Going into nursing?
August 26, 2006 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Should I go into nursing from another field?

I know this has been posted before, and I read those threads. I have some nuances I wanted to ask about. I realize this is personal, but hope other askmefi folk will have some perspectives to share.

My story: I studied philosophy at prestigous liberal arts school and wanted to teach philosophy since I was 13. I became disillusioned with academia in general, and want to be able to work in a meaningful way while also having broader life pursuits. I bummed around for 3 years, led a strike in a social services facility that changed me, worked, traveled, etc. I am seriously contemplating going to nursing school, but have some worries.

For one, I'm squeemish. I've always been scared of needles and gore, though it has gotten a little better over the years. That worries me. On the other hand people tell me you get used to it as you practice more and more. My mom went into medicine as well after her divorce, and she is squeemish so that gives me some hope. Additionally I want to do community nursing anyway, so it's somewhat less of a concern than say ICU stuff.

Another thing that worries me is that I'm not so good at overlooking the alienation and systemic failures at work. I tend to get disturbed by seeing human potential and need, and how it is corrupted by economic and political interests. On the other hand I'm pretty good at organizing to change small things, and feel really good about that work. Obviously nursing has some potential there, I just worry that the degredation of health care in America could get me down. Do any other nurses have perspective on that stuff?

I'm also a shy male. All the nurses and CMAs I know(and work with) are straight shooting, foul mouthed, and tough characters. It makes sense why that needs to be. I think much of my worries is insecurity on some level, and that i could stand to improve if I could work my way through it. I had to do that on some level when I was in India for 5 months, and as I've gotten older I have improved on it all quite a bit.

On the positive side I've always been nurturing of my loved ones, and can be really empathic. I tend to resist work and coercive structures, but work really hard if I believe in something (and conversely find it hard to work if I don't believe in something). I'm good at reading people, and analyzing situations.

I'm looking to have flexibility in my work. I want to be able to pursue my other life loves (music, philosophy, radical political work) on occassions. Maybe that means working part time, taking years off, and leaving the job behind when I go home. I thought about doing the nonnursing BA-->Nurse Practitioner programs, but the nurses at my work have all said that the NPs are on-call like doctors off shift, have worse hours, etc. Ideally I would want to be an NP in a low-income clinic, but I'm having a hard time getting a straight answer about this, i.e. what are the working conditions of NPs? Also, are NPs generally protected by union representation (at union shops)?

Canada- I'm looking into some programs in Canada, which are actually affordable, and the health system and working conditions seem better off than here in the States. I haven't been able to find info about loan repayment programs. I know that here there are programs to get rid of loans working in low-income workplaces, rural areas, partnership (indentured servitude) with hospitals, etc. Would the same apply for an American studying in Canada? I know I could take out Stafford and Federal PLUS loans, but am not sure how paying them off would work.

Does anyone have experiences in the accelerated BA-->BSN? What was the transition straight into nursing like? I'm trying to transition in by working in healthcare, planning to volunteer, and maybe become a CNA for a little while (will that be useful?).

posted by aussicht to Work & Money (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Todd- it's very admirable that you're considering nursing as a career. I'm a former OB nurse that has been out of the field since 1999, but my family and most of my friends are still in medicine, so consider the source here...

As far as being squeemish around needles, blood and gore, etc you really do get used to it. That being said there seems to always be one body fluid that will squick you out, be it blood, vomit, urine (mine is sputum) no matter how long you've been in it.

As far as being frustrated by the system and it's failings, I think you might actually see more of that in community nursing than in some other area. The NP's that I know and have worked with pretty much had hours that jibed with their chosen field, if they were in family practice or worked with an MD at his office, they did take call but it wasn't anything worse than every 3rd night type stuff. The NPs that worked with me in the hospital worked normal Baylor type shifts. Being that I'm in Florida I can't give you any idea on union representation since we don't tend to have unions here.

I think going from BA to BSN should be fairly straightforward, you will just have to take the courses that pertain to your new degree and your clinicals, which depending on your class schedules could take from 18 months to 2 years.

