Real Nurses, Real Answers
What are the different types of nurses? How do their duties differ?
The bedside is only one area where nurses work. Within our hospital, nurses work in public relations, the legal department, quality control, nurse recruitment/personnel, information technology, infection control, management and administration. Outside the hospital you will find nurses working in schools, businesses and the entertainment industry. Traveling nurses take temporary assignments in other states. Nurse volunteers work with medical missions in other countries.
Let's see… there are outpatient clinic nurses who prepare patients for outpatient or one-day procedures, educate patients, and take vital signs before, during, and after the procedure. There are oncology (cancer) nurses who have special certification to work with chemotherapy and radiation. You need to be a strong person for that--oncology nurses learn to keep their emotions in check when getting attached to patients, because one day the patient can be doing well and thriving and then the next the chemotherapy stops doing its job. Then there are dialysis nurses, who require special training on dialysis machines. Operating room (OR) nurses need to be expertly versed with all the surgical instruments and be comfortable breathing through a surgical mask the whole shift. ER nurses are the adrenaline junkies in my opinion. They mainly stabilize the patient, get a heartbeat, then send them to either the OR or ICU. Critical care nurses--like me--titrate (determine proper dosages of) a lot of IV medications, which in turn requires close observation of vital signs (every 15 minutes or less) and/or any change in patient conditions and notifying the doctors in a timely manner. Then there are labor and delivery nurses who help prepare the mothers-to-be on both a physical and mental level, and also help with the delivery. There are also NICU (Neonatal ICU) nurses who deal with the critical care babies. They not only take care of the tiny babies who are knocking on death's door, but also have that special touch to keep the frantic parents calm. Flight nurses go with the EMTs in the air and they work crazy shifts--mostly 24-48hr shifts. Forensic nursing is fairly new; you have to be on call and end up testifying in the courtroom frequently.
Could you please describe the path you took in becoming a nurse?
Although I wanted to become a nurse since I was a little girl, it wasn't until I was in my thirties that I finished my associate degree, passed the licensing exam and started work in one of the busiest emergency rooms in the country. After eight years I moved into intensive care nursing in a burn center. While working, I continued my education part-time. I received my undergraduate degree in 2006 and look forward to completing my master's degree in nursing this December. My next goal includes working as a nurse educator, which means I'll be teaching future nurses.
I went to nursing school and volunteered at a nursing home while I was taking my pre-requisites. During my last year in nursing school, I got an externship at a level-one trauma center in Philadelphia. That was when I knew I wanted to specialize in critical care. Took my nursing board exams, passed, and here I am.
Any words of wisdom for those considering a career in nursing?
If your heart is not in it for the right reasons--to help those in need--you WILL get burned. It may take a year, a few years, but you will. We all know that nursing is not a glamorous job, but if you're in it for the right reasons and not just for the money and job security, what you achieve is better than all the glitz and glamour. It's extremely gratifying and self-fulfilling. For the times that I forget why I went into nursing--like those days I spend eight hours taking care of a patient going through alcohol withdrawal who's spitting or throwing punches at me--I remind myself that it's not the person that's punching/spitting at me but the disease. It also helps to picture your family member in that hospital bed. Remember also that a lot of times--especially in critical care and ER--you're not only treating the patient lying in the hospital bed but also their loved ones who need you as well. Explain everything that you're doing or about to do to both the patients AND the family. For the most part, patient compliance and family cooperation is easily achieved through adequate communication; let both patient and family know they're not alone and that you are available to answer any questions/concerns they may have.
Go for it!! There are so many opportunities! Those who are thinking of going into nursing can find a niche and reap the benefits of a rewarding and well-paid career.