So You Want To Be a Nurse?


We have had a couple of profession posts up recently which have garnered a lot of comments.  As someone that has worked in the nursing field and has been an active duty, civilian, and a national guard spouse, well, I am frothing at the bit to tell you the pros and cons of going into the medical field...

I am an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) and have been since 1993.

I feel like I should give you a little background story about me and my career choice in order to paint a better picture for you, because I never had the goal of becoming an LPN.  I have seen many women and men think the nursing profession is a great idea, because of the "nurse shortage,"  "great money" and "opportunity".  Usually you meet these folks in nursing school and they do not make it beyond the clinical work.  In some cases, these folks do become nurses, but are never very good at it.

When I started my journey into medical careers at the age of 15 as a nursing assistant in a hospital (which is much too young to be in the medical profession in ANY capacity, in my opinion).  However, I managed to work in the medical field,  most of my years from age 15-23.  I did manage to take some brief periods where I would escape the medical field because of burnout.  During those times, I would join my peer group in a more relaxed atmosphere, to find myself waiting tables or working retail clothing sales. During those same years, I also helped care for aging Grandparents.  A Grandmother with a diagnosis of Alhzheimers disease who lived with us for some time, and the other, a Grandfather who was simply aging, and had many normal challenges that come with being 90-something.

I attended University in 1988 as a political science major, with no clue what I could do with such a degree other than law school.  I was also in the honors business program my freshman year. In order to pay for school I had to work 40 hours a week.  The best paying job, was as a CNA, at a local Long Term Care Facility.  (what we used to call nursing homes).   I still contend, that if you want to go into nursing, you really should work as a CNA, to see how you manage  the workload, and tasks at hand.

Work as a CNA, is about the least glamorous job on the planet, I am guessing.  The pay is good, not great, the hours are not great either.  It is exactly like nursing!  It is also a tough, and demanding job.  And you either LOVE it, or last about a week. So I spent years working as a CNA, and then  graduated to  CSM (passing medications).  All while paying for an education at the University, which frankly I had no idea how to use, or what to do with.

So finally, one day I just decided I should become an LPN, after all I had spent from 1985-2001 working in the medical field.  I liked it.  The LPN program in most states is one year.  One year, unless of course you are married, and you are both working and paying for college.  Then it will probably take longer, unless you are superhuman!   Becoming an LPN took me about two years total time. I always enjoyed  nursing and worked primarily  in end-of-life care  at Long  Term Care Facilities.  I have worked in Alzheimer's units, which is a challenge to be sure.  I have also worked in pulmonary units where most patients are on ventilators, which will give you a wide age range of patients.  I have also worked in post-surgical step down care units, oncology and hospice areas.  I have no experience in a Medical Office, other than my two weeks clinical time.

I am currently not employed in nursing, and there are days I miss it tremendously.  In fact I have been home for five years, caring for my children.  There are many times I have looked at going back to nursing, in fact I am considering it AGAIN NOW.  However, with the demands of the long hours, no family near by, and my DH having a very unreliable schedule, it is on the stove on the back burner.

Now for the "dirt" in nursing,  and please note this is MY EXPERIENCE.

The good news is a nursing license is becoming more easily transferable from state to state.

The pay is decent.  As an LPN your pay has a wide range, depending on the work you are doing, and where you are working.  I know nurses working in offices making $9.00, and I know LPNs working on an a- needed basis/no benefits/on call for $27.  So it really does vary.

Be prepared to work holidays!  People get sick on holidays.  If you are working in a hospital or a LTC, you  are told when you are hired you must work 1/2 of the holidays.  This can be hard for military families.  Especially if you have spent two Christmas's away from one another.  You will not want to spend 12 hours of a holiday away.

Like I said, nursing is not glamorous work.  You will have to tend to some pretty disgusting tasks.  I have had to throw shoes away because they were covered in blood.  If people knew what nurses do, they would make more money.

There is no room for error.  If you are prone to forgetfulness or are absentminded(which has happened to me since having children), tis is not your profession.

There is little room for leaving work early because of a sick child/parent/self.  You have patients, and if you are not there, they are not being cared for.  The medical field is not exactly a forgiving one when it comes to absences.  Even when you have a VERY good reason.  A lot of facilities will make you find your own replacement even in emergency situations.  Also note, you cannot just leave EVEN in emergencies, this is considered abandonment and you can loose your license.

The shifts at hospitals and Long Term Care Facilities (LTC) are 12 hours.  If you have children, and a deployed husband, this can be difficult.  Heck, if your husband is home it's difficult. A 12 hour shift is a long day.  You are on your feet a lot.  You will be tired when you get home.  I know few nurses working an eight hour day.  In fact I know zero nurses working an eight hour day.

Of course, there is an added bonus to becoming an LPN.  I have been able to care for friends and relatives.  In fact my own Mother was diagnosed with colon cancer with metastatic disease to the brain and other organs.  I was able to give her the best of nursing care right in her home, which was a relief to my family who frankly did not have the resources that offered many good alternatives.  I was able to care for her until she passed.  I was glad that I had the ability to care for her during that time.

There is good news.  Nursing is a rewarding profession.  I never left a day at work thinking I could have done more.  I always left knowing I did my best.  There is a lot of personal growth that happens in nursing, you count your blessings daily.  You can recognize the difference between real urgency, and what can wait.  you understand what is important.  It makes you live...well sort of like a military spouse.  You learn to never take advantage of a moment, because you know life is way too short.

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