Souhegan senior: Do you have what it takes to be a nurse?

Nursing is an interest for many high school graduates all over the country. The question is, do people really know what it takes to be a nurse?

It is one of the most flexible careers and has one of the most successful future outlooks of employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics webpage titled "Registered Nurses," nursing will see a 16 percent growth rate between 2014 and 2024.

Because of this, it is called the fastest-growing profession, expected to exceed all other jobs in the future. With this level of opportunity, many might consider the field. However, knowing what it entails is essential to making a good college and career decision.

Early beginnings

From the time I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be in health care. It was all very intriguing to me, from the medical jargon and X-rays to my fascination with the stethoscope. My favorite game as a child was to play doctor; I would force my siblings into being my patients as I pretended to treat them.

My pediatrician would let me listen to my own heartbeat, which sparked my interest in the science behind the human body. It inspired me to learn how medicine can heal. As my mother works in the nursing field and my grandmother was a nurse, I was inspired to pursue the career.

Like many seniors in high school, I was having a tough time making decisions about a future career and school. I decided to do some research on the nursing profession and dig deeper, past the depiction displayed in media.

Nurses are wrongly depicted on the TV show "Grey’s Anatomy" and in a controversial episode of "The View," as the host poked fun at Miss Colorado’s attempt to describe one of the many stories nurses encounter daily.

Although I gained a wealth of knowledge through research on my own, it wasn’t until I actually interviewed nurses that I found the most honest, firsthand accounts through their eyes and experiences.

Wide-ranging tasks

I conducted a survey of 30 local hospital nurses from many different nursing fields. After interviewing many nurses, the responses gave me authentic, eye-opening personal stories that made me realize special nurses are.

On a daily basis, nurses have numerous responsibilities, including providing care to patients in a health care environment. Responsibilities can encompass everything from a nurse giving booster shots to surgical nurses who prepare instruments and assist during complex surgeries.

Depending on the specialty, nurses have a wide range of responsibilities. According to the American Nurses Association webpage, nurses can:

Perform physical exams.

Educate patients about various health concerns to promote good health.

Administer medication.

Make critical decisions based on the patient’s information.

Provide advice and emotional support to families.

Conduct research to improve the practice.

In fact, the nursing field has changed immensely over the last few the years. The ever-increasing demand for nurses indicates that their role is more important now more than ever.

Academic background

Nurses are encouraged to continue learning and attaining advanced degrees as more and more nurses become specialized. Professional nurses have always had to meet rigorous education and training standards, but the standards today are far more challenging. This is best seen through the highly competitive nursing programs.

While it is possible to earn the registered nurse designation with an associate or bachelor’s degree, the New Hampshire Board of Nursing says many candidates are opting to seek a master’s degree in order to improve their career. There are also many nursing specialties one can focus on after earning a bachelor’s degree, based on a variety of skill sets.

There are many entry points into the career, including a two-year associate’s degree or four year bachelor’s degree. One woman explained in an interview that while earning her associate’s degree, she worked a full-time job and had to take classes year round for two years.

Another woman took the traditional route, attending Saint Anselm College after high school and earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing after four years. However, individuals interested in the field are also welcomed when making a midlife career change.

Another path for individuals is starting as a licensed nurses’ aide or licensed practical nurse while going to school part-time at their own pace. One man interviewed, an LNA for many years, started taking classes at a community college while working as an LNA. He described going at his own pace as "the most convenient and rewarding for (him)."

Whatever route a person takes, when looking to enter the profession, the candidate should be attracted to the job description, possess qualities of a good nurse, and recognize the emotional responsibilities as well as physical demands the career brings.

Essential traits

The nursing field demands a lot from those who pursue it. While clinical skills can be learned, personal traits are arguably the most important. Of the responses I received, the most common qualities that every nurse should internally possess include selflessness, a hardworking attitude and good communication skills.

The nursing field involves helping people who are in the most vulnerable state and at significant stages in their life. The nurse must be able to show empathy to the situation and provide the quality care through good communication and collaboration.

While many skills, such as intelligence, advocacy and inner strength, can be developed with time and experience, the traits of a person who shows true heartfelt love and care for patients, and who demonstrates the ability to learn, are among the most important characteristics.

As a nurse, one is forced to deal with emotional situations, pressure and, at times, mentally taxing experiences. The individual must have the emotional intelligence to act in a socially appropriate way and understand how one’s own emotions can impact others.

