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ER Nurse Explains What It’s Really Like To Be An RN

You want to be a registered nurse?

Let’s cut through the B.S. and get real about it.

Put a hold on all this soft-focus “I live to care!” or “It gives my life meaning…”

Here’s the reality.


You will study your butt off.

Nursing science is based on biology, chemistry, microbiology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, sociology and philosophy. Yeah, every single one of them. You will incorporate those into every decision you make in your practice. It’s called critical thinking. You master it and become a professional, or you don’t and you become a robotic technician.

Bottom line.

Your choice.

Oh, and the studying doesn’t stop after you graduate. Nursing school is just the warm-up.


The work is physically exhausting and emotionally demanding.

Are you tiny, petite? No? Neither am I and neither are your patients. You will push, pull, lift, turn, transport and transfer loads you wouldn’t even consider attempting at a gym. The lightest patient is dead weight when bedridden.

You probably won’t get a chance to eat. Need to pee? Should have thought of that before you left.

Legs that weigh 500 pounds each, feet that throb, backs that ache – welcome home after your shift. Give that ibuprofen bottle a hug; it’s your best friend.

Patients die. You are tough; it doesn’t bother you. But on your way home it hits that someone’s mother won’t be making Christmas dinner next week or you remember the father collapsing in your arms when his daughter was pronounced…

And you cry.

It sucks.

You really want to deal with that?


You’re first in opinion polls and first on the firing line.

Oh yes, the public loves nurses.

Until you are the nurse.

Patients get pissed off. They are tired, in pain, hungry, cold, upset, frustrated, agitated, ticked off at the doctor, bad food, had to wait. Guess what. YOU get the brunt of it. Family members, too. Decades of emotional baggage and they have to show they care for the patient by yelling at the RN.

In twenty different languages!

YOU are the one through which all things come, and never fast enough! Including explanations for why every single department in the hospital is behind, late, inept. My favorite is fielding questions as to why Doctor Holy Mother hasn’t shown up yet.

And when she does, expect to be totally ignored.


Body fluids.

If the body produces it, you will handle it. Feces (insert your own euphemism here); vomit; blood; infectious exudate, aka “pus”; vaginal drainage of every sort; amniotic fluid; saliva in the form of spit directed at your person and whatever secretions a trachea is producing on a given day.

Each fluid comes complete with it’s own odor. None of them are pleasant. Often, when these body fluids occur in combination, their odors combine to produce a new and distinct aroma. When alcohol has been consumed and is in the process of being metabolized, even more unique olfactory combinations ensue.

Some of these linger and will come home with you, as they seem to settle in your hair and skin, even without contact.

You will gag and most likely at one time or another you will vomit yourself.

Just keepin’ it real here, folks.

If you are lucky, you will be wearing protective gear when said handling occurs.

Other times, all you can do is duck and pray.



They come from various state and federal agencies. You can be sure of one thing: they will make your job as a registered nurse harder.


And if it shouldn’t, like nurse-patient ratios, the administration will find a way to turn it around and use it against you. That is a whole post in and of itself.

Ostensibly they are all for patient safety, but in reality they exist because somewhere, someone does not want to reimburse for something and so ponderous regulatory hoops will be put into place before the money will flow, usually in the form of “documentation”. New forms, new regulations, more work, less patient care…

Makes ducking body fluids seem like a Disneyland “E” ticket….


So, you still here?


You must really want to be a nurse.

Okay, then.

Oh, and all that soft-focus stuff?

About living to care and giving life meaning?

It’s true.

We’ll talk about that in another post.

Just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page….

*This blog post was originally published at Emergiblog*

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