How ready are you—really—to be a nurse?


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The new school year is approaching, and it’s time for all of you wannabe nurses to register for classes and buy notebooks (or whatever the 21st-century equivalent is). If you’re having second thoughts about your new career, read this. I’ve compiled a list of five questions that’ll help you determine whether or not nursing is the job for you.


1. How’s your bladder capacity?
It’s a well-known joke that nurses have two-liter bladders. Except it’s not a joke. Skipping bathroom breaks is normal when things get busy; there have been plenty of times when I’ve gone six or 10 or even 13 hours without peeing. If you’re prone to bladder infections or have the capacity of a field mouse, you might want to reconsider your choices.

2. Can you function with a blood sugar level of 15?
On an average day, I’ll go from “able to eat” to “cranky” to “faint and light-headed” to “just fine,” all without actually consuming any calories. The ability to respond to crises and unexpected developments while your brain is starving for glucose is absolutely necessary in nursing. The days when you’re able to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full are the days when nothing at all happens.

3. Do you like helping people?
If you do, you’ll need to do something different with your life. The goal of most of the longtime nurses I know is to leave their patients at least a little better than they found them. Sometimes, though, that isn’t possible. Sometimes you even have to hurt people in order to keep them alive and functioning. Helping people is a worthy goal, and mostly it’s what we do. If you can’t deal with the possibility of being cruel in the greater service of kindness, though, do something else for a living.

4. Can you handle Stupid?
Stupid is everywhere. Stupid comes down from above, in the form of dictates from managers who haven’t been on the floor in 20 years. It comes up from below, in the form of patients who lack the will or the brains to follow even the simplest instructions. It comes from the side, in terms of lateral aggression (aka nurse-on-nurse bullying, or the Eat Your Young syndrome); it comes on a diagonal from doctors who aren’t confident in their skills. Fully half my job is stopping Stupid before it does harm. If the thought of herding cats makes you faint, wait tables. The money’s just as good and the hours are better.

5. Are you resilient?
I’ve saved the single most important question for last, of course. Nurses must have the capacity to get up after being knocked down, no matter the form the knocking-down takes, and keep going. You can be a little dumb, kind of flighty, not physically strong or a bit disorganized and still do well if you’re resilient. You must—must—be able to shake off a bad day and get up again to go to work. You must be able to overcome a bad start to your shift and do something worthwhile. In other words, you have to be resilient and tough. Some of that’s learned, of course—there’s nothing like dealing with sick people to reorder your priorities—but a good portion of it is inborn. If you’re not resilient and able to deal, don’t be a nurse.

And with that, I say happy studying and test-taking! I look forward to working with you all, starved and cross-legged and hopping as we’ll be.

Agatha Lellis
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

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