Common Questions

I’ve been asked two questions more than any others since becoming a nurse and being hired at the hospital. The first question actually started when I announced my decision to go to school for nursing and it is, “Why do you want to become a nurse?” The second question started only after I started at the hospital and it is, honestly two questions itself. They are, “Is working only 12 hour shifts hard or do you like having more days off?”

Now, most of my family and friends don’t know that I blog. I tell them I journal and I do tend to keep this blog rather like a journal. I try to consider things from a content perspective, but I do also write about things that are predominantly on my mind or that I feel are personally beneficial to me or that I need to work through.

The above questions fall into all those categories rather nicely and I felt that now was a good time for me to craft this post, because I’m also having something of a “quiet” day . . . I work tonight (a 12, no less), but I couldn’t force myself to sleep any later this morning. As a compromise, I’m at least spending my time awake relaxing with light activities, rather than bustling around cleaning and such. Blogging counts as light, in my book.

So, the first question. Why did I become a nurse? It’s not a simple answer and I’m the type of person that can’t justify making a big life change without having mounds of reasons to back it up. I first thought about becoming a nurse just a few months before starting school for it and it was the result of some light peer pressure . . . one of my friends was about to start school and he essentially wanted my company. In listening to him talk about the benefits of it, I started to recognize that it was something I was interested in and may be a good fit for me.

The benefits that I saw included a flexible schedule, the option to work nights, the pay, the short degree completion time, job security for the foreseeable future, a variety of possible specialties, the ability to get advanced degrees, and the focus on helping people.

You’ll notice that most of those things are practical and that the last is, perhaps, the most commonly anticipated answer. Answering the question, “Why did you become a nurse?” with, “To help people,” is – for lack of a better word – conventional. People expect people who become nurses to have a drive and a desire to help people. They also expect that to be their primary reason for having become a nurse and they tend to be put off when it isn’t the first reason that’s brought up.

I knew that on an instinctual level and I think it’s related to the issue of quality of care. If a nurse become a nurse to help people, she is then more likely to provide high quality care. If a nurse become a nurse for the money, she is more likely just to go through the motions. . . . Now, I don’t personally believe that. Not at all. But some people do and I can see where they’re coming from, too.

Those things said, I do also have a strong desire to help people. Since becoming a nurse, I’ve caught myself talking of my patients and saying, “My people had a good day today,” or “I’m sad that I couldn’t do x,y,z for my people.” While my patients are under my care, I do think of them as my responsibility. They are unwell, stuck in their rooms, going through an emotional roller-coaster, sometimes on the verge of dying . . . and if I can get them a juice cup or a pain pill or an extra pillow, then I feel a moral obligation to do so. If I’m not able to, I feel what I’ve been told in an inordinate amount of guilt over it.

I am naturally submissive and helping others is what I do without thinking, no matter where I’m at or what time of day it is. It’s not the only reason I became a nurse, but I don’t think I would have chosen nursing, if I didn’t care about helping people.

As for the more practical reasons, those are kinda more self-explanatory. The hospital I’m at functions on a bi-weekly pay schedule and I work three 12-hour shifts a week, including two mandatory weekend days. I was able to get my A.S. degree in 18 months. I live in Florida and our aging population means that care-takers/nurses will continue to be very in demand. If I get bored of the oncology/med-surg unit I’m with now, I can transfer to one of the dozen other units in the hospital or go into a private practice or teach at a college. I can go as far as getting a PhD in nursing.

Essentially, I became a nurse, because the pros outweighed the cons.

(There are cons, but this post is already getting a little lengthy, so I’ll save those.)

The second question(s) also happen to relate to my reasons for becoming a nurse. Not all nurses actually work three 12-hour shifts a week. Not even all nurses who work in hospitals do – though my hospital does require at least 3/12’s a week for full-time nurses.

Personally, I really like working three days a week . . . even though I work 12 hours on those days. I enjoy having near constant “long weekends.” It’s good for my peace of mind to know that I only have to make it through two shifts before I get at least one day off. For example, I worked yesterday and will work tonight . . . and will then get four days off. This schedule has allowed me to get caught  my apartment in order and renew my work on my novel and spend more time with family.

I do feel that, from the perspective of a day shift nurse, I don’t think I’d be able to be as productive during an eight hour shift. Most mornings, I arrive at 6:30 AM to review my patient group (including their labs, medications, and histories). I take report from the night nurse from about 7:00 – 7:30 AM. In the half hour between 7:30 and 8:00 AM, I look up any medications I’m unfamiliar with or any conditions I don’t know about. 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM is dedicated to passing medications . . . and that time can easily extend to almost 11:00 AM, depending on my patient load and their medications.

After the medication pass and until I take lunch (usually around 1:00 PM), I am placing calls to physicians, working with PT/OT to get my patients up and moving, talking with my patients and their families, orchestrating discharges with case management, and asking my coworkers a dozen different questions as I try to learn more.

In the two or three hours after lunch, until about 4:00 PM, I am doing more of the same. This time is also usually when admissions arrive, assessments get charted, and patients need to be transported for procedures or testing. At 4:00 PM, afternoon med passes start and they generally take about an hour and a half. Evening charting can begin at 5:30 and includes documenting the patient’s intake/output, reviewing recommendations from their specialists, and putting in last minute orders.

At 6:30, I go around to all of my patients and let them know shift change will occur in about half an hour. I check to see if they need any pain or nausea medications, make sure that they have full water pitchers and snacks, check their IV fluids to make sure they won’t run out during the night nurse’s first hour or two, and let any family know that visiting hours will end at eight (they can stay later, but won’t be allowed back in until the following morning, if they leave the facility).

From 7:00 PM to around 7:30, I give report to the night nurse, wrap up any charting I didn’t finish, and make sure that the night nurse has a fully stocked cart for their shift. Thankfully, I live only five minutes from work and am usually camped out on the couch by 8:00 PM at the latest.

It makes for a very full and busy day, but it would be hard to accomplish as much in four fewer hours. Passing medications literally accounts for up to four hours in a 12 hour shift. Prep time, for me, equals another hour. Charting takes up to two or three hours. The other hours in the day are dedicated to other patient care tasks. It’s daunting, no lie, but I do like the concept of having a full 12 hours to work on things. Sometimes, it feels like all of that is spent with just one or two patients who are critical or mentally unstable. A lot of the time, a problem that happened at ten or eleven in the morning is forgotten by shift change and I don’t think of it until I’m already home.

And, so, I’ve answered the questions and now must seek out some brunch. Hopefully, I will be sleepy enough to rest for another couple of hours, so that I’m fully functional for my shift tonight. And, hopefully, it will go well and tomorrow morning, I’ll come home and be able to post something insightful about the differences between nights and days.


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