I am a registered nurse in the emergency department at a hospital.
How would you describe what you do?
I care for and treat the ill and injured patients and manage their care while they’re in the department and transfer them either home or they get admitted to the hospital.
What all does your work entail?
There’s the physical element of it as far as standing on your feet for twelve hours a day, whether that be walking, moving and rescuing patients, moving stretchers, equipment, things like that. There’s a mental or cognitive element where you have to apply your training and education as far as administering medications and making decisions for a patient’s care.
We do technical things as far as IV’s, blood draws, EKG’s. We hang intravenous drips and medications and manage and titrate those. We perform CPR and life saving measures. We communicate with our physicians in the department, letting them know and updating them on the patient’s condition and changes that occur while they’re there.
We transfer patients to the floors, we discharge them, we transport them around the hospital to where they need to go as far as having a CT scan or whatever.
when you have a good outcome with somebody, you really feel like your direct care of them has made them better in some way, and they tell you that they appreciate the care that you’ve given them. That’s very satisfying and rewarding.
We administer, medications and monitor pain levels and do dressings and all that stuff.
And then there’s kind of an emotional aspect of it too as far as you’re dealing with people that are very sick and sometimes it’s not a happy place to be, and you’ve got angry people so it’s kind of a roller coaster place to be.
What’s a typical work week look like for you?
Well for me, I’m not a full time right now. When I was full time I would work thirty-six hours a week.
Most hospitals now have 3 twelve hour shifts, three days a week, with thirty-six hours a week, and that’s considered full time. But I’m an as-needed employee so I can work thirty-six hours a week or I can work no hours a week, it just depends on what they need. Right now I’m working probably twelve to twenty-four hours a week. It just depends on when they need me and when I want to work.
How did you get started in this career?
Well, I was actually a senior in college getting my psychology degree and I thought I wanted to do that. I was looking into graduate school options because I was finding out that there’s not a lot of options in psychology without a graduate degree.
About that time my grandfather was really sick on my mom’s side and I was spending a lot of time in the ICU in the hospital with him. And something kind of spoke to me about it and I started looking into nursing programs, and found one. The good thing about it is that if you already have a degree in something else you can get a nursing degree in about 1 ½ to 2 years. So that’s what I did, and really, I guess it’s because my grandfather was sick that I was inspired.
What do you like about what you do?
I like the fact that I can make a difference in people’s lives immediately, and I can see the effects of what I do. I have skills that a lot of people don’t have and I feel like I can really make a difference in the outcome of my patient’s illnesses directly. I get a lot of reward from that.
What do you dislike about the job?
I guess in a nutshell I dislike the fact that hospitals are being owned more and more by big corporations and those corporations are being controlled by medicare insurance companies as to what they will and won’t pay for and all that trickles down to the nursing.
We are limited in how much input we can have over our practice, where pretty much they just tell you how things are going to be and you have to do that..
the most challenging thing is when you have something that you can’t fix…something tragic has happened and you can’t help, there’s nothing that you can do..it’s a challenge to figure out how to deal with it emotionally and not take that stuff home with you and let it affect your family life.
And it’s really just the policies and procedures like, charting, computer systems, etc. There are a lot of things that we have to use every day that slow us down and make things a lot less efficient. It’s not really anything to do with your clinical skills or your judgment, it’s just infrastructure and things like that we’d like to see improved, and with the larger companies owning the hospitals it’s seems to be harder to make changes or improve.
How do you make money or how are you compensated?
How much money do you make as an RN?
I make $27.05 an hour. And again, I don’t have guaranteed hours, so whenever I work I just get paid that much hourly.
How much money did you make starting out as an RN?
My first job, my base rate was $15.00 an hour. That was ten years ago.
Would you say there are any perks associated with what you do?
Yes, definitely. The biggest perk that I can say right now is that the three twelve-hour shifts give you a lot of free time during the week. You can have four days off and most places will allow self-scheduling, which means you can pretty much say I want to do my three days in a row and be off the rest of the week, or I want to work mostly weekends, or whatever works best for you.
There’s a lot of scheduling flexibility. That’s a big perk. You get pretty good benefits too, usually paid vacation and health insurance and all that.
What education or skills are needed to be an RN?
Well right now to be an RN like I am you can either have a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree, and you can function in the same capacity in the hospital or in any RN setting. There is a push nowadays for the bachelor’s to be the standard for all nurses. I have the bachelor’s degree but that’s just because the program I went to was accelerated, but you have to have either the associate’s degree or the bachelor’s degree and then you have to pass the national certification exam to get your nursing license.
As far as skills, I think that somebody should be very flexible. You have to be flexible as far as making decisions and changing things on the fly, you can’t be somebody who doesn’t deal with change well. You have to be able to be around people and deal with people and the public, have people skills, and physically be able to do the job, because it is somewhat physically demanding. I think people forget about that, you’ve got to lift patients around in beds and stuff like that, it can probably be pretty tiring.
What is most challenging about what you do?
Probably the most challenging thing is when you have something that you can’t fix, like you have somebody that’s dead or dying or something tragic has happened and you can’t help, there’s nothing that you can do.
So I think that when that does happen, that’s hard, and it’s a challenge to figure out how to deal with it emotionally and not take that stuff home with you and let it affect your family life.
What is most rewarding about what you do?
Well, I guess kind of the opposite of that is when you have a good outcome with somebody, you really feel like your direct care of them has made them better in some way, and they tell you that they appreciate the care that you’ve given them and that’s very satisfying and rewarding.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
I would say it’s a good career to choose right now because there’s been a nursing shortage for as long as I can remember and it’s just going to get worse because we have an aging population.
I think that people just need to really understand that it’s very important to talk to some nurses that they know and that they can find and ask them what it’s really like, because I think some people go into this job not really realizing how it’s really going to be.
How much time off do you get or take?
Well, when I’m working full time four days a week is the regular scheduled time off. And then usually you get about two or three weeks of paid vacation a year. Every pay period you might earn three+ hours of paid time off. And once you accrue enough of that, then you can use it. So if you’re a brand new person in the hospital it probably adds up to two weeks a year, and as you gain seniority in the hospital and are there for more and more years, you earn that time off faster.
The biggest perk…is that the three twelve-hour shifts give you a lot of free time during the week.
What is a common misconception that people have about what you do?
I don’t’ think people really have an understanding of how involved nurses are in the care of patients. You know, we’re definitely not doctors, I totally understand that, it’s very different than medicine but I think there’s kind of a lack of respect for nurses, at least in my experience.
Not always, but I think the misconception is that we’re kind of blue-collar, you know, we work shifts, we get paid by the hour, but it’s really not, it’s much more complex than that, but I don’t think the general public really knows that.
What are your goals and dreams for the future in this career?
Well, right now I’m pretty good where I am. I’ve gotten my bachelor’s degree already. I did go back to school for a semester and do a semester of the Master’s program because I thought I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, but I’ve changed my mind. I think I want to remain at the level where I am for now. I don’t want to go into management, I don’t want to go into higher practice, I just want to be a staff nurse in the ER.
What else would you like people to know about what you do?
I guess I would want people to know that nurses provide a critical element to any hospital stay. Patients spend most of their time with nurses when they’re in the hospital.