5 Things You Didn't Know About Being a Nurse

nurse at work
Nursing is a valuable and vital profession, but it's not for the faint of heart.
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Professions, like people, are prone to stereotyping. You can't possibly understand the intricacies of every career field, so your mind simply grabs and assimilates pieces of history, pop culture and anecdotal information to arrive at an answer to questions like, "What is an astronaut, a lawyer ... a nurse?" Pretty soon your assumptions about a given field become accepted facts -- even though they are neither accepted in that industry nor truly factual.

The stereotypes some people hold about being a nurse can come from what they know from history about Florence Nightingale, even though the profession has changed over the years. The book and film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" offered a power-hungry and domineering perspective on nursing through the portrayal of the stoic Nurse Ratched. Face-to-face encounters with nurses during hospital stays also are insufficient because a nurse comes to you; you don't follow him around to see all the things he does throughout the course of her day.


So, discard those white orthopedic shoes and the image of a matronly bed-pan-changer. Here are a few things about nurses you weren't aware of.

5: Nurses Have to Know Math and Science

A caring demeanor is a wonderful attribute, but kindness and empathy doesn't get a nurse through all the necessary training -- and it sure doesn't substitute for being able to calculate medication doses, changes in patient vital statistics and potential drug interactions that could threaten a person's health. From chemistry to math, a nurse has to have a solid grasp of the hard sciences as well as good social skills, compassion and a desire to help people.

A nurse not only works with humans, but a lot of inanimate beeping and humming machines that require an expert's skill to operate correctly [source: College Crunch]. A good heart goes a long way, but smarts are essential to this challenging profession [source: Kuokkanen and Leino-Kilpi].


4: It's a Jekyll and Hyde Profession

You've probably heard the figure of speech "you've just got to rip off the bandage." It's a way of saying that there are some things that just have to be done -- there's no use in delaying them or taking them slow. In fact, going about them slowly or tentatively makes the situation worse. That's life as a nurse.

Tenderness is required one moment and absolute grit and toughness the next [source: Head Nurse]. A person who can't clean a painful wound when the patient is wincing can't help that patient. Likewise, a nurse who becomes incapacitated each time she witnesses a death won't last long in the profession.


3: Gossip is Part of the Job

Nursing is a stressful occupation, often involving long shifts, life-and-death scenarios and occasionally cranky patients and doctors. A nurse may walk into a high-maintenance person's room wearing a winning smile and a congenial attitude and dutifully take care of his every need, but rest assured that everyone back at the nurses station knows what a jerk that patient is. That's because there's gossip involved with the job [source: RD.com].

Talking, purging, venting -- call it whatever you want -- it takes place between nurses and sometimes even involves nurses. It makes sense if you think about it. They're human and they can only take so much.


2: A Nurse is as Important as the Doc

If watching "Grey's Anatomy" has you convinced that doctors make all the tough decisions and are always there to welcome a new life or walk a patient to the grave, you're only half right. As one nurse noted, most of the stuff you see a doctor doing on "Grey's Anatomy" is actually what nurses do in real life. And what's more, nurses aren't dumber versions of doctors. It's usually what they chose to become -- not a fall-back for failing medical school [source: RD.com].

Nurses are as valuable as doctors simply by virtue of how much time they spend with a floor of patients. When something goes wrong, odds are a nurse is going to be the first to handle it.


1: It's Not Just a Dirty Job; It's Vile

"Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe could easily create a spin-off of the popular program. He could call it "Vile Style," and he'd never have to travel farther than the nearest hospital. Nurses could provide all the disgusting insights necessary because they're experts on all things nasty. It's not just bedpans and incontinence issues they see. It's bodily fluids of every imaginable sort and all sorts of things that the human eye can't see.

Look at the bottom of a nurse's shoe under the microscope and you'll likely lose your breakfast -- creating another mess she'll likely clean up. Is it really that bad, you ask? Consider that one unnamed nurse is quoted as saying she doesn't even bring her shoes into the house when she arrives home from work [source: RD.com].


Nursing is a valuable and vital profession, but it's not for the faint of heart or for those who simply think they look good in white. By the way, if you've noticed, they don't often wear white anymore -- remember: It can get vile.

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  • College Crunch. "Being a Nurse: Skills You Should Have." March 9, 2009. (April 6, 2012) http://www.collegecrunch.org/advice/being-a-nurse-skills-you-should-have/
  • Courchane, Claire. "With Nurse Shortage Looming, America Needs Shot in The Arm." June, 6, 2011. (April 1, 2012) http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jun/6/with-nurse-shortage-looming-america-needs-shot-in-/?page=all
  • Head Nurse. "Things They Don't Tell You in Nursing School." March 27, 2008. (April 6, 2012) http://head-nurse.blogspot.com/2008/03/things-they-dont-tell-you-in-nursing.html
  • Kuokkanen, Liisa, MNSc RN PhD, Helena Leino-Kilpi, PhD RN. "The Qualities of An Empowered Nurse and the Factors Involved." Journal of Nursing Management. Sept. 2001. (April 6, 2012)
  • Reader's Digest. "50 Secrets Your Nurse Won't Tell You." April 6, 2012 http://www.rd.com/slideshows/50-secrets-your-nurse-wont-tell-you/?v=print