Life After Nursing School: The Truth About Nursing

Posted by Shanna S. RN, BSN on January 22, 2014

As Managing Editor of I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to reach out to nurses, nursing students, and those of you interested in learning more about nursing as a profession. In addition to providing a database of schools, degree programs, and specialty tracks, we also provide expert interviews, advice, articles and valuable nursing resources, including a quarterly nursing scholarship in the amount of $2500.

I am grateful to be able to share the wisdom of nurses, and I hope that our website provides you with valuable information and insights into the profession of nursing.

That said, the insights that I have gained since becoming involved with far exceed anything I could have imagined!

I get to see what programs you are interested in, where you are starting your nursing education, and where you want to take it. I also see why and how students are becoming nurses, which is truly inspiring. Most of our nursing scholarship applicants list caring for others, helping their families, and having a worthwhile and rewarding career as their top reasons for becoming a nurse.

The motivating factors you mention the most often have little to do with money, status or success. They have everything to do with compassion, healing, and fulfilling a sense of purpose. Some of you knew at a young age you wanted to be nurses, while others found out later in life, many times as a result of a family member's illness or hospitalization.

Regardless of the specifics, most of you chose nursing based on good intentions and a sense of calling to help others. It has been refreshing to read the essays you've written as you prepare to start (or return) to nursing school.

In my role here, I've also joined nursing social network sites, read nursing blogs and magazines, and tapped into the online world of nursing students. I've done this in order to better understand what kind of information I can give you to help you through nursing school. Because, let's face it...nursing school can turn you into a complete mess!

I see what you say about the curriculum, your instructors, your class loads, and your clinical rotations. It is no secret that you are stressed out. And the stress you feel as nursing students is real. I remember...nursing school is not easy. In fact, it's extremely hard.

So, what can I tell you to help you get through it?

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

At this point you might expect some inspiring revelation about how it's going to get easier.

Perhaps I should tell you something about how an actual nursing position is walk in the park compared to nursing school. Maybe you want to hear something about how, when you walk across the stage on graduation day, there will be unicorns applauding and rainbows shining down on you. Maybe you want to hear how you can end up with a fantastic job: where patients smile and thank you for healing their ailments so quickly and painlessly; your boss gives you accolades daily; and you are so good at your job that you earn Employee of the Year after only 6 months!

I could go ahead and tell you those things...but I'm a nurse, and I'd be remiss if I were to tell you that's how its going to be. So, instead, I'm going to tell you the truth.

The Truth About Nursing

The truth is, nursing is a great profession.

There are tons of rewards, both intrinsic and extrinsic. It pays well and makes you feel worthwhile about what you do at the same time, which can be hard to come by in today's world.

The opportunities in nursing are nearly limitless. There are a plethora of different practice settings you can choose from. From direct patient care (in tens, if not hundreds, of different specialty areas), to administration, academia, travelling, teaching, research, coaching, owning your own business...the list is long, let me assure you. Basically, if you can dream it in nursing, you can find it, and if you can't find it, you can probably create it.

The truth is, nurses are in high demand, in many different areas.

But the truth is also this: nursing is a demanding job. It takes a lot to become a nurse, and it takes even more to survive as a nurse. The hours are often long, and you will stay late more than once, stretching a 12 hour shift into 13 hours...into 14 hours.

The people you will work with, your fellow nurses, the doctors and other healthcare personnel, can get stressed out, and even burnt out, and you may, too. Your patients will often be ill, sick, hurt, dying...and folks aren't generally in a good mood when they are experiencing those things.

You are going to find yourself faced with many unpleasant situations as a nurse. That's the truth-plain and simple. I won't go into it much further, though I have many stories to tell, because this really is supposed to be me, helping you. So, let me share a little more truth, in the hopes that it may help you, even just a touch.

While you are in nursing school- giving it your all, learning to cope- you are actually practicing and learning the ropes of nursing. As a nursing student, what you are learning, how you are reacting to the stress, and what you are doing to cope, will have an impact on what kind of nurse you become.

The truth is, the fear you feel now, when you get to clinicals at 6 am and you have no clue what to do first with your patient...that's going to happen when you're out of school, on the floor, in real life.

You're going to be faced with patient situations that scare you, even when your nursing skills are honed and you've got years of experience under your belt.

The truth is, you're going to be faced with crazy stressful situations that make nursing school seem like a piece of cake. You're going to be faced with more questions than you can know the answers to-all at once-and you won't have time to check your syllabus or reference your notes. The truth is, there are a lot of things you must learn before you can become a great nurse, and nursing school is just the beginning.

It's important to learn as much as you can now-about yourself, about how you cope, what you fear, what your strengths are, and where you need to build your skills up. The truth is, if you are in nursing school for the right reasons, you will learn what you need to know in order to do your job. You will learn that even when you are scared and stressed, even when you are tired and your patience tested, there is something larger that propels you.

What I'm trying to tell you, is that the stress about your schedule, your grades-that part of you that resolves to learn the name of every single muscle in the human body, where it attaches and what it does- that part of you, your commitment, can pay off. In fact, its just one of the amazing things about you that can help make you a great nurse.

That commitment, that drive for perfection, that urge to know it all...if you have those feelings inside of you, causing you stress through nursing school, the truth is, those things don't go away. You will still feel that drive as a nurse. That will be how you feel about your patients, your charting, your shift, your facility. Your profession.

The truth is...if you feel like you are dedicated now, just wait. If you feel overwhelmed now, just wait. If you are proud of yourself now, just wait!

Because, truthfully, nursing is a stressful profession. It can be quite overwhelming at times.

But nursing is also an extremely rewarding and fulfilling career that attracts the best, the brightest and the most compassionate among us.

As a nurse, you will touch individuals, families and communities. You will surprise yourself at how good you are at healing, caring, teaching and reaching out to others. Whether you find out while you're passing your first NG tube with ease, or while holding a hand to ease a troubled mind, you will find the truth about nursing in many moments, again and again.

Yes, you will still have moments when you wish you had become a florist, a doctor, a reality TV star...but you will also have moments of much needed truth. And the truth is, you are in nursing school for a reason. Whether you chose nursing because you wanted to help others, to have a purposeful career, or to feel good about how you support yourself and your family, you're here!

The truth is, both nursing school and nursing can be hard. But I believe that nursing is hard because it is one of the most essential professions in the world. Nurses comprise a group of people that the world cannot do without. The truth is, you can make a difference. And the truth is, we need some more good nurses in this world!

So I'm not going to tell you it's going to get easier, but I will tell you it's worth it.

So... hang in there, take a deep breath, cut yourself a little slack, and take it one day, one patient, one shift at a time. You chose nursing for a reason. Find the truth in your reason, and you should be just fine.

Shanna Shafer RN, BSN is driven by the impact nursing, and nursing education, can have on the health of our patients, families, communities, and nation. She has almost ten years of nursing experience in a variety of settings, and currently serves as the Managing Editor at