Diverse Perspectives & Advocacy

Nurse Q&A: Lifestyle, Misconceptions, and Frustrations

Sarah Gray, RN
June 1, 2018
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You asked, we answered. Welcome to our Nurses Tell All.

Nurse Q&A: Lifestyle, Misconceptions, and Frustrations

How do your nursing skills and experience make you better in other aspects of your life?

“It helps with parenting, being a better more in-tuned mother, an advocate for family and friends.” – Maria

“Makes me more humble, more patient, creative, communicative, and it has really taught me time management!” – Sarah

“I am known to get a little feisty and be hasty at times, working as a nurse has helped me to realize that the world is bigger than me and to not always make something a “thing” when I get upset- that sometimes we aren’t going to change people, but we can identify and accept patterns in people and change the outcome with our own attitudes/behavior. It reminds me to keep things in perspective, to practice gratitude because people are going through so much worse.

I am still learning that just because something is a rule, doesn’t mean it’s best for people- that sometimes getting into a power struggle isn’t worth it. It’s really forced me to evaluate what happiness is and what makes me happy.

Lastly, I strive to have certain qualities as a nurse and I can’t turn that off when I’m not at work- so learning to have a sense of humor, not sweat the small stuff, build and maintain a human connection and going the extra mile to care for others definitely spills over. Oh yeah, and savoring the positives is definitely up there!” – Natalie

“Navigating “intense” circumstances. Speaking with authority and assertiveness in the day to day. It has made me more organized and cleaner at the homefront.” – Nathan

“I have a lot more patience and am more understanding of people’s habits and perspective”  – Annie

“Nursing often is the ultimate riddle, you have 5-7 equally acute emergencies, limited resources and time and every second you’re expected to make split decisions that prioritize the safety and best outcomes of the patient while equally ensuring that your customer satisfaction is on point and that you’ve “always” exceeded the patient’s expectations.

Some might argue that volunteering, or dare I say having passion for, a job with these constant working conditions is a mentally unstable choice to make ;), but I love it. I’ve found that I thrive under pressure and that there is something incredibly humbling about strangers immediately placing their trust in me during some of the most vulnerable times in their lives.

I feel that humility during every single patient interaction and I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to take the skills and awareness that I learn about myself as a nurse and transpose over to my non-work life. Every day I work I’m practicing critical thinking, patience, tolerance and empathy. Specializing in psychiatry in particular has taught me a lot about what I think I may know and how much I truly have no clue about.

I try to wake up every day and live a life of thoughts and actions that I will neither regret nor need to apologize for. I embrace every lesson I learn from making mistakes and I try to approach all situations (people, places and things) with responses rather than reactions. I credit all of these thoughts processes and lifestyle choices to nursing, and truly because being a nurse is not what I do, it’s who I am.” – Janan

“I’m always surveying my surroundings to see if anyone needs help. After watching me help two separate families with kids through security at the airport my roommate was joked that I was coming to every parent in distress rescue . But that’s just what I do at work and in life!” – Jamie

“Working on an inpatient oncology unit has changed my perspective of life. I care for patients who one day we’re healthy living their daily life and the next are fighting for their lives. I feel more appreciative of simple pleasures in life and do not take anything for granted anymore.

My job has made me simply want to live! I feel an urge to travel, stay connected to family and friends, and make the most of each day! As much as working with patients living with cancer is emotionally draining at times, I feel humbled and thankful for all that I learn from them. I’ve learned a lot about death and I now believe that it can be a beautiful process.

I used to fear the idea, avoid it, and refuse to believe that each person’s time will eventually come. I have seen death in many different ways, and I believe it needs to be a more discussed topic. Nursing has really help my social skills- I come in contact with many different personalities and I have had to learn to adapt, reflectively listen, and be patient. It has helped me improve my communication skills and overall presence- no one likes a nurse who doesn’t talk nor smile!” – Courtney

“The personality and skills that I have developed as an RN have run over into my day to day life. Growing up, in my nursing career, in a Trauma center, I was constantly exposed to high-stress situations that required me to develop emotional control, calmness, and an effective sense of urgency.

