The cost of being a nurse

December 19, 2016

Let me start off by saying that I truly love my job and being a nurse, but it really is a calling for me. Nursing is not a profession that someone can stay in for very long if it is not for the right reasons.

Nursing is a 24-hr job whether you are on the unit or not. A lot of "outsiders" think that as a nurse you only care for your patients for 12 hours. They do not see the behind the scene work: coming in early to work to gather information on your patients, being a part of professional organizations and reading the newest research, or the constant learning that occurs. 

One thing I did not realize as I was in nursing school was the emotional toll nursing adds to your life. I knew that it was physically demanding, but had no idea that I would leave work in tears some days. Now, it is not always from something bad, sometimes the tears are from a patient finally getting to leave our unit and return home. My unit's director encourages all our nurses, especially new graduates, to spend a little time after each shift debriefing what went bad or what went well. 

Recently, I had two very rough shifts. Rough in the aspect that my patients' were very demanding. None of them were circling the drain so to speak but required a lot of my attention. I started the first night with only three patients and added the fourth around 0100. Up until then, I was busy but still felt like I had the situation under control. By morning, my night only increased in the frequency that I was in my patients' rooms. I had made the decision to have the charge nurse keep my patients' grouped together because I truly believed that they would be manageable during the day. It also helped that I would be back that night and already knew the history of each patient. 

When I returned for my second shift, I could tell that the day was hectic and my night was most likely going to be as well. Still, I was hopeful. I already knew my patient's baseline, which helps with assessments and medications. I struggled to stay on top of things until about 0000. I had a short break from then until 0300 when my patients began needing me again: calling the doctor for restraints, placing a patient on a psych hold, and notifying the MD that my patient would in fact not be leaving the hospital today and instead will need a unit of PLTs transfused. 

I love and hate busy shifts like that. I love it because the time truly flies, but I hate it because I feel like I am always playing catch up and never have the time to "care" for my patients instead of treating what is on the paper.

I made sure that the charge nurse split my patients' up for the next shift because the load was heavy. I left both of the shifts feeling super defeated. As I drove home, I wondered if there was something I could have done differently. I tried to arrange my day based on time-critical medications and clustering care. 

I have been pretty fortunate up until then to have lighter shifts, and  I am sure that I will have many more challenges in the future. I just hope that I am ready for when that does happen. 

1 comment

  1. A big part of my life is being a volunteer emergency responder. Part of our work involves road crash- and water-rescues. I've found the highest toll they've taken on me hasn't been disastrous accidents, but ones where the response has been difficult. Sometimes that because none of the members responding are truck drivers (so the heavy rescue vehicle can't roll), or you struggle to raise a crew with the right qualifications, or because the wrong vehicles have gone out or the crew has gone to the wrong place. The problems are all entirely human (and to some extent expected), and you can work around them to a fair degree, but you still finish the job utterly exhausted in a way that doesn't leave you for hours or even days afterwards. There's probably no experience I find more draining or that leaves me so willing to hand in my pager and equipment.


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