Written by Lisa M. Davila, BSN, MS
Lisa M. Davila, BSN, MSLisa received her bachelor's degree in nursing and spent the first fifteen years of her professional career as a registered nurse. Her main specialty area was critical care. She also worked in a busy medical practice and as a visiting nurse for home intravenous therapy patients.

Considering a career in nursing? According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nursing is the largest healthcare occupation, and job prospects are, from an overall standpoint, excellent. Nursing can offer you a fairly good living–BLS’s 2010 Occupational Employment Statistics indicate an approximate median annual wage ranging from $44, 000/year to $95,000/year (about $21 to $45 an hour).

Your earnings will vary depending on where you work, your experience, when you work (days, night, weekend, holidays, etc.) your level of experience, and your area of specialty. Approximately 60 percent of nurses work in hospitals, and because nurses are usually hourly employees, overtime may be available if you need extra money.

Although hospitals tend to pay more than many other practice settings, it is by no means “easy money.” The physical demands of nursing are significant—you can expect to be on your feet for a large portion of an eight to 12-hour shift and you’ll do a lot of bending, stretching, pushing, pulling, and lifting—you may even get a better workout than at the gym!

Your schedule can be erratic and shifts may rotate from week to week or day to day. You may, for instance, work Monday’s day shift from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then Tuesday’s night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. You typically work some weekends and holidays, and you may be required to be “on call,” which means being available to work at a moment’s notice if needed.

Many people like shift work because it offers a lot of flexibility. Some hospitals also have family-friendly schedules such as 12-hour shifts, and minimal or no shift rotation.

 
What you do while at work

You are the primary coordinator and problem solver for your patients’ care. You develop plans of care that can include administering or assisting with personal care and comfort; teaching patients and families about their health conditions and self-care; giving medications and checking for proper doses and interactions; starting and caring for intravenous lines; giving treatments, diagnostic tests, and therapies; operating complex equipment; transporting patients to tests; ; and consulting with doctors and other healthcare professionals.

To be a nurse, you need a strong stomach and a thick skin. You will come in frequent contact with blood, bodily fluids, and sometimes hazardous materials. You may be dealing with stressed-out patients, families, and other staff. You may feel pulled in all directions because everyone comes to you with questions and problems.

“To be a nurse, you need a strong stomach and a thick skin.”

Nursing can be emotionally taxing, because although the majority of your patients will get well, some won’t. You may be called upon to assist patients and families through the death and dying process.

All during your busy day, you will meticulously document everything you do. Forgetting to document can negatively impact patient outcomes or be a major inconvenience (your patient may be billed, for instance, if insurance rejects a claim due to insufficient documentation).


Beyond the hospital

Hospital nursing isn’t your only option, of course, but other specialties usually require (as a prerequisite for applying) at least one to two years of hospital experience. Want regular hours? Try home care, private duty, ambulatory care centers, or physician offices. Want something less physically taxing or with little or no patient contact? Try nursing informatics, forensics, education, or a private business such as a health insurance company.

Being a nurse earns you respect and admiration from others. And beyond a good salary and job flexibility, the best things about it are intangible: Seeing your sick patients get well and go home. Getting recognition from your supervisor or fellow staff members because of a job well done. Or hearing a simple “thank you” from a grateful patient.