So You Want to Be a Nurse?


Are you thinking of changing careers? Are you thinking of finding a career? Have you thought about being a nurse?

Being a nurse can be great work, but it can be hard. A nurse often works 8-12 hour shifts, sometimes without breaks. A nurse sees people at their worst and at their most vulnerable, when they are sick. Being a nurse can be very rewarding, but to become a nurse should not be taken lightly.

I thought that I would offer a little bit of advice to you about what to consider if you are considering nursing.

First, why are you thinking about being a nurse? Do you care about people? How are you when someone is hurt? Are you sympathetic? These are all good qualities to have if you want to be a nurse. If you don’t have the foundation of caring for others, you may burn out very quickly.

Do you know what a nurse does? A nurse does much more than hand out band-aids and water. A nurse assesses patients, formulates a nursing diagnosis, implements a plan of care and then evaluates that plan of care. Each of those steps involve more than you might think. Have you ever followed around a nurse for a day? If you haven’t I suggest that you find someone to follow to get your feet wet and see if this is something that you want to do.

What kind of nurse do you want to be? There are (in the United States) LPNs, or Licensed Practical Nurses. There are RNs, or Registered Nurses. Each of these nurses have different job descriptions and responsibilities. A person can become a LPN generally by completing a 1-2 year course. A person can become a RN by several different routes. To be a RN you have to have an Associates degree or a Bachelor’s Degree. The interesting thing to keep in mind is that whether you have a 2 or 4 year degree, everyone has to take the same board test for nursing, the NCLEX. Many nurses obtain their 2 year degree, pass the NCLEX and then move towards their 4 year degree while working as a nurse. Other nurses go and get the 4 year degree and then take the NCLEX. Of course, following the ADN or the BSN, a Master’s Degree can be obtained in several areas including nurse education and nurse practitioner.

The great thing about being a nurse is that there are so many different areas to be a nurse! You could work in a hospital, in a home care setting, in a Dr.’s office, on ships, on planes and in other countries. Generally after a nurse graduates he or she works on a general Medical-Surgical floor for at least a year to gain experience. Many nurses then specialize in certain areas such as pediatrics, intensive care, emergency care and operating rooms.

There are many great resources out there for those who are learning about this profession. One great resource is the Johnson and Johnson Discover Nursing Campaign. This site provides information regarding the different areas of the nursing career path. The site also provides information about scholarships and schools for aspiring nurses.

This little article has only scratched the surface of what it involves to become a nurse. I encourage anyone who is seriously considering this amazing and at times stressful career to carefully do research.  Make sure that you would be a good fit for the profession, and that the profession would be a good fit for you.

I wish you well!

~SarahLee RN


Clinical Day 1: Discoveries


A lesson learned few years ago, but never forgotten.

“No, hon, you’re not going to want that. Those are old. You’re going to want these,” said the nurse, pointing at a rack full of thick binders on the side of the desk.
Bewildered, I put the first binder back on the shelf (it was big and heavy) and turned to face the other rack.
Not really sure what I was looking at but attempting to look professional, I grabbed the binder with my newly acquired client’s room number on the spine, clutched it to my chest, and practically ran from the nurses’ station.
As I fled back to the safety of the visitor’s room that the freshmen nursing students had confiscated for headquarter purposes, I could imagine that poor nurse’s thoughts in the back of my mind. “That freshmen nursing student, thinks that she’ll be an RN someday and she doesn’t even know what a chart looks like!” I could just see her shaking her head and rolling her eyes at the inconvenience of having to deal with a floor full of freshmen. I made it back to the visitor room and sank into a chair with the chart in my lap.

