver babies, assist with surgeries, or educate patients about chronic medical conditions. This diversity within the profession is something that excites and energizes many nurses. In day-to-day life, that means that you are constantly learning and applying new skills to solve problems. Plus, if you feel that you are stagnating in a certain position, there are ample opportunities to grow and stretch in new ways.

“As a nurse resident in the cardiology unit I have been embraced by the nurses and taken under their wing. I have learned so much from the seasoned nurses.” – anonymous employer review at Monroe Regional Health System

5. Challenge – You may not receive the appreciation you deserve

Despite the benefits of nursing and how fulfilling a profession it can be, some nurses continue to feel that they are overworked and misunderstood. Some cite an unhealthy dynamic between physicians and nurses in which the nurses are treated as support people rather than partners in delivering healthcare. While many nurses have high job satisfaction, the National Nursing Engagement Report found that 15.6% reported feeling burned out, often due to lack of appreciation.


What It Takes to Become a Nurse: Education and Job Outlook

Feeling inspired and ready to get started? Becoming a nurse takes time and hard work, but the payoff can be enormous. In a 2017 survey of registered nurses, 84% said they had high or very high job satisfaction. Plus, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts strong outlook for nurses. Nurses currently make a median salary of $71,730 per year, and the field is expected to grow by 15% (much faster than average) over the next 10 years.

There are several paths to becoming a registered nurse: an associate’s degree in nursing or bachelor’s degree in nursing are most common. While an associate’s degree requires less time and investment, it may limit your job opportunities. All nurses must pass a licensing exam called the NCLEX before beginning to practice.



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