You graduate from nursing school. You pass the board exams. After all those long hard years of toiling away, studying and cramming, sleepless nights and the lack of a proper social life, this is it… you are now officially an RN!!!
You can’t wait to work in a hospital. You get hired and all the paperwork that comes with it. Hospital orientation comes and goes. You start on the floor wearing brand new scrubs, squeaky clean nursing shoes and a Littman around your neck. Fresh from your books, you think you know everything. You are ready to conquer the day!
This is harder than you thought.
But first, a couple of months of floor orientation is required before they let you off by yourself to take care of patients. So you shadow a more experienced nurse for the meantime, learning the tricks of the trade, getting the know-how and the lowdown of the unit and hospital, the ins and outs of dealing with five to six patients and demanding doctors, the feel of not being able to eat lunch on time or holding your pee for six hours. This is different than you first thought. Harder.
Once you are done with orientation, you are good to go. Finally, you are free from your preceptor’s clutches and can now independently take care of patients. That doesn’t mean your nursing life is a breeze though. Three months does not give you enough experience to know the subtle differences between a patient who is in true pain and one who is merely drug seeking. Or if it’s okay to call the doctor at 2 AM for anti fungal powder or wait until the morning. Or who do you attend to first, the patient who is mad because she is hungry and in pain, the family member who has a question, the pharmacy on hold, or that bed alarm ringing from a patient that is trying to get out of bed. That’s why it is good to have a mentor around, one that you can trust and feel comfortable with, for moral and emotional support and back up. And even more better, good teamwork from staff. Much, much harder than you thought.
On becoming a mature nurse.
As the years pass, your skills grow and your confidence develops. You’re definitely more knowledgeable now than when you first started. Your scrubs are wrinkled and have that distinct hospital smell. Your nursing shoes have all sorts of stains known to man and have probably stepped on various bodily fluids that you wouldn’t even want to know. Your original expensive stethoscope, if it didn’t get lost or stolen, is now replaced by those cheap yellow disposable ones. You have dealt with emergency situations but can never find it easy to let family know that their loved one has passed away. But you are more wiser now. More organized, more efficient.
And so with being a staff nurse comes the numerous meetings and hospital politics. First, you don’t seem to mind. You try to help and get involved as much as you can without sacrificing your precious day off. Of course you want to be a part of the team. More and more changes and policies come. Managers and assistant supervisors come and go. Instead of being beneficial to the staff to make the workload easier, it gets more and more ridiculous and time consuming. They demand more and more from you. They don’t seem to listen to your needs. You get frustrated. You start to get jaded. It’s not about the patient anymore. It’s about scores and reimbursements.
To add to that, the acuity of patients being admitted get more and more severe, the patient to nurse ratios get higher and higher (except in states with mandated nurse-patient ratios like California) and some people just repeatedly abuse the healthcare system with staff receiving little to no support at all from administration leading to increased burnout and high turnover. All these lead to huge nursing shortages in most parts of the country. Nurses are leaving the bedside to either work in clinics or a non-hospital setting or to simply stay away from nursing. With this exodus, the already worn out staff gets stuck with more and more patients. More patients mean sub par care. It’s a vicious cycle.
Some nurses leave their full time jobs to do travel nursing. That seemingly “glamorous” world where nurses work for 13 weeks (more or less) at any state of their choosing, where they play and explore on their days off and then pack up their bags and move on to the next adventure. Free from staff meetings and hospital politics. Free to go wherever you want to go. Sounds easy? NOT!!!
Travel nursing isn’t for the faint at heart. It definitely is not for everyone. There is so much more into it from getting a good recruiter to negotiating for your pay packages to looking for safe and affordable housing close enough to the hospital to packing light (or not) to traveling to your assignment to adjusting to your new environment. At the end of your contract, you have to do it all over again, either extend in same hospital or elsewhere. Or you can take a month long vacation overseas, how cool is that! That my friends is travel nursing in a nutshell.
So what is a poor tired nurse to do? Stay as hospital staff and just pretend to ignore all the BS involved? Have job security but no freedom to go on longer vacations? Or jump into the exciting but uncertain world of travel nursing where hospital politics are not your concern, and contract cancellations may happen any time? Where everyday is an ongoing adventure?
Dreams or reality?
What would you do?