Is this a great idea or flight of fancy I will regret?
April 19, 2007 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Yet another, "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up" filter. I think I want to be a nurse.

The issue is, I beleive that it might just be a little flight of fancy rather than something I really want. I have a history of this. I have a long and complicated career and education past and have never found what suited me. This will be long, sorry, you can skip to the last paragraph if you don't feel like reading.

I started out fluctuating between Biochem and chemical engineering at GaTech. I hated Tech and thought I hated my major. So I ended up getting a degree in History of Ideas and a Master's in Non-Profit Organizations and a grad. certificate in Historic Preservation. I worked in Museums for about 8 years doing education (workshops, field trips, etc.) I totally burned out on that and now I am a planner for the state of Georgia. I am not sure how that happened. I still mostly coordinate large workshops and weeklong charrettes for small communities.

I have long said that I am good at two things: Going to School and Bartending. So I really have been hankering to go back to school. I have thought about getting a Master's in Education and teaching in a public school, getting a doctorate in History and trying to be a lecturer, trying to get into a Physician's Assistant program, but really the one thing I keep going back to is nursing. Of all things in the world it Nursing.

I like to think that its fast paced yet flexible, fun and rewarding. Its everything I want from a job on paper. A few long days a week? Check. Sets of discreet tasks? Yes. Helping lots of people? Check. An opportunity to make the difference by smiling and offering something to drink?Check. On comparison its a lot like bartending, except you really help people. :)

So my questions are: Is a career in nursing all that I think it will be? Is there opportunity for advancement and leadership roles? What is the difference in a LPN and a RN? Any advice on making the transition from working 60 hrs a week to going back to school again? I would love any advice or anectodal stories. I found this great link
posted by stormygrey to Work & Money (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Most nurses that I know -- and I know many -- do indeed love their job. They maintain crucial links between doctor and patient, clinicians and administators. They are nearly always smart, compassionate, and strong. Yes, there are many opportunities for advancement and leadership, beyond the traditional getting a raise and supervising more people: community health and education, strategic planning (for a department, hospital, etc), outreach programs, disaster planning and emergency response, and many others.

FWIW: LPN roles are usually - not always, but usually - limited in scope and compensation. The "RN" designation is slowly becoming a relic, as the BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) becomes the new standard.
posted by davidmsc at 7:31 AM on April 19, 2007

IANAN, so anecdotal evidence is all - my mother got an RN degree (without a BS) back in the '70s. Over the years she went from shift nursing to managing a clinic to managing two floors of the hospital, and then back to the clinic because the 70+ hour weeks were killing her. She did that while raising two kids and a husband, and picking up her BSN and MSN and an NP certification along the way.

Hospitals are generally not hiring LPNs, at least not in the northeast. Places like nursing homes may be different, but I have zero experience there. An RN is more qualified, has had more training, etc. (The 'pedia is somewhat helpful here.) David's right about the BSN being the new standard.

As for advancement and leadership, part of that transition is from shift-work to 9-5 (or 8-6, or 7-whenever...) that comes with being management. You will no longer have shift-freedom if you get to the point; you also will have decreased patient contact. My mother's move back to the clinic was in part dictated by her wish to work with patients again. She still makes as much as she did managing.

The research nurses I work with work 8 or 12 hour days, not every day of the week, and are seemingly always on vacation. But they also get to do lovely tasks like squeezing diapers for urine collection. Mmm, bodily fluids.

You need to really like caring about people. Really. Depending on where you are, some of them aren't going to be or seem grateful. When I worked in high risk maternity, for instance, people were ALWAYS threatening to sue. (It never comes to fruition, but by god, what a hostile environment.) Also, there's a lot of paperwork, and less of that 'giving people water'. Maybe catch up on some nursing blogs; I think they give a slightly less romanticized version of many events.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:45 AM on April 19, 2007

Response by poster: I should add that I am looking at BSN programs, I just didn't realize that the RN designation wasn't what I would end up with after the Bachelor's. After speaking with advisor's it looks like I would have about 60 hours to complete to get the BSN. I figure I could do that in about two years while I still bartended some in the evening.
posted by stormygrey at 7:56 AM on April 19, 2007

My girlfriend always wanted to be a nurse, so she went to university for three years. And.. academically it almost killed her. The amount of reports she had to write, even down to psychiatric reports (just to be a normal ward nurse!!), was staggering and she had to be significantly more academic than you'd ever imagine a nurse to be. Unfortunately due to some separate issues she had at the time she had to drop out in her third year.