Be open minded to fields other community nursing-you'll get a taste of everything and you might be surprised at what you totally fall in love with-I went to college thinking I only wanted OB, but fell in love with oncology and worked that for a while before I went into obstetrics.
posted by hollygoheavy at 1:23 PM on August 26, 2006

My wife and here sisters are NPs here in NYC. They work in a variety of settings with various hours. My wife has a 9-5 office setting, but one of her sisters is constantly on call - totally different. All are non-union, as they are on the Medical Staff, not the Nursing Staff (different hospitals too).

I'll agree with Hollygoheavy that you do tend to get used to blood/gore/fluids/etc... but there will always be something to top the last gross thing you saw. :) My wife and I are constantly outdoing each other with stories (NP vs. EMT)

I'm not sure about the BA to BSN (and the wifes away, so I can't ask) but I'd think it would be a short program. The NP would likely be another 2 years on top of that though.
posted by blaneyphoto at 2:23 PM on August 26, 2006

You don't get much of the blood/gore/fluids/etc in psychiatric nursing, so you might consider that specialty. (Your training will include the blood/..., but your later work is unlikely to.)
posted by LeisureGuy at 2:31 PM on August 26, 2006

Nursing degrees have a lot of required coursework, most of which does not overlap with a humanities degree. I think most (all?) NP programs will require some years of practice before admission. Maybe someone can say for sure.

You're going to have to get used to paperwork and regimen. Nearly everything you do has a protocol and must be documented. No matter how empathetic and radical your patients might think you are, they will sue you for malpractice given the chance.

Flexibility is a plus with nursing if you can handle working at a hospital. If you work two weekend nights you'll make almost as much as simliarly experienced collegues working days M-F. I'm not sure whether that flexibility works as an NP.

Google has a lot of results for "men nursing" if you want a male perspective on the profession.

Nurses are awesome.
posted by jaysus chris at 2:50 PM on August 26, 2006

Do it. There, isn't that simple. I can not imagine a profession that offers more flexibility in terms of location, hours, benefits, specialty, etc. Literally, you can go any place in the world/country (some issues of transferring credentials of course)--work as much or little as you like. It can be extremely personally and professionally rewarding . The beauty of it is if you just can not make one job work for you (does not touch your soul) you can keep on experimenting--I have a hunch that you are square with your emploers and value driven--nursing could be a great career for you. PS I am not a nurse--but if you go into psychiatric nursing drop me an email.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:13 PM on August 26, 2006

I'd suggest you consider becoming a Physician's Assistant. PAs are the functional equivalent (and in some states the exact legal equivalent) to nurse-practicioners, with the compensation and level of responsibility that it implies.

PA is a straightforward graduate degree, and despite being a generally more advanced credential might require less overall time than qualifying as an RN, to say the least as an RNP.

The reason why PAs get the equivalence is that the raw academic bar of admission and graduation is considerably higher than that of any nursing program. Someone with the chops to do philosophy at a "prestigious liberal arts" school should have no trouble with that bar.

Particularly in a low-income clinic setting, though, I doubt you'd have the kind of protections you're looking for in terms of schedule. PAs and RNPs are rarely unionized, and you'd be one of at most a few people at your level, and thus tethered to your cell phone and subject to work on call, etc.
posted by MattD at 5:42 PM on August 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

This is coming from an Australian perspective, so keep that in mind.

I was in a very similar position 4 years ago, only my field was IT rather than the humanities. The one thing I really recommend you do is to apply to all the local hospitals for a position as an orderly.

There's no prerequisite for that job, and you will get to see literally everything that you will as a nurse, while getting paid for it! You'll be interacting with nurses, doctors, radiologists, and most importantly, patients, and if you're up-front about it being a trial run for going into nursing yourself you'll find that most people (healthcare people AND patients) are very accommodating about talking to you - there'll always be a few dickheads but that goes in any field. Plus, it was working as an orderly that got me used to blood, guts, phlegm, needles, knives and so on, so when I started on my degree I really could hit the ground running.

That's what I did, anyway, and not only did it really cement that nursing was the career for me (didn't want to make the same mistake I made with IT), but after working as an orderly and then a nurses' aide while I did my degree I've got a job all lined up for when I graduate in October. It also made the degree itself a lot easier as I was literally surrounded by healthcare pros who helped me with my assignments.

