“What makes nursing so hard? It can’t be THAT hard!” I remember reading this comment at some point in my blogging journey and laughing, but then feeling kind of put out. Since then I have been stewing in the realization that the general public, new nursing students, some docs, and many of our patients do not realize how complex, stressful, and at times, very difficult our profession really is. In my own personal life, only my mom and my husband truly understand what I “do”—my mom because she is a nurse and my husband because he witnesses my day-to-day grind.
I have my own opinion of why the nursing profession is burning people out on a daily basis. I’ll admit nursing isn’t the most academically challenging profession (rocket science comes to mind) but nursing requires a level of critical thinking that many jobs ignore.
For instance, in critical care, it’s not just putting two and two together—it is putting it together during a life-threatening situation, coming up with a split second decision, communicating that decision to the healthcare team assertively while letting the patient in on things with some sort of education in mind (this is the piece that gets left out!), then acting on that decision professionally, rationally, competently and quickly—all which happens in a matter of moments. And all this is based on a foundation of knowledge, which grows and changes on a daily basis—nurses have to keep up mentally.
So besides the immense amount of brainpower needed to complete a 12 to 14 hour shift (on a good day, when a nurse can get her stuff done in the allotted time), nursing requires a lot from the body. I’ve walked 12,000 steps in a shift–have a blogger friend who just blogged she walked 10 miles during a recent ED shift according to her pedometer. Then there is the lifting; yes, loads of nurses have back problems. There’s even a saying: “A nurse with a bad back is a nurse without a job.” Wonder how many nurses out there are working with bad backs? My guess? A lot!
Do nurses suffer financially? There are arguments out there that nursing is still “women’s work with women’s pay,” which negates the fact that nursing is a profession for men and women—highly educated and trained men and women who should be compensated as such. Would nurses be paid more if men had started the profession? I think the evidence shows that, in comparison with other professions, nursing pay stinks (and I’m not talking to the nurse anesthetists out there).
Let’s throw in some psychological wear and tear for the stuff nurses see on the job with their patients, the emotional stuff from dealing with sick patients, overworked doctors, management, and co-workers on the verge of burn-out, and you have a conclusive hot-mess of a profession. These are all reasons my mom, a burned-out nurse who quit 25 years in, tried to talk me out of this madness before I went to nursing school.
Nursing school was weed out time—the nursing profession, if one isn’t careful—is burn-out time. Smart nurses learn to develop coping mechanisms to last as long as possible, but unless the profession changes, and healthcare changes, and nursing pay increases, I know I’ll continue to see nursing as one Mt. Everest of a career—all uphill.
(Oh, and Mom, I love nursing anyway!)
For more Career Advice for Nurses pick up the latest issue of Scrubs magazine, available at a retail store near you!