Nursing is not all gentle bandage-wrapping and following doctor’s orders. These are the everyday realities about the job that full-time nurse Nancy Congleton has learned in the trenches.
Sometimes nurses have to disobey orders
It’s a common misconception that nurses simply carry out doctors’ orders. Physicians may chart the course for patient care by diagnosing diseases and writing orders, but sometimes they don’t get it right.
Nurses are front and center, monitoring patients’ responses to prescribed interventions and notifying physicians when unwanted or negative outcomes arise. Nurses are responsible for all orders that are carried out, including those that are wrong or contraindicated.
Therefore, nurses must make sure that the orders they receive from physicians are appropriate for their patients, and they must use their skills and training to know when to interrupt, or even stop, an order. This part of our job literally saves lives.
Nurses are expected to know everything
Whether it’s family, friends, or community members, people will expect nurses to know everything from all areas of nursing and healthcare. On one hand, it’s a compliment that people think of nurses as having all the answers, but it can also be unrealistic and annoying.
You don’t always know where you stand with patients
I’ve heard it all from patients doubting my capabilities, “You can’t be my nurse, you’re just a little girl!” or “Do you even have a license?” Patients are often scared, hurting, frustrated, and feel as if they don’t have a voice; on many occasions, it’s not actually about the nurse; it helps to remember that.
Nurses handle an abundance of bodily fluids, and other squishy, gross things
In addition to snakes in buckets, I’ve been handed pieces of fingers over ice in cups and seen the aftermath of toes colliding with lawnmowers. Projectile vomit? Explosive diarrhea? Nurses see it every day.
Families can be demanding
Nurses are taught that patients are their primary focus. In reality, nurses’ time with patients is often cut short because of the many other demands of the job, and often, expectations from the patient’s family members are so high as to be nearly impossible to meet.
Nurses do a lot of heavy lifting
Someone could faint or have a seizure, you might have to turn a patient or help them get out of bed or to the bathroom. In nursing, a patient who’s 125 pounds or less is considered a lightweight, and many patients weigh much more. Even many construction workers (who are usually big, strong men) are restricted to lifting far less than that.
Nursing school doesn’t prepare you for everything
People go to nursing school to learn how to be a nurse. However, it is impossible for nursing instructors to cover every disease, symptom, and treatment that a future nurse will encounter, so often we’re learning as we go.
Sometimes nurses work beyond their scheduled time
Even when nurses’ shifts may be over according to the clock, it doesn’t mean that they can leave. If a nurse heads out the door without being officially cleared to do so, he or she could be charged with patient abandonment.
Nurses may be responsible for a lot more than patients
In addition to being responsible for patient care, nurses may also be in charge of other nurses, nurse aids, nurse techs, medical assistants, and other personnel.
Nursing can take a toll on your life outside of work
Weight gain, bouts of crying, and brief moments of insanity are all part of the job, but saving lives every day makes it all worth it.
Nancy Congleton is a Registered Nurse and author of Autopsy of the NP: Dissecting the Nursing Profession Piece by Piece.