Plus, it kept me out of nursing homes -- I've got 3 years of experience in a specialised field (neurology), how many new graduates can say that? :)

Now, I orderlied for a year before I started my degree, but you can stick with the job for as little or as long time as you want. There are career orderlies and there are guys who use it for a few months as a way to make money while they’re at uni.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 7:26 PM on August 26, 2006

I'm also a shy male.

I forgot to comment on this: I started off that way too, but you really learn to either get over that fast. I know it sounds like some sort of cheap infomercial dating site thing but everyone I work with would be very surprised that I used to be petrified of meeting new people and social situations.

Also, while you say that you want to work in the community, in Australia at least, you'll have to do at least part of your training in a hospital so hospital-based nursing goes with the territory at first and is unavoidable, so why not do it on your own terms at first? :)
posted by Silentgoldfish at 7:30 PM on August 26, 2006

Response by poster: thanks for the comments everybody. it really is helpful to me, and I appreciate the encouragement.

hollygoheavy- Why did you end up leaving nursing? I've heard that about community nursing, and I am totally open to working in a different field or even changing fields. I do like to continue learning, and like variety.

On psychiatric nursing- My mom is a psychiatrist, and I've worked at a residential home. I have my reservations in part because of knowing my mom and her work, and seeing the horrible state the place I worked at was in. I'm open to learning more though given my narrow experiences with the field.

Silentgoldfish- Orderlies in the US, or where I live, usually are CMAs (Certified medical assistant), and that takes a year of schooling. Jobs I can get are filing (which I am doing), reception, or nursing assistant. I can get nursing assistant certification in 6 weeks, and can work in a hospital again (i presently work for the major hospital/medical school/research center in town). I work in a Hematology/Onc clinic and oncology sounds the best anyway for where CNAs work, but being at the absolute bottom of the hierarchy will be taxing for sure.

I was wondering about the rotations too, so you do do a bit of everything then? I want to work in a hospital at least a few years actually (I am interested in mass workplaces, and hospitals are so fascinating. Mine is literally like a city with 11,000 employees alone!), and am trying to keep my mind open since I'm essentially ignorant :)

thanks! todd
posted by aussicht at 11:12 PM on August 26, 2006

Well at the risk of sounding like I'm bashing the American Health System, that does seem like an awful lot of schooling for what amounts to a job that's 90% common sense, 10% supressing your gag reflex! Nursing assistant sounds like the way to go for you, especially as filing and reception will not expose you to enough if you've any doubts about the job. As far as being the bottom of the heirarchy, again while I can't speak for the US, here nursing assisstants are seen as part of the team and treated with the same respect as the nurses themselves. Heck, as long as I don't look like I'm slacking off I can pretty much call the shots as to what I do in a day. That, however is very dependant on what kind of ward you're on -- neurology is great for that but I've got a couple of friends who work bone marrow transplant and all they do all day is restocking.

My own two bits on psychiatric nursing is that it's really not for me. We do do rotations in the nursing degree here, and mental health nursing is one of the compulsory ones. Some people love it, but it really felt like just this side of prison-guarding to me. Then again, I like it when people get better, faster, so it's different strokes. We do 5 rotations throughout the degree, ranging from 2 weeks to a month at a stretch, and it's a mix of luck and choice as to where you actually go. Purely by chance I've done a lot of oncology stuff by now, and it's not even a particular area of interest!

However, one of the great things about nursing is that the perpetual shortage, mixed with the fact that you're a guy (think of it as one of the only fields where YOU're the affirmative action) mixed with most everyone wanting to experience different kinds of nursing means that it's a career that almost invites changing jobs often!
posted by Silentgoldfish at 4:10 AM on August 27, 2006

I, too, was in your position (Bachelor's in another field, working as a medical writer, but wanting a career that is useful for real), just a year ago... and now, my direct-entry NP program starts next Tuesday!

I was also nervous about shyness and the hands-on component of the work. What cemented the decision for me -- an epiphany, even -- was when I shadowed a home health nurse for a Saturday as she did her patient visits. (I knew her as the volunteer trainer for a hospice program I volunteered with, so it wasn't a cold call; but it might be possible to do something similar even without a personal connection.)