These have proven very useful in my personal life, especially in those moments with my friends and family that require patience and perseverance.” -

“Everything that I have learned in nursing has definitely made me a better person; I am an introvert at heart and shy as can be, but working as a nurse has helped me to develop a more confident self. I have learned that patience is a virtue that I have learned through nursing.

I have learned that people can sense whether you are being genuine or not so outside of the hospital that is the one thing I always remember; to always be genuine and kind because people can careless about how much you know, what they care about is if you really care about them.

Lastly, I have learned that every little thing matters. For example, making sure you do everything with excellence and not just half way. I know it’s annoying to gown up before going into an isolation room to just drop of some ice water, but not doing it could potentially harm others. Do everything with excellence or not at all.” – Kennia

“Nursing carries over into all aspects of life: what you learn from mistakes, what you dislike, what you love, what makes you laugh and what makes you sometimes cry. So many things are thrown at us throughout our career and as a new graduate I definitely handled situations differently than I do now. This is all part of learning and growing as a nurse.

Personally, I feel like nursing has helped me to gain tremendous confidence and build a shell that deflects most negativity thrown my way. More technical skills that have derived from being a floor nurse are time management, flexibility and teamwork. I have nursing to thank for my ability to go with the flow. All in all, I feel fortunate to have a career that allows me to care for others while simultaneously challenging and bettering myself.” – Chelsea

“Nursing has given me perspective on the fragility of life. I appreciate my wife and our time together more because of what I’ve seen. I see trauma every day that utter destroys lives. This is an every day occurrence. I am more sympathetic to people in pain or who have chronic diseases.

I somewhat feel their struggle because I see them in the hospital every day. My ability to sense things about people has improved. I think I’ve always been intuitive. One might say sensitive or in touch “with their feelings.” But, nursing has upgraded that quality. It’s kind of weird actually. I’ll look at people and think, “You don’t look good” and want to intervene. It’s basically a real life spidey sense.” – Andrew

If you could invent something to make your nursing job easier, what would it be?

“Nurses have the potential to be great inventors as front line users. I often thought if only I thought of that as many products I have been exposed to at work or conferences over the years were created by nurses. I too have come up with ideas, actually, drew up plans or created a product (with the help of a very smart young man) but just never managed to get it to the next level”  – Maria

“Wireless monitors, BP cuffs sensitive enough to squirmy babies, glow in the dark IV tubing, the list can go on and on…” – Sarah

“Less invasive blood pressure cuffs. A lab collect system than makes sense. A better paging system.” – Nathan

“Something that faxes things for me” – Annie

“Lol, loaded question. My biggest frustration with health care in general is that it has become such a business that I find myself constantly conflicted between dedicating my total focus to delivering the best hands on patient care (what I’m truly passionate about) while also satisfying the administrative chain of command and all of the operational and financial productivity expectations that are affected by nursing care.

I don’t really have a good answer to this question because I believe the root cause is related to a larger systems error that results in a gap of understanding between the executives at the top of the hierarchy and those working the front lines. I recognize that in order to keep hospitals and health care systems afloat, it has to be somebody’s job to look at everything, including patients, as numbers.

Perhaps what I would invent would be some specific line of communication or policy requiring administrators with no clinical background to spend a day in the life of a nurse to bring some empathy and tangibility to their decision making processes, hopefully resulting in more realistic productivity expectations for the front line staff.” –

“Something that absorbs pee from diapers so we don’t have to use cotton balls then squeeze them dry. Gross.” – Jamie

“Cordless EKG monitor! The chords resemble my tangled curly hair and when you need to use the EKG machine, you don’t have time to untangle! An automatic C.DIFF tester commode so we could start giving anti-diarrhea medications immediately and not wait for the lab test!” – Courtney