My need to stay in my comfort zone was very quickly overcome by my clinical instructor’s orders to “Find your client’s medications from the chart and write them down.” Then she added with a touch of sadistic delight, “Some of these clients are going to have a lot of meds. One student last year had a client with twenty medications.”
Staring at my instructor with disbelief coupled with shock, I tentatively opened my patient’s chart. Pages and pages of information jumped in front of my eyes. Words that I had never seen before, much less understood, attacked me from the pages. I had no idea where to even begin looking for my client’s medication information.
Suddenly remembering that I would need more care plan information about my client than just medication info, I was struck with the bright idea of taking my client’s chart into her room and sitting with her while I attempted to decipher this terrifying binder. At least I wouldn’t be under the eyes of some of the more experienced freshmen or my clinical instructor. I was still delusional enough to think that my classmates were less confused than I was. If I had actually looked around I think that I would have seen the same deer –in-the-headlights-look on their faces that was so evident on my face.
Quickly sucking in my breath like a diver ready to jump, I rose from my chair, slammed the binder shut, and started walking briskly to my client’s room. As I left the visitor’s room I suddenly felt a surge of confidence. After all, here I was, in my new uniform, young, full of ambition and I had almost four weeks of classrooms lectures and lab time behind me! My self-confidence was returning! I felt knowledgeable, smart, and self-sufficient.

Then I passed the nurses’ station where I had gotten my chart. My confidence quickly dwindled as I walked, no; I sneaked, past that station. No snappy uniform or college based confidence could stand in the face of plain old experience that was represented by those sitting behind that desk. I quivered.

Still clutching my binder, I made it past the nurses’ station and arrived safely, albeit somewhat un-confidently, at my client’s door.
I then gave myself my one thousandth pep talk of the morning. “You’re doing fine, everyone feels like this on their first day. Just relax.”
We had been taught to always knock before entering a client’s room, however, upon meeting my client earlier in the day I had discovered that in my client’s instance that little textbook jewel could be thrown right out the proverbial window. I would have to hit that door multiple times with a crowbar before my client would even hear it. The dear woman’s hearing was not very good, and so, I concluded that all textbook information could be adapted to meet specific client needs. Looking around me, half expecting, half afraid to see my clinical instructor behind me, I discarded textbook policy, and walked right in. I walked up to my client, being careful to approach her from the front so that she could see me clearly. Leaning towards her, I raised my voice ever so slightly. “Hello, Ms. So and So! My name is—— and I am a student nurse. I am going to take care of you today!”
That was my very first ever clinical experience. I wrote about this experience very shortly after it happened. I have learned so much since that day; it would take me thousands and thousands of words to even begin to scratch the surface of all that I have learned since that first clinical day.

First of all, I learned that I was not alone in my feelings of nervousness.

I learned that I was not the only freshmen nursing student in the world to have felt so illiterate at the clinical setting.

I learned that my instructors were and are not sadistic, but in fact want to push me to my limits and challenge me with new experiences.

I learned that my instructors were approachable when I was unsure of myself.

I learned that my instructors didn’t mind me ‘adapting’ textbook policy (within reason of course!)

I learned that it was possible to understand a client’s chart!

I learned that the clinical staff can be invaluable tools for learning.

I learned that if I didn’t know anything, I should ask questions.
And the most important thing I learned that day was how to apply my textbook and lecture knowledge. I learned that no matter how much I learned in school, or how much I knew, when it came down to the client, it had to be personally applied to that client.
Although in the school lab, I would lose points during a re-demo for forgetting to knock on a client’s door, in the “real world”, if my client couldn’t hear me, I had to find another way of making my presence known respectfully without knocking on the door. I had to adapt my knowledge to meet a specific situation.
That little lesson turned the ‘light bulb’ on for me, and helped me to understand the nursing process.  It helped me to understand how to critically think a situation, even in a very small way.

I think that I learned more in that one tiny experience, with a hard of hearing lady in a nursing home, than in four hours of lecture on critical thinking. And, small as it was, I know that I will remember what I learned on that first clinical day for the rest of my life.

Practical Advice for the New Nurse




Nursing school and the NCLEX were hard. Your first year as a real nurse can be harder. Take that first year as seriously as you took nursing school.