From the moment she sat down on the bed next to the first patient and touched the patient's arm to measure the BP, I knew firmly and completely that this is what I want to do. My friend hadn't even DONE anything; it was merely the simple act of touch. Also, my friend is not the stereotypical "nurse personality." She's a solitary type. I addressed this specific issue with her, and she was very encouraging, noting that the profession is so flexible that all personality types can find their niche. And in terms of being shy around patients -- I think that that the professional, care-giving dynamic makes the problem moot.

Obviously, my epiphany hasn't been road-tested yet, as the past year has been spent cramming prereqs and GRE and applications (and don't worry about the humanities background; my undergrad was in the sciences and I still had to take most of the prereqs) and I won't be touching Patient One for another 6 weeks or so when the first clinicals start.

So short answer: do try shadowing if you can swing it. Also, hospice volunteering was a huge step in my pre-conscious decision-making process; it made me realize that I wanted to do even more for the patients and their families. Also, I know that the NP programs I applied to loved the volunteer experience part of my applications. Good luck!
posted by tentacle at 7:26 AM on August 27, 2006


I left nursing because we (my family and I) were in a pretty bad car accident. My oldest son was in a wheelchair for a couple years and I had some severe shoulder and back injuries. Between my injuries and taking care of my son, a few years went by without my working - then I had another baby and I just never went back into it.
posted by hollygoheavy at 10:32 AM on August 27, 2006

You should totally go for it! The field needs caring smart men in so many ways too.

I'm in nursing school (I have a BFA from another field - I'm in a BSN program) and work at a hospital as a tech (CNA, nursing assistant).

I always thought about the field of nursing but worried about the squeamish factor. It is something you get used to. It's also quite a different thing to watch someone put a needle into your arm and you doing it to someone else. Plus like others said there's many parts of the field that you don't do those things at all.

As a tech in a hospital I clean up some of the most disgusting body fluids with some frequency. It's not really pleasant, but I've found it to be very valuable, HONORABLE work. And it has given me confidence and practice in dealing with the things that make me squeamish.

What I see as depressing systemic failure is sort of a mental game. I can shrink it all down to what I can do in my limited involvement of the system and do the best to make sure my part is done well. I know I influence others with my positive attitude in this environment that can be quite cynical.

That hard edge I see in others that work in the field isn't essential. If anything, hospitals could maybe use a little softer touch from staff members. Often I'll watch another tech deal roughly and unsuccessfully with a difficult patient, and I'll successfully work with that same patient with patience and respect.

Just think about if you were the patient in the hospital, would you want that hard-edged person who, while they could do their job, was a little abrasive, or would you want that other person who was more gentle, empathetic with your vulnerable position to care for you? I personally would rather have someone who describes themselves like you did above.

The diversity you bring to the field with your background is a huge HUGE value. Patients are diverse, they need a healthcare staff that is knowledgeable as well as diverse in it's own interests, backgrounds, etc. I don't know how to express how strongly I feel about that notion.

And best of all, I've found that by letting myself pursue nursing, the burden of making my living off of art-related interests is gone, allowing my interests in art to be more personal again, more creative by my own terms. It was liberating.

And finally - I started in an BSN accelerated program having never worked in a hospital. Many of the people in the program did fine transitioning into nursing. I needed to slow down and transfered into the standard program so I could work as a tech over the summer. That allowed me to get past a lot of the culture shock I experienced during one of my first clinicals. Working also allows me to practice the tactile skills and build my confidence. Because the program is demanding, the school I go to discourages working while a student. But personally I've found it to be helpful. I imagine working / volunteering before you enter a program would offer the same benefits I'm getting now.

Best of luck to you!
posted by dog food sugar at 11:11 AM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

the raw academic bar of admission and graduation is considerably higher than that of any nursing program.

This is absolutely not true. And it's a somewhat specious comparison to make, anyway, because the practice models through which PAs and NPs are trained are so very different. Apples and oranges, as they say.

Anyway. Todd, I want to echo many other replies here and say, yes, be a nurse. Your empathy for human need will be your biggest asset, and it will be the best gift you can give to your patients.