“A “Siri” or “Alexa” for documentation! If I could somehow talk to a device while working on my intubated and sedated ICU patient, I would document everything I did by voice. Following the checkbox and spreadsheet model we currently use in our EMRs quickly becomes repetitive and redundant. How cool would it be to have an Apple-style software that’s so user-friendly that I can just tell it what i’m doing?” – Ghassan

“I would invent a medication Pyxis that would get all of my medications ready for each patient and all I would have to do is click on my computer which medications I am pulling and the system would get them ready for me and dispense them for me at once, rather than one by one. Does that make sense?” - Kennia

“Hmmm, let’s go with a real life mute button so you don’t have to listen to some of the craziness that comes out of patients’ mouths. Exhibit A: I was once bashed for a solid minute because my patient was delivered a cheeseburger without the cheese (*insert eye rolling emoji here*).” – Chelsea

“Add a visual element to our charting. Flow sheets are efficient but our brains don’t think in linear rows and columns. That’s why care plan maps in nursing school always made sense to me.” – Andrew

Some people say that nurses would make the best comedians, do you think so?

“Omg they would ….oooo the stories they can tell!!!!” – Maria

“Everyone secretly loves poop stories.” – Sarah

“Having been through the most human of circumstances, we can see the bigger picture, appreciate the nuances of life, and our humor has been painted black over the years.” – Nathan

“People would never believe what we deal with on a daily basis.” – Annie

“Because nurses see some shit (pun intended). I think the nature of our jobs encourages us to make the most of the some dire situations, and I know that in psych in particular, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry.” – Janan

“I’ve never heard that, and I don’t really think so either!” – Jamie

“The thought of being a stand up comedian makes my stomach flip, but nurses have an assortment of hilarious stories to draw upon and generally good people skills, so I can see why they could make funny comedians!” – Courtney

“Nurses, and most others in healthcare, develop a skewed sense of humor. Most people see us as insensitive and callus. This might be true, in a sense, but it’s born out of experience and perspective instead of carelessness or a lack of empathy. Treating the sick and dying requires us to look at situations critically and objectively, much as comedians do.

When we see how ridiculous some of the predicaments we put ourselves in, we can’t help but to laugh at ourselves!” – Ghassan

“I think the nurses make the best comedians because we have the best jokes! We have seen so much, unbelievable stuff that others have not seen.” – Kennia

“Quite frankly, the only way to get through our job is laugh! The serious stuff is serious, but we habitually find a way to lighten the moment because, well, it would be all too somber if we didn’t. Comedians are notorious for making jokes out of the dark stuff, the gross stuff and the juicy stuff no one wants to talk about and that’s exactly what us nurses excel in.” – Chelsea

“Isn’t it obvious? We are a semi-jaded bunch who are collectively very witty, overly worked, and feel chronically under appreciated. We see people at their worst, at their dumbest, and at those moments you think, “Why?" You combine all that nursing experience and you have comedy that is moderately dark, hilariously raunchy, and very relatable. We tap into the funky-weird human condition from a nurse’s perspective. We are the perfect comedians because we see that craziness… everyday!” – Andrew

As a nurse, how does technology help you do your job?

“Tech is the way of the future in healthcare. Everything is electronic from charting, communication, high resolution equipment and products.  Webinars, Skype, telepresence, emails are just a few ways our meetings are now being held several times a week as opposed to traveling or face to face meetings or conferences which is a big requirement of my job.” -Maria

“Integration between GE monitors and Epic allow for vital signs to show up in apex without having to input.” – Sarah

“Not as much as it should! Central monitoring is nice. Distracting kids with giant TVs and tablets is nice too.” – Nathan

“Electronic charting but that’s about as sophisticated as it gets.” – Annie

“It’s interesting actually, I have a huge appreciation for the way EMR’s and tech have increased the accuracy and productivity of patient care because once I transitioned from working as a bedside RN on med-surg units to mostly psychiatric hospitals as an NP I switched over to mostly paper charting…which has been a nightmare.

