There aren’t many jobs where you get to make such a positive difference to people’s lives. Nursing is a noble career, but it’s also one that’s misunderstood and undervalued. The profession is much tougher than most can imagine, and so is the degree that will prepare you for it. With universities facing average drop-out rates of 20%, here are 8 things every prospective nurse should know before enrolling on a course: the good, the bad, and the, er, bodily fluids.
1. Nursing is 50% academic
Nursing requires a huge amount of skill and intellect. You’ll need to have a solid understanding of the theoretical to calculate drug doses, monitor side effects, provide psychological support and much more. Courses are, therefore, evenly split between theoretical and practical content. In your first year you’ll cover modules on human biology, psychology, and patient health. All second year students are required to specialise and turn in a dissertation. If straight-As were never your forte, there’s no need to panic. You’ll have access to a large support network of mentors, tutors and other student nurses to help you grapple with tough topics.
2. Nursing is physical
Nursing is by far one of the most physically demanding jobs in the medical field. You’ll work 12-hour shifts, up on your feet the majority of the time. Early starts and late finishes are all part of the job. You’ll be moving 300lb-plus patients, bending, lifting and kneeling. But then who wants to sit at the same desk, staring at the same wall for 7.5 hours every day, then hardwire yourself into the laptop and iphone as you navigate the nasty commute home.
3. Nursing is emotionally challenging
Nursing is not Holby City. Disappointing, we know. Prepare yourself for blood, guts and poo. You’ll have to cope with handling really sick people, both children and adults. You’ll need to support anxious parents and distraught cancer patients. But there’s truth in the mantra the most gruelling jobs are the most rewarding. There’s no feeling like a patient thanking you for helping them through some of the most vulnerable, scary hours of their life.
4. Student nurses never stop
Forget clock watching: your days as a student nurse will fly by. You’ll be busy keeping on top of work-placement shifts, classes, deadlines and exams. You’ll also quickly gain a wedge of contact details for new friends, hospitals, wards, placement areas and tutors. The best advice? Get an academic diary so you can keep track.
5. You’ll need a lot of books
But don’t go mad and blow your whole budget on the reading list on the first day of term. While every nurse should invest in a medical dictionary, a drug calculations book and a study skills book, it’s best to borrow the others first and find out which you really need; the ones you’ll be referencing for many years to come. Bethany Siviter in The Student Nurse Handbook: A Survival Guide says of her own library of nursing books, “I feel like they are old friends, waiting to help me whenever I need them to.”
6. You’ll make friends for life
Only fellow nursing students could possibly understand the highs and lows of life on the ward, the challenges of juggling shifts and essays, the horrors of sponge baths with over-friendly elderly folk. And that’s why you’ll remain friends forever.
7. The learning never stops
When you finish your degree, don’t think that’s the last time you’ll read a research paper. Medicine moves on – and that’s what makes it so exciting. There’s always plenty of scope for career development, too. You can move into different departments, train to be a medical assistant, or work your way up into a management position.
8. You will get there
As Siviter puts it, “While you are on the course, remember: it will feel terrible some days. It will have you stressed to the point of screaming. It will feel like it is never going to end. But there will also be days when you are walking on air and feel so happy you would like to dance on the ceiling. And then, before you know it, it will be over and you will be a nurse.”
Once you’re there, you’ll be armed with one of the most agile, geographically mobile qualifications going.
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