The role of a nurse involves making decisions that can vastly impact the lives of others, and deciding to become a nurse is an important choice. While nursing schools train students to learn various tasks, there are also many qualities that make nursing a career fit for some people.
Because the field of nursing is so varied, nursing training requires extensive practice in different areas. Nurses also take courses about human anatomy and learn about mental health. They must learn proper documentation, medical procedures, and the basic care of patients. Nurses at any level of training must also pass an examination that qualifies them to work.
A good nurse has developed communication skills by working with others. Nurses interact daily with patients and other health care personnel, and communication skills are essential to relay the correct information. Nurses also work with other disciplines, such as social work or nutrition to arrange for care of a patient and communicate circumstances, all in one shift.
Part of the skill of nursing involves being observant to changes in patient condition. Another phrase that goes hand in hand with this is known as critical thinking skills. Regardless of where a nurse works, keen observation and critical thinking skills are important to guide decisions. Critical thinking skills involve observing a situation and then understanding what the next step is. It may mean acting quickly to save a life or simply using the best judgment to ease discomfort.
Because a nurse may work in situations that are sad or less than ideal, emotional stability is critical to maintain a professional work environment. Nurses face often frustrating circumstances of trying to care for patients while managing situations that may include family, physicians, or other health care team members. A nurse must continue to maintain a professional attitude and remain emotionally stable in spite of difficult circumstances.
A good presence of mind is necessary to perform the multiple tasks required each day in the job of a nurse. This may include deciding what work needs to be done in what order of importance. It also means understanding what decisions are for the best of the patient and following through, even if it is difficult.
Because nurses care for others in so many different settings, an empathetic attitude is important to better understand a patient’s background. Although some circumstances may be hard to understand, showing empathy can help the nurse to meet the patient’s needs. Additionally, because many medical procedures are painful or frightening, showing a caring attitude helps patients to better cope under the circumstances.
Nurses often work a variety of shifts, with many different kinds of people. Nursing requires flexibility to continue working despite situations that are unsatisfactory. It often also involves working shifts or spending time with others that may not be desirable. Flexibility can help to make a negative situation better for all involved.
Many nurses need strong physical endurance during their work. Some particular areas of nursing require nurses to lift, turn, and reach to help patients, which over time can be very tiring. Additionally, some places of employment require nurses to work long hours, which may include overnight work or rotating shifts. Physical endurance is required to manage the routine that may be necessary when it is time to work.
A respect for others and rules is not only a sign of maturity, it may be required as part of a nurse’s job. Respect involves acknowledging the decisions of others and their choices. Often, nurses may need to carry out the orders of a physician even if they disagree, but following the rules will help to promote agreement between all involved.
Institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes are often associated with illness or dying and many people do not wish to spend much time there. A nurse who is active and cheerful about her job and treating patients makes a big impact on the entire situation. For most patients, having a nurse who is approachable and cheerful about circumstances can make stressful conditions much more pleasant.
A typical day for a nurse is full of tasks, and a good sense of organization is essential for performing them in the right order. An organized nurse gives herself time to complete assignments—an ability that goes along with good prioritization skills. Prioritizing the most important work first and delegating other tasks will help the nurse to complete her work.
Patience is a virtue, most importantly for nurses. Many nurses work in situations that involve convincing, teaching, or modeling the right methods. Unfortunately, not every patient will agree with the nurse’s opinion. A nurse must be patient with others who make choices different from her own. Staying patient curbs negative feelings that would further harm attempts to finish the necessary work.
Steps to Becoming a Nurse
Nursing is a wide-ranging profession; one that requires intense study and training to develop as a career. While the decision should not be taken lightly, there are several steps that can help you to decide if nursing is the right choice for you.
If given the opportunity, try to watch nurses as they work to get an idea if the job is something you want to take on. This may mean observing nurses while visiting a hospital or arranging a shadowing experience to follow a nurse as she works during her shift.
After deciding that this job is possible, consider what types of training are available. Many programs are open to gain a degree at various levels of nursing, depending on interest. Determine the length of time of the program and the eligibility requirements. Many nursing schools are challenging in terms of time and energy, so consider if this is something you want to commit to.
Getting through a nursing program may be tough, and it requires study and clinical work. The positive side to this is the support gained from other nursing students along the way who are also going through the program. Nursing school is an opportunity to work with others, to gain support, and to provide encouragement.