The individual needs the emotional stability to cope with human suffering, emergencies and other stress factors. For example, a hospice nurse cares for patients at the end of their lives. They must have the emotional capacity to help people live as comfortably as possible with the least amount of pain in their final days – and, more importantly, provide emotional comfort to their families.

Nurses also must take care of themselves and have an outlet or safe place to express their emotions. According to a respondent who is a registered nurse, "Crying is normal – whether tears for a great experience, a frustrating day or the passing of a life. Feeling is an integral part of nursing, and patients always spot a genuine heart in their nurse."

Nurses work long hours, and the physical demands can be strenuous. The website Jameson Health says the physical demands of nursing may include walking and standing for extended periods of time, as well as lifting, carrying and transporting patients, medical equipment and supplies. It’s important, as with any strenuous activity, to get the proper rest and recovery to prevent injury and remain in good health.

Reasons to help

The most interesting interview data I collected concerned their reasons for choosing the career. Nearly 50 percent of the nurses surveyed chose nursing as a result of family experiences.

One nurse described the experience of taking care of her sick brother growing up, and another remembered the moment her grandmother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. "It was such a wonderful feeling for me to know that I could take care of her, after she had always helped to take such amazing care of me," she said. Both decided they wanted to be like those who cared for their family members.

Almost a third of the other nurses surveyed chose nursing after trying a different career. Some chose nursing for their desire to help improve their patients’ lives.

This is important, because my data shows that a significant amount of nurses are influenced by their family, whether a relative in the field, or a relative battling an injury or disease. Through family ties, the individual witnessed the relationship between the nurse, the patient and the positive impact it had on the patient’s life.

Pathways to nursing

The questionnaires also showed the pathways or steps nurses took or are currently taking to achieve the goal of becoming a nurse at many levels.

Twenty-five percent of the nurses pursued the traditional pathway of direct entry into nursing school. Two-thirds of the nurses interviewed took the nontraditional route into nursing. Forty-one percent of the nurses are or started working as an LNA.

Many describe their journey as going to school part-time, working as an LNA at their own pace (full-time or part-time), some while maintaining a full-time job with family.

Those who took the nontraditional pathway explain that it worked better for them. By doing the non-traditional pathway, the individuals had the chance to work part-time in different areas of nursing, which gave them a clear picture of the type of nursing that they enjoy most.

One woman describes working in the medical-surgical unit before she decided to work with the most critical patients specializing in the intensive-care unit. She "loved cardiac nursing, and the technical aspect of the med-surge unit led (her) to the ICU, which (she) loved."

One of the common threads of advice offered in the survey was to be exposed to the field early. This includes shadowing, interning or becoming an LNA. Respondents said these experiences are invaluable in learning how to listen to and advocate for patients.

It is important to understand that nurses are the first to see any changes in the patient’s health, meaning they play an important role in the well-being of the patient. One nurse insisted to "seek out all the experiences that you can while working as a nursing assistant. You will gain valuable knowledge and skills that will improve your nursing practice."

Another nurse recommended that those interested in becoming a nurse "work as a volunteer or LNA at a hospital." Knowing if a person is well-suited for nursing was advice most offered. "Blood or other unpleasant experiences are hard for many to deal with," and one responded commented "taking the extra measures to become exposed before hand will help you know this career is right for you."

Equally, the advice I received from multiple nurses who responded to the survey is to "be a person first and a nurse second." Nurses play vital roles in the care of their patients, including that of advocacy – acting or interceding on behalf of another.

When having a hard time relating to the patient, the best advice is to think of the patient as if they had a mother, brother or grandmother in that situation or condition. Nurses must ask themselves how they would want to be cared for.

Conclusions

After researching, surveying and conducting interviews of real nurses in the medical field, I’ve learned what makes an effective and caring nurse. Nursing school can teach the necessary skills and knowledge, but what really makes a good nurse is the personal qualities and strengths they bring to the field.

Traits such as emotional stability, empathy, compassion and physical endurance are skills that cannot be taught. Knowing the characteristics and inner as well as outer strengths it takes to be successful in the field before entering is important.

However, it will be a journey of self-discovery that is best attained through hands-on experience. Knowing that there will be much success, those thinking of entering the nursing field should also know there will be more trials and struggles while attaining a degree in this field.

Hailey Johnson is a senior at Souhegan High School. Completing this research project has helped assure her of her decision to pursue a degree in nursing. In fact, a career in nursing still excites her the same as when she was a child playing nurse. She is thankful for the nurses who took the time to give her their insight as part of this project and throughout her life. Hailey will attend George Mason University in the fall.