There are absolutely more communication errors, less urgency in terms of when STAT and now orders are placed, for example at many hospitals with paper charting it requires actually tracking down who the order was meant for and communicating it verbally in addition to writing it in the chart. The issue of illegible handwriting is also eliminated with EMRs. Technology is key to maximizing use of time and efficiency.” – Janan

“I think there’s a large gap in healthcare and technology that could be improved if we all collaborated.”- Jamie

“With my work iPhone I am able to text message doctors and coworkers in a HIPPA compliant app with non urgent updates or questions- cuts down on the amount of phone calls! Advancements in barcode scanning technology have enabled safer medication administration.

One of my favorite pieces of technology I use is a vein finder to help with peripheral IV insertions. It really helps find veins you can’t feel and gives me the confidence I need to find it!” – Courtney

“Just about every aspect of my job utilizes tech. With different software and hardware we assess and interpret vital signs, heart rhythms, electrical brain activity, oxygenation and just about everything else that the incredible human body is capable of producing.

We program machines to infuse fluids and medications at such precise measurements, calibrate mechanical ventilation to optimize the lungs, and use all the coolest scopes and cameras to see what the human eye can’t. After we utilize all of our cool gadgets, we document it all on an electronic medical record system.

A large portion of my job has become technical instead of direct care, but always in the best interests of the patient.” - Ghassan

“I absolutely love our IV compatibility system, it helps me to see which IV medications are compatible and that makes my job so much easier when patients only have one access.” – Kennia

“It’s funny because in the world of nursing, tech isn’t exactly parallel to the booming world of tech most other industries experience. However, if you’ve ever had to endure paper charting as a nurse (unfortunately I have) there’s no doubt there’s a true love for the tech that allows us to organize patient care tasks, doctors’ orders and our documentation.

The in’s and out of each system bring different advantages, or disadvantage for those that have used MediTech (takes you back in time), but it allows for a much more systematized workflow and decreases the number of medication errors thanks to our scanners! So yeah, thanks for the help, tech.” – Chelsea

“Tech is engrained within every aspect of the nursing job. From charting, to giving medications, to taking vital signs and so much more. Does it help me? Well. It depends on the day. Sometimes tech is great. Other times you want to throw that POS IV pump out the window because there is absolutely no reason why it should be beeping.

My relationship with the tech in hospitals is very love-hate. Honestly, more hate. It feels like these companies had zero nursing input in their design and work flow. Nurses rule the healthcare world. We should have the ultimate say in the design and usage of the technology; or at bare minimum, substantial influence. Why? Because nurses are the consumers and we are the ones that would happily dump it into a vat of hydrochloric acid most days.

My message to organizations. A happy nurse is a nurse that feels like they are listened to.” – Andrew

What are some things you wish you could change about the nature of nursing or the lifestyle that comes with it?

“The demands of nursing, i.e. overtime, short staffed, difficult patients or coworkers, can make it challenging. But, the great thing however, about a career in nursing is that there are so many career paths you can take if you so desire to create a better work life balance.

Be it taking the step to change jobs or positions, or returning to school for a higher degree for perhaps managerial positions the options are there. It’s just taking that first step to change which can be very hard.” - Maria

“Annoying isn’t a strong enough word I think that is mainly because the whole structure of our job is designed to keep us in one place forever (seniority) which pigeonholes the nurse and doesn’t allow for new opportunities. It’s all about overcoming the seniority model of nursing rewarding u for never changing and staying in one place forever” – John

“Working weekends. Non-nurses not understanding what we do, and how it is frequently steered in certain ways by factors out of our control. The physical toll the job takes” – Nathan

“Working weekends/holidays, non medical people really not understanding our jobs/lives, the misconception that nurses ONLY work 3 days a week.” – Erin

“The silo-ing. How we cant work well with other departments and that even though I’m a nurse and work with physicians, other departments just next door have no clue what we do or the skills I’ve had to develop to do it.” – Annie

“It is my impression that many of the larger research-based institutions really make a valiant effort to keep nurse to patient ratios to a minimum, enforce that nurses take breaks and keep units well-staffed with ancillary care including patient techs, resource nurses, CNLs etc. I was trained at a big institution like that during undergrad, however, when I took my first job at a community hospital I was in for a rude awakening.