Once you have completed nursing school, a test for licensure is required to practice. The type of test depends on what level of nursing you have completed and the requirements of each state. After passing the examination, a nurse becomes licensed to practice and can begin looking for jobs that fit her skills and areas of interest. Many jobs require some practice as a nurse before being hired, although there are plenty that also hire new graduate nurses. The first year as a nurse is a time of learning and adjusting to the demands of the profession. Nursing school provides a sample of what the work will be like, but the actual job can be very different, in ways that are more challenging, yet also more rewarding.
The steps to becoming a nurse may be long and demanding, but those who are willing to commit to study and training can finish and join the nursing profession. Fulfilling the requirements is the first test to see if you have the qualities it takes to be a good nurse.
Top Nursing Schools
The first step toward deciding to become a nurse is to learn about the nursing profession. Nurses may be portrayed in various ways through television and film, but in order to be sure that nursing is your career of choice, learn about what a real nurse does on a daily basis.
Depending on the type of nursing school, some shadowing opportunities may be available that allow students to follow a nurse through a shift of work. This allows students to really see much of what is involved in the day to day activities and understand many other aspects of care associated with working in health care institutions. Shadowing opportunities are not just in hospitals, many students also follow nurse educators, clinical nurse specialists, nurse managers, and many other types of advanced practice nurses to decide if nursing is the career for them.
When visiting a hospital or health care setting, observe the work of the nurses and see if they seem to like their jobs. If given the chance, talk with them about their jobs: if they like it, what kinds of hours they work, what kind of training they went through and how long they have been working as a nurse. Watching nurses at work and talking with them about their jobs provides you with a better understanding of not only the overall tasks, but if you are physically able to do the work. Some people spend time with a nurse and decide they would be unable to handle certain aspects of the job, while others are energized at the idea of doing the work of a nurse and want to learn more.
Read books about nursing, including biographies and personal stories of nursing work and compositions about historical nurses and some of their life-changing decisions. If necessary, pick up a nursing textbook of required reading and peruse through some of the topics that nurses learn about to determine if you could study the required subjects.
There are many nurses and types of nursing jobs available, most of which can be explored in more depth by reading, following others, and talking to nurses about the profession, which is a foundational decision in the line of steps to becoming a nurse.
Choosing a Nursing School & Tips for Surviving Nursing School Successfully
Choosing a Nursing School
Choosing a nursing school involves several factors, and taking time to research options will narrow down the large number of schools that are offering degree programs. First, consider the type of nurse that you would like to be. Although you may be interested in pursuing nursing to an advanced level, a nursing career begins with a degree or diploma.
Some schools offer a degree in licensed practical nursing, which is a shorter program but has a smaller scope of practice than that for a registered nurse. To become a registered nurse, decide if you would like to work toward a diploma, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. The length of program varies, as most diploma and associate’s degree programs are shorter than that for an undergraduate degree. Consider the amount of time, in years, that you have to give toward nursing school.
Learn about what schools are accessible for you to study nursing. Some people choose to go away to school, while others prefer to take classes close to home. There are also some online programs for nursing that may provide self-study courses but require clinical work at local organizations.
Once you determine where you want to study and for what type of nursing, you can begin researching schools. Most institutions have websites that offer information online, or you may ask for a student catalog. Consider the curriculum and the length of the program. A comprehensive education in nursing will provide background work in many different areas of study, as well as clinical opportunities for a well-rounded educational experience. Because a licensing examination is required to practice, find out what methods the school uses to prepare students.
Admission requirements fluctuate among schools, with some expecting strict criteria for potential students. By checking the school’s information about requirements against your own background of grade point average, coursework, and extracurricular activities, you can better decide if a certain school is right for you.
The cost of attendance varies by institution, so take into account how much money you are willing to put toward training. Most schools offer some form of financial aid, as well as information about scholarships, and this may influence your decision. Check with your guidance counselor or local library for a database of potential schools. Some Internet websites dedicated to the nursing profession also provide a description of many nursing schools to help you narrow your decision.
Tips for Surviving Nursing School Successfully
Nursing school is a challenging endeavor, requiring hours of study and training. The work can be difficult because it involves study in the classroom environment as well as working in a clinical setting as a student nurse, performing many of the duties of a licensed nurse.
Some nursing schools focus on a specific subject each term. For example, one period may examine aspects of psychiatric nursing, while the next semester may focus on critical care. During each period of study, try to focus on the material at hand. If you have moved through one term about a specific subject, focus on the new material needed to get through the current time. Although many basic concepts of nursing build on each other for future practice, attempt to maintain focus on the course at hand.
