You may want to know if nursing would be a good fit for you before you invest thousands of dollars into your education. Volunteering and shadowing nurses are great ways to get a glimpse of the day in the life of a nurse. Not only is it important to understand the physical tasks involved in nursing, but of equal importance is an understanding of the mentality and character traits that the job demands.
Customer service skills
As a nurse, you will be evaluated on how well you interact with your patients. It is important for you to be able to treat patients with respect and work on developing a trusting relationship. Communicate clearly and honestly, be an active listener, and have patience. Patient complaints against staff are a real thing and a real concern for nurse managers, especially when that complaint is linked to negative behavior from a nurse.
Compassion is hard for you to fake, and your patients will be able to tell the difference between a nurse who truly loves his/her work and a nurse who doesn't. Patients won't forget the genuine nurse who treated them with kindness and respect. Patients also won't forget the nurse who was rude and seemed disconnected from their work. Compassion is at the core of nursing, and if you have a hard time caring about other people, nursing may not be the career for you.
Enjoy teaching others
As a nurse, you will constantly be teaching others. Nursing students will come in droves to your unit. You must always remember that someone else was patient with you when you were learning to become a nurse and treat nursing students with the same generosity. You will also have to teach your patients. Teaching does not begin at discharge, it begins on admission. Your patients and their families will constantly ask you questions regarding the equipment, the plan of care, something that the doctor just explained, how to take their medications, etc.
Attention to detail
Nursing involves the ability to notice subtle changes in your patient. Doctors rely heavily on nurses because nurses are at the bedside for most of the day. For example, you may notice that the patient you cared for in the morning who was cheerful and talkative is now quiet and running a fever in the afternoon. It is up to you as the nurse to appreciate changes in the appearance, demeanor, and vital signs of your patients. You don't necessarily have to know exactly why those changes are occurring (although it helps to have an idea) but is your duty to recognize any important changes in the status of your patient. Subtle changes that occur over time can lead to big problems later on if left unaddressed by the nurse.
How exactly are nurses supposed to catch on to these changes? By performing thorough physical assessments, monitoring patients for side effects from drugs and complications after procedures, and understanding your patient's baseline vital signs, weight, and mental status, you will be able to quickly identify any changes in your patients.
Have a desire to learn
Nursing is a career that involves constant education. Learning does not end when you graduate from nursing school or complete orientation. Learning is a constant part of nursing because of the technology involved in patient care, complex disease processes, the almost daily release of a new medication, and the continuing education credits required to renew your Registered Nurse license every year.
Work well as a team member
As a nurse, you must be willing to be a team player. There are going to be days when your organization and time management skills serve you well and you get your tasks accomplished in record time. While you're enjoying your down time you may notice a coworker struggling to get her tasks done. If you are willing to help your coworkers, they will be more likely to help you on the days that you feel like you can barely keep your head above water. This is not to suggest that you have to do someone else's work for them, but doing things like gathering supplies, giving a patient some water or snacks, making a bed, etc. can make a big difference when someone is running behind.
I would be doing a great disservice to you if I said nursing was always sunshine and rainbows. The truth is that it isn't. There are times when ethical situations will arise that may challenge your beliefs. You will experience incredible highs and devastating lows. And while it is ok to cry and empathize with your patient, you cannot break down. Nursing is tough because we want to have compassion for our patients but we can't let every sad thing weigh us down. Some days you will be able to leave the sadness at work and some days it will follow you home. The main thing is that you don't allow your emotions to get in the way of your job performance.
Comfortable caring for others
This may sound obvious, but as a nurse, you should be comfortable caring for other people. You sometimes have to get very close to your patients in a way that you never would with other people outside of the hospital setting. You may have to clean up body fluids, give a patient a bath, or help someone get dressed, and you must respect that person's dignity while you are caring for them. It is not the time for laughter or disgust.
One of the best things about nursing is that we have the privilege of caring for people at vulnerable or special moments in their lives. Whether it be for the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the discovery of cancer growing inside someone, a complication of a disease, or even a routine check up, nurses are there. We should be committed to providing the best possible care for those who are depending on us.
Nursing is not the career for people who hold firm prejudices, stereotype others, and have something negative to say about everyone. Your patients can pick up on this subtle or not so subtle hostility, and the last thing anyone wants is a complaint or accusation that prevents you from getting another job in the future. Remember that the patient deserves a respectful caregiver.
Remember that the mother whose infant is suffering from withdrawal was possibly addicted to drugs before she got pregnant. Remember that the man with lung cancer is a father and husband, not "the smoker in room 123". Be careful who you judge because you may only know 10% of your patient's story at most.
Serving as a nurse can honestly be a challenging job. Anyone can do the physical tasks and learn the skills involved in nursing, but the memorable nurses are not the ones who have perfect IV sticks or flawless wound dressings.
The way you care for others is what will make you memorable to your patients. If you are willing to work hard to put your best foot forward and always remember that the patient comes first, there is a good chance you will grow to be an excellent nurse :)
What character traits do you think all nurses should have? How did you know nursing was a good fit for you? We'd love to hear from you!