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What is a Nurse?

A nurse is someone who provides care to patients in a healthcare environment. This can encompass everything from a nurse giving booster shots at a pediatrician's office, to a surgical assistant who prepares instruments and assists during complex surgeries in a hospital operating room.

Many different specialities exist for a nurse, from working in the NICU with the tiniest of newborn patients, to geriatrics and palliative nursing for those at the end of their lives. For the ambitious nursing student that is looking to earn a high salary, there are specialized careers such as a nurse anesthetist, who might expect to out-earn a good number of doctors. Many nurses really enjoy the difference they can make in a patient's life, and the rewards for saving a patient's life, like an acute care nurse, or greatly improving their day-to-day life by sharing some of their skills and knowledge, are reasons why many people choose this profession.

What does a Nurse do?

Types of nurses and educational requirements for each:

Licensed Practical Nurses

A licensed practical nurse has to take a program consisting of four semesters over two years in a college program leading to a diploma in practical nursing. A licensed practical nurse is most appropriately suited to patients with less complex needs, and patients with stable and predictable conditions.

Registered Nurses

A registered nurse has to either take a collaborative college-university nursing program or a four-year university nursing program — both leading to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BScN) or Bachelor of Nursing degree (BN). A registered nurse can care for patients in unpredictable situations, and with more complex needs.

Nurse Practitioners

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with advanced university education who provides health care to patients. There are four nurse practitioner specialty areas: primary health care, adult, pediatric care and anaesthesia.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioners

An acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) is someone who provides advanced nursing care to patients suffering brief but severe illnesses, typically in an emergency department, ambulatory care clinic or other short term stay facility. A Master of Science in Nursing is required (MSN).

Nurse Anesthetists

A nurse anesthetist (or a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)), is someone who is capable of administering anesthesia under the oversight of an anesthesiologist, surgeon, dentist, podiatrist or other qualified healthcare professional. A nurse anesthetist must be a registered nurse with a master’s degree in nursing to enter the anesthetist program.

Nurses can specialize in the following areas:

  • Cardiovascular Nursing
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Critical Care Nursing
  • Critical Care Pediatric Nursing
  • Emergency Nursing
  • Enterostomal Therapy Nursing
  • Gastroenterology Nursing
  • Gerontological Nursing
  • Hospice Palliative Care Nursing
  • Medical-Surgical Nursing
  • Nephrology Nursing
  • Neuroscience Nursing
  • Occupational Health Nursing
  • Oncology Nursing
  • Orthopaedic Nursing
  • PeriAnesthesia Nursing
  • Perinatal Nursing
  • Perioperative Nursing
  • Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
  • Rehabilitation Nursing

The day-to-day routine of a nurse would tend to be a somewhat structured environment in many cases. Working in a hospital, one would follow a certain protocol when caring for patients and coordinating with doctors and other staff members. Administering medication, helping prepare patients for surgeries and treatments, and assisting doctors and surgeons during procedures are only a few of the daily tasks one might expect to work on.

Educating patients is another important aspect of nursing, as is learning. Sharing knowledge about health and lifestyle changes can have a very positive effect on a patient's life. Many nurses agree that learning doesn't end with graduating, and indeed, they continue to learn until the end of their careers. Nursing can be a rather dynamic career choice, and is well-suited to someone who is considered a problem-solver. Some nurses work with a great deal of autonomy, others work with very close supervision, and that is another thing to keep in mind while considering different nursing careers.

What is the workplace of a Nurse like?

Most people would immediately think of a hospital when thinking of a nurse's workplace, and that is indeed a common employer for many people in the healthcare industry. Private practices, clinics, retirement centres, nursing homes, and in-home healthcare are some other possibilities for nursing careers. Schools and universities, cruise ships, airports, and sports teams are some of the more unusual places for a registered nurse to find employment, but these and countless more opportunities exist.

Nurses work long hours, often on their feet, and evenings and weekends are almost a given. Frequently, 12-hour or split shifts are necessary as well, and since hospitals and nursing homes require 24-hour coverage, frequently the less desirable "overnight" hours are assigned to nurses with less seniority. Nurses that work in a general practice, or in a doctor's office, might find the hours and workload to be more palatable, however, the salary might reflect this convenience. This is a career for people who are motivated, enjoy a structured workplace, and have a high energy level. Patience and kindness are also important career skills for the prospective nursing student.

How can I become a Nurse?

In order to become a nurse, you'll need a degree. Several different options for this exist, but the highest paying nursing jobs will require a four-year bachelor of science/nursing degree which is available at many four-year universities and community colleges. There is also a two year associate's degree, offered at many community colleges and technical schools.

Another less likely possibility is the hospital diploma. Years ago, it was more common to receive a hospital diploma by working as a sort of apprentice alongside experienced healthcare workers, as well as completing courses at a local university. This has fallen out of favour in recent years due to funding and liability issues, though a few programs still exist.

Many of the college courses for students pursuing a nursing degree are challenging. Classes are focused on science and math, medical terminology and biology, and many hours studying and memorizing can be expected. A clean background check and drug screening are also almost a given for people in the healthcare industry, since the level of trust between employer and employee is very high.

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  • Requirements to Be a Nurse in the U.S.

  • What is it like being a nurse?

    Nursing can be very demanding in all areas - physical, mental and emotional. You'll typically be on your feet all day, and heavy lifting is often required. There are days that are so busy that there is no time to eat or to even go to the bathroom. Decisions you make can have huge consequences, both positive and negative. You'll be forever assessing and re-assessing, constantly using your critical thinking skills. You'll have to admit that you can't save everyone, and will have to watch people die while providing understanding and support to their loved ones.

    It can be the best and most rewarding job, and can be the most thankless and challenging job at the same time. Most nurses will tell you that when you can make a difference in someone's life, it often makes the difficulties worth it.

    What is the difference between a licensed practical nurse and a registered nurse?

    A licensed practical nurse can perform simple and occasionally more complex procedures, but is under the supervision of a registered nurse or a physician. They keep records, administer basic care, are able to administer most medications, and can perform CPR. They have approximately two years of training and are licensed.

    A registered nurse usually has a bachelor's degree in nursing, along with many hours of clinical experience. They must also pass examinations before earning the registered nurse title. They provide direct care to their patients, as well as supervise orderlies, nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses.

    What makes an excellent nurse?

    An excellent nurse is someone who is able to be both compassionate and competent. Trust and understanding between the patient and the nurse is the result of the nurse being sympathetic to the patient's (and the family's) misfortune and being able to convey complete understanding and knowledge of what they are experiencing. The nurse needs to confidently convey that she is skilled, knowledgeable, and trusted to do the right thing. These qualities result in the ultimate bond between a patient and the nurse.

    What is some good advice for nursing students?

    • Don't be afraid to ask questions, there are no dumb questions (and more than likely others are asking the same thing in their head)

    • Read for that day's lecture before you come to class

    • Teach someone else - you'll have to break things down into steps in order to get someone else to understand and this will help you learn

    • Volunteer to help with anything - muscle memory is very important

    • Learn to think critically

    • Practice good charting skills

    • Learn to access a patient by noticing tiny clues

    • Make sure you're doing this for the right reasons - genuinely care and judge no one, have empathy and sympathy, and advocate for the patient



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