She now works as a carer for deaf/blind people for a charity outside of the medical system. She loves it and does amazingly well, but it doesn't require the intense academia of being a regular hospital nurse.
posted by wackybrit at 7:57 AM on April 19, 2007

I am a nursing student, one year away from being a BSN. I love my job thus far (We work in the hospital for two 6 hour shifts a week during Junior year). It does have all the traits you are looking for. However, that depends on where you work and what you do, but rest assured, if you get bored or burned out in one area, you can move extremely easily to a new one.
I would suggest getting your BSN. An accelerated post-bach degree could get you there in 2 years (which is the same time you would spend in LPN school in many places). I go to UPenn, which has an amazing accelerated program. I take classes with the second degrees, who range in age from 22-45 (there have been some older though) and they seem to love their choice and enjoy school. Nursing school is different, IMO, from "normal" college. Our classes are often extremely practical. This week I learned how to insert an IV in class. The second degree programs tend to be more sympathetic to people transitioning from their normal working lives to school, but at my school, the older student do take class with the younger, and are thus subjected to our underclassman whining and partying.
To respond to cobaltnine, I totally agree that nursing has a lot of downs along with the ups, but generally, since you are a nurse and thus the most trusted profession in the nation (it's a statistic, I have no clue from where) people tend to confide in you and deep relationships are fostered. There is some paperwork, but I haven't been overwhelmed by it, just annoyed.
And you don't just give people water, you give them drugs!

If you have any other questions, my email is in my profile.

On preview: you do end up with an RN after getting your BSN. You still have to take the NCLEX-RN to get your certification.
posted by nursegracer at 8:01 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am not a nurse, but a healthcare executive. I will speak to you about your job prospects.

Nurses are in extraordinarily high demand right now, and will continue to be for at least the next 10-15 years. We are now in a nursing "shortage" which is projected to become a nursing "crisis" in the next few years.

In certain markets, an RN can earn as much as a Physician's Assistant. If you get your RN, then the next logical step if you wanted to continue would be to become a Nurse Practitioner, which is (essentially) the same as the PA.

Your choice of what environment you want will greatly dictate what "level" of nursing certification you want.

For doctor's offices (my area of expertise) RN's are often, if not usually, overkill. RN's tend to be more suited for surgery centers, outpatient centers, and hospitals.

Doctor's offices lean more towards LPN's and really the last few years has been the rise of the MA (Medical Assistant). Practically every community college in the country now offers an MA program, and thank god, because we need them.

Surgical nurses are always in great demand. Neonatal nurses are always in demand, but you have to be the right kind of person, because your heart will be broken at least once a week, if not more often.

But the next 20 years it's all about geriatrics and hospice. Seriously. This area alone would easily carry you to your own retirement.

You also have some interesting options if you are the adventurous sort.

Travel nurses are becoming more widely used, out of just sheer necessity. It is exactly what it sounds like. You go somewhere, nurse, then go somewhere else, and nurse.

In some hyper-demand markets (Like Las Vegas used to be, although I've not looked at it in a couple of years) they will fly you from anywhere in the country to Las Vegas, put you up, pay all your expenses, have you work 3 long shifts, and then put you back on a plane to anywhere. And you'll make a king's ransom.

But, understand the work is hard. It is heartbreaking, as well as backbreaking. Some patients will thank you profusely, others will call you a bitch. Some will write you cards when they get out of the hospitals, others will throw up on you and then ask why their supper isn't there yet.

You will have people die that you are performing CPR on. You will have people make miraculous recoveries after the doctor has given up hope. You will have someone having a routine procedure that was very nervous and you told them "you'll be fine" and they die on the operating table unexpectedly.

It's a hard job. But it is a VITAL job. And it is a noble calling.

I consider nursing to be an even more noble calling than being a doctor. The doctor's work is sometimes over, but the nurse is always caring, always comforting, till the very end.

If you think you have the drive and wherewithal to do it, then you will be rewarded with much better than average pay for a bachelor's degree, and you'll never worry about your job security for the foreseeable future. You can also, quite literally, work ANYWHERE in the country. From the smallest hamlet to the largest city.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:35 AM on April 19, 2007 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I am not a nurse either, but I was the graduate program coordinator at a school of nursing in a major state research university for 3 years, so I write this based on my experience doing admissions counseling for people very much like yourself. I would be somewhat concerned based on what you wrote that you may not have a full appreciation of what nursing really is about. It is definitely not "smiling and handing people a drink." As others here have noted, nursing is an extremely demanding (physically and intellectually) profession, and one where you will often be overworked and under-appreciated. I will also agree with the poster above that nursing is a very academically rigorous program. One of the programs in my former department was an alternate pathway program (similar to the UPenn program above) for people with BAs in other fields. Many of these programs (there are about 25-30 nationwide), as well as most BSN programs, require some combination of prerequisite courses, often including: chemistry, microbiology, anatomy & physiology, pharmacology, psychology or sociology, nutrition, and human growth & development. Alternative pathway programs are often an excellent choice for people like yourself who have previous degrees and work experience, because they are accelerated and advanced, and usually populated with similarly mature students. And a BSN is definitely the way to go if you are really interested in advancement, although with your experience I would also suggest that you look into the direct MSN programs, b/c you will be in even more demand as a masters degree nurse. But before you enroll in a program, I would strongly suggest that you actually observe nursing practice in action. Volunteer at a local hospital. Time spent watching and interacting with nurses will go a long way towards helping you decide if this career path is really the one for you.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:02 PM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, I was being rather flip, but I have lots and lots of nurses in my family so I know about all the icky, squicky, heart breaking and back breaking as well. I also love and embrace all the academic intensity and I am two anatomy classes short of qualifying for the accelerated programs at the two nursing schools that are close to me. I would most likely transfer my old credits over and just take the rest of the classes rather than do the accerlated program.
posted by stormygrey at 12:09 PM on April 19, 2007