You don’t have to work as a GN (graduate nurse) before you have taken your NCLEX. In some areas this is wise, in other areas it is not. Why risk not passing? If you need to focus on studying, do that. Once you pass the NCLEX, doors start to open. Don’t worry about getting a job before that. Pass that test first, as soon as possible after graduation!                                  


You don’t have to get a job in Med-Surg right away. It is a good idea, but it’s not for everyone. Your career isn’t over if you don’t follow the standard recommended time frame. You are an individual nurse. You can take your own path if you need to.


Look for jobs anywhere. I waited until after I took the NCLEX to look for my first job, you do what you think you can handle. If the hospital isn’t hiring, look somewhere else. Any job in that first year will be a good one (unless of course you or your employer is breaking the law!)


Get serious about your resume, cover letter and interviewing skills. Get online, do research, and look up resume formats. Cover letters are always helpful. If you are emailing your resume, often the body of the email can count as your cover letter. Don’t forget the reference page!


If an email address is readily available on the company website, consider emailing your resume with the email body as the cover letter to the manager where you want to work. Sometimes a direct route is the best way to get noticed in their busy lives.


As a new nurse, don’t worry about limited experience. Put any experience that you have on your resume. Sell yourself and your qualities. Everyone has some.


After you submit a resume and application don’t be afraid to call and check on the status of the application. Make your voice heard.


Research possible interview questions. Practice with your friends and family. Dress appropriately and don’t chew gum! Arrive early. Don’t act like you know everything during the interview. Express a desire to learn and to cultivate a team work culture. Having an attitude of a teachable spirit will get you far as a nurse.


Shake hands, make eye contact, smile and thank as appropriate everyone that you meet. Even if just in passing, smile at everyone. Everyone, from the CEO to the housekeeper. You are above no-one. You never know who is watching.


You may have more than one interviewer. Try not to let that throw you. Just be prepared for many questions.


When it is your turn for questions during the interview, ask intelligent questions. Ask about the facilities’ nursing model of care and their nurse to patient ratio. Ask them about their orientation length. These questions are very important and will give you an idea about the company. If you are not sure why they are important, look it up! If they will not give you what seems like a reasonable orientation, look elsewhere if you have the option. Advocate for yourself.


Send a thank you card or letter to all involved in your interview after your interview. Just do it. Period.


You got the job! Good for you!

Now you are just beginning.

Remember that.

Just beginning. Still learning.

You have so much more to learn and to do!


Show up early to everything. Early by at least 15 minutes. Early to the interview, early to orientation, early to your first, second, third, fourth, fifth (you get the idea) day of work.


You will get a headache during orientation. Possibly multiple headaches. You get a lot of information thrown at you at once. Bring your appropriate headache solution, such as over the counter drugs or caffeine. Write a lot of things down and don’t worry about not knowing or retaining everything right away. You will not remember it all. That is ok.


If this is your first “real” professional job where you are suddenly making an amount of money that you have never seen before, seek trusted financial advice. Just because you are making more does not mean that you should spend more.


Be very respectful of the person who is orienting you. Listen to them. No one likes to orient a know it all. Pay attention to what they are telling you. Some short cuts are fine. If they are doing other short cuts that really are not fine (like not wearing gloves, sharing their passwords, gossiping about everyone’s dirty laundry) just be wary. You don’t have to take everything your preceptor tells you as gospel, but hopefully they are very good nurses which is why they are precepting.


Don’t let your personal opinions make a huge splash right away. Get to know your new coworkers and let them get to know you.


I know that this isn’t high school, but sadly many adults have yet to realize this. Understand that you are being observed and analyzed by the “group.” Listen and do more than you speak for a while.


Have a sense of humor. There is a saying “Be able to laugh at yourself but at others not at all.” Humor will get you far in this profession!


I wish you all the best as a new nurse,

~SarahLee, RN