I’ve had as many as 9 patients at time for a 12 hour shift, a level of stress that I truly struggle to put into words, but that manifested in terms of compromising my own health. Honestly the only way I knew how to cope with it was to shift gears from setting out to provide the level of patient care I know that I’m capable of to just ensuring that all of my patients were breathing by the end of the shift.

I know that I’m capable of a much higher standard but that was the environment I had to learn to survive in, and even worse, that my patients had to survive in! Survive seems like a dramatic word but those working conditions and the turnover rate, discharging 6 patients before noon and then getting 6 admissions/post-ops by the end of the shift, truly felt like being in the trenches and drowning in quicksand.

I think it’s important to paint this picture because I think that, despite EBP literature indicating increased mortality among hospitals with higher patient ratios, the majority of hospitals operate with patient ratios of 1:6 during the day and 1:7 at night. As the majority of the bedside workforce graduates with bachelor’s degrees, I think that we will see a significant rise in burnout rate by 1-2 years of bedside nursing experience and many will move on to obtaining advanced degrees simply because they can.

This will result in an even more detrimental deficit in bedside nurses than currently exists, and I would argue further that the bedside is exactly where we want our well-educated, critical thinking and passionate nurses because it’s a point of care that can truly allow for interventions that may significantly change the course of a patient’s prognosis, for better or worse.

This goes back to my point above on the larger systems error, we as a profession and health care as a whole have to create and implement a strategy for nursing operations that allows for a less stressful and less anxiety-provoking work environment to promote retention among the front line bedside workforce.” – Janan

“It’s exhausting mentally and physically. I love it but it’s tough. I wish we had better control over our schedules and hours! At least at my job I don’t really have any control.” - Jamie

“I wish I could change the perceived notion that one has to go back to school to become a NP. That you are settling or not ambitious if you remain a floor nurse. Many nurses join the profession with no ambition of becoming an NP, and we need to be taught in school of the hundreds of jobs that are needed with a BSN, RN.

As much as I love working my three 12 hour shifts, I wish at times I could change the drastic difference between my work and off days- when I work, I work and when I don’t, I don’t! Sometimes it takes me a day to recover from my shifts! Even after almost 4 years, I’m still getting used to it!”-

Staffing, staffing, staffing. I wish we always had enough nurses to work so that we didn’t have to work in a short staff environment.”  - Kennia

“It’s easy to go on and on about all of the undesirable aspects of nursing. I try to stay optimistic and upbeat no matter what a terrible shift may bring. With that being said, nursing can definitely be exhausting and grueling both physically and mentally. On any given day it can be difficult to balance taking care of yourself and your patients.

As nurses, we typically put our patients first which takes a toll on our lifestyle, stress levels and health. We forget to eat, drink enough water, we hold our breath (and our pee) and when we do eat often scarf it down. Somehow, there just isn’t enough time in a twelve hour shift. In a perfect world, all patients would be thankful, appreciative, and smiling one hundred percent of the time.

However, in that world we wouldn’t get the chance to learn and grow as nurses and as individuals off the job.” – Chelsea

“In a perfect world:

1. Better, healthier relationships with each other. We’re so damn hard on each other. Judgmental. Mean. Passive aggressive. Get rid of it all I say.

2. Uplift and support people when they make mistakes. We are all very much human yet expect to practice like robots. It’s unreasonable.

3. We work in a “cover your butt” culture. Teach people accountability and the benefits of safe practice rather than fear mongering.

4. Press Ganey & HCAPS. Do they really improve patient care? I don’t see their benefit at the bedside.

5. Better communication and relationships between nurses and physicians. I think it stems from a misunderstanding of each other’s role. Maybe a job shadow day?

6. Age old argument. Nationally mandated nurse-to-patient ratios.” – Andrew

Agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts on these commonly asked nurse questions?

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