Why don't you bartend and go to school if that's something you're good at and you like? You didn't mention whether or not you liked them, just that you were good at them. Be the best damn bartender you can and fill your head with all sorts of info. Sounds like a nice lifestyle to me if you can get high-paying bartending work.
posted by captaincrouton at 12:54 PM on April 19, 2007

From what you described as one thing you're really good at -- bartending -- and your past experience in arranging events, I wonder if you wouldn't be excellent at running a catering-type gig. Obviously, it doesn't have the glamor of a career, but you can make a lot of money in that racket and it's fun and fast-paced.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:01 PM on April 19, 2007

I'm convinced that LPN stands for "Let's Play Nurse" because of all of the seemingly incompetent ones I frequently encounter.

If you're going to go down this road, go for the RN. I don't know a single nurse that doesn't love his/her job.

Do you know any nurses? Find one, and talk to them in depth about the career path. Pick their brain for any advice that you can. See if you can 'shadow' them at work for a few hours.

go for it! :)
posted by drstein at 1:58 PM on April 19, 2007

I was accidentally at a Nurse Education Program Promotion day thing, and the top nurse educator pointed out that nurses have to like old people, because unlike the tv shows where the patients are often either hot or young, most patients are old, because that's when you get sick most. So if you don't like the wrinklies, it's probably not a good fit.

I did a week's work experience as a nurse about 20 years ago, which was enough to turn me off the job. I got lucky and got to wash an old man, clean out an old lady's mouth (she subsequently died, it wasn't my fault) and see a baby born. Maybe you want to see if you can get some volunteer work up at the hospital and sit have coffee with the nurses for a bit.
posted by b33j at 3:14 PM on April 19, 2007

To give a slightly different perspective:

I think getting an RN is a wise idea in terms of salary and employment opportunities, but it's not always the best choice in terms of job satisfaction. If you're the kind of person who genuinely likes to help people that will go a long way, but nurses are often over worked and hospitals are under staffed, and it can be very stressful depending on what kind of nursing you're interested in getting into.

My mom is a cardio nurse, and after 4 years she's already burnt. Her floor got turned into a step-down unit, which meant that it wasnt purely heart patients up there anymore, there were quite often people detoxing or people with severe mental issues who got put up there because there wasnt really room for them anywhere else.

(as an aside - you havent had dinner conversation til your mom decides to tell you, over a plate of nachos, about little old ladies ripping out their colostomy bags and swinging them around their heads while screaming that the staff works for the CIA.)

I had tentatively planned to get an RN myself some day, but I have since completely lost interest because it seems to me that the excellent pay and the rewarding endeavor of serving the sick dont balance out the general fucked-uppedness of the american health care system.

So while I think it's a worthwhile pursuit, tread carefully. Maybe visit the nursing school you're thinking of attending and talk to some of the students there. Talk to other RNs if you can who work in the field you're interested in. Find out where the good places are to work, and which places you want to avoid.

Keep in mind also that nursing school will be pretty intensive, and that you'll study a range of subjects. My mom did rotations at a psych facility, on a med-surg floor, and in pediatrics, just to name a few. Also keep in mind that while some people may view you as a highly skilled individual, there is still a sizable percentage of the populace (and this includes some doctors) who view nurses as basically babysitter-mommy figures, and they will treat you accordingly.

Im not writing this to discourage you - I think it can be really rewarding to be an RN, I just dont think it should be lightly taken on. Be really honest with yourself about your expectations.
posted by supercrayon at 3:22 PM on April 19, 2007

I'm a career-changer who is in a 3-year Master's program to become a nurse practitioner. We're just finishing the first year of general nursing studies (we sit for the N-CLEX next winter).

What helped me make the the decision to go back to school -- I can't call it anything other than an epiphany -- was accompanying a visiting nurse that I know on her patient visits one Saturday. Seeing her in action was inspiring.

One of the beauties of nursing is that it is such a varied field. Nurses have a ton of flexibility, and there IS room for advancement if you seek a Master's or Doctorate. Besides hospital bedside nursing, you can work in public/community health, health policy, managmement, hospital administration, academia (faculty for nursing programs are SORELY needed)... etc!

So, yes, bedside nursing can be back- and heart-breaking, but the field offers many many other opportunities.
posted by tentacle at 5:45 PM on April 19, 2007

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