If extracurricular activities are available for students to gain experience, try to get involved. Many times, it is the practical encounters that will help you to remember some concepts when it comes time for testing. Practical experience may also reinforce your desire to be a nurse and provide encouragement through tough times of studying.
Nursing school is a unique experience in that students practice their future job skills together in a clinical setting before graduating. The clinical experience often forms a bond among students because it requires teamwork and organization. Many friendships begin through nursing students who must work together to care for patients. Friendships with other students also provide support to help through the difficult times of nursing school.
While working in the clinical setting, talk with professional nurses about their jobs and seek their opinions. They are the nurses that are in the field and understand what the real world of nursing is about. Also, accept the help of others who normally work in the same setting you are practicing in, such as nursing assistants or medication aides. Although not technically nurses, these people understand the day to day activity of the health care setting and can be of great assistance if you treat them with due respect.
Above all, study hard, ask questions, and seek help early if you do not understand something. Nursing school is different from the traditional college experience, with irregular hours and demanding schedules. By working hard, you can learn what you need and survive nursing school to move into practice as a nurse.
Passing the NCLEX
The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is a required test for nursing students following graduation from nursing school. Before obtaining licensure and the opportunity to practice, a nurse must pass the NCLEX.
Passing this test is no small feat, and there are some students who do not pass on the first try. It is possible to repeat the test if necessary to eventually obtain licensure. The test is a comprehensive exam that covers much of the material that you studied during nursing school. This can be difficult because some of the concepts may have been covered during the early terms of school, which can be quickly forgotten by the time you have finished other semesters, worked clinical hours, and prepared for graduation.
The NCLEX requires study to review concepts and to prepare you for the testing scenarios. Some nursing schools offer a course that is designed specifically to study for the test; by providing these types of classes, schools have a better track record of producing students who are prepared to pass the exam. If your school offers a preparation course for the NCLEX, taking the class can be a big review of materials you have learned throughout your nursing school career. Additionally, an instructor may give you tips about what to expect during the testing situation.
Some books are also available as study guides that provide a review of information and many test questions for practicing. Meet with other nursing students who are also preparing for the test and study together. Practice questions together and analyze why you answered the question as you did. When reviewing questions, think about some clinical situations that may be similar to the question posed and consider how a licensed nurse would respond to the situation.
When the day of the test arrives, get plenty of sleep the night before and do what you need to be focused for the exam. The test can be nerve-wracking and you may spend much of the time wondering how you are doing. Once the test is over, you must wait to find out the results—whether you passed or not. Taking this test seriously by spending time studying, committing to memory many important concepts, and taking care of yourself beforehand can go a long way toward passing the NCLEX and obtaining your licensure as a nurse.
Choosing a Nursing Specialty
Nursing provides a broad spectrum of different areas in which to practice. Two people may both be nurses, yet work in substantially different fields. The beauty of nursing is that you may work in one type of clinical setting for years and later decide to pursue an entirely different area of practice, all while working under the same license. Many nurses choose a particular specialty in which to practice based on their experience during nursing school and their specific area of interest.
When considering a nursing specialty, think of your areas of interest. Some people enter nursing school with an idea of what type of nurse they want to be, and follow that dream. Others believe they know what they want to do but decide during clinical rotations that a particular area is not for them. You may have ideas about what area you would like to work in based on your experience.
Working as a nursing assistant may help you to know what areas to focus on and what to avoid. For those with less experience in health care before beginning, the clinical rotations can help you to narrow down your decision. Nursing schools design clinical experiences to help you hone your nursing skills but also to consider different specialties. Use your clinical practice to determine what parts of each rotation are the types of work you think you can do.
Following graduation, you may consider a specialty when applying for your first job. Depending on the area of interest, some units do not hire new graduates and expect at least one year of work before applying. Starting out on a medical or surgical floor also provides experience that may point you in what direction to go. Or, you may decide that you like where you are working and stay there. Some new graduate nurses start in float positions, allowing them to work in various areas. Many of these experiences are valuable, as it gives you a better idea of what area you are interested and what you excel at.
Nursing school provides an excellent opportunity to decide what specialties are right for you. One positive aspect of nursing is that, even if you enter a specialty after graduation, you do not have to stay there for your entire career. Many other specialties await, and you are bound to find one that is the right fit.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013