Definitely be a nursing assistant while you're in school if you can. You will learn so much at your job that you won't get in school. I worked as a CNA for my last two years of nursing school, and while I was there I was trained to do at least half of the things I'm expected to do there now in my current capacity as a nurse, including being the scrub tech for operative cases. It was the single best decision I could have made, and the only reason I got a job as a new graduate at a big Boston teaching hospital in a high-demand specialty (L&D) is because I'd already worked there and done my best to make myself useful while I was there. (There's no real nursing shortage to speak of in the greater Boston area right now, and new grad jobs are hard to come by. Many friends from school took jobs in New Hampshire or CT because no big hospital would hire them here, even on a generalized medical-surgical floor.)

As for the non-nursing BA -> MSN program leading to NP certification, I've heard mixed things. Academically they're fine, but there aren't a ton of NP jobs (at least here in Boston) and the pay is pretty crappy relative to what you'll make after a few years as an RN. You'll also have to choose at the beginning what you want to specialize in, and my understanding is that it's difficult to change specialties within the program if you find you've fallen in love with something else.

I once thought I'd go to graduate school right away to be a nurse midwife, because I didn't think I'd be able to stand working "only" as a nurse, "taking orders" from doctors, but the truth is that the relationship between MDs and RNs is significantly more collaborative than that. Very few MDs still consider nurses to be nothing but bedpan emptiers and pillow plumpers, and more times than I can count I've seen the MDs ask the experienced nurses for their opinion about a patient's condition and treatment plan. More times than I can count I've seen nurses challenge a med order because the dose was wrong or challenge a discharge order because the patient wasn't stable to go home. Nurses are with their patients constantly, whereas many MDs see their patients only once or twice a day; as such the docs rely heavily on the expertise of the nurses when making decisions.

So if you're thinking of working as an NP because you want the autonomy, I would say work as an RN for a little bit and see how the role sits with you. You may find that you love it just the way it is.

Good luck, and please feel free to email me if you'd like more information.
posted by jesourie at 11:34 AM on August 27, 2006

wife of u2604ab writing here:
It's a very complicated decision to go into nursing. It's kind of a calling, as they say, but I'm still working out the details on exactly what that means. So I just started one of these accelerated BSN programs at Duke University. Moved from California to North Carolina. I love it here. My first degree was in Microbiology, but we have all sorts of people in the program. There's 6 guys in the class before us, and 3 in ours. I think there's at least 10 pych majors, 10 english or history majors. I like to tell people that there are 2 rocket scientists in our program. I'm not kidding, but they're real down to earth people, and not intimidating at all. Don't you think it'd suck if nurses were intimidating? Yeah, so accelerated means just that for a reason. Think, at least 2 papers a week, at least 2 quizzes, at least 8 clinical hours, at least a test every week. So you gotta be kinda wacky, no? As for the gore, I figure it takes a good day to get over some icky picture they showed me. I think they're trying to desensitize me now so when I see real patients like that, I won't say "eee gad man! what's that giant thing growing off your nose?!?" No really, there's a hardening that happens. At least that's what they keep telling me.
I gotta say I was waffling about it for years. I kinda just one day said "well, I'm going to apply at least". Then the train started rolling, and here I am. It's not like I had this huge moment of epiphany though. Most of my classmates will tell you the same thing. It's just this searching for some meaning in what you do. Oh yeah, they have 3 global trips for each class to practice nursing in Honduras, India, and Jamaica. That ought to cure some itches you might have.
Hhhmmm... What else??? Right, check out Johnson & Johson's whole "dare to care" advertisment to recruit male nurses. It's a neat ad.
As for getting into nursing school, that's a whole story in itself, but I can tell you that most of my classmates (myself included) didn't get into the state schools without accelerated second BSN programs, but did get into the private elite schools. Weird eh? We figured they looked at the entire applicant as a person.
Anyhoo, since I'm in this wacky accelerated program, I best get to studying.
Take care and good luck with whatever path you choose.
posted by u2604ab at 6:21 PM on September 6, 2006

Hi Todd,

I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled upon your story, but it caught my attention. I am interested in medical humanities as well, but am having a difficult time trying to find out how to incorporate it in my plans of becoming a nurse. I just joined a minute ago after reading all these great responses to your questions. Unfortunately, I do not have the experience (yet) to contribute some advice on nursing. I hope you find what your looking for though! Take care
posted by tamilaine1919 at 12:35 PM on December 9, 2006

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