So you’re interested in becoming a nurse. Does the “nursing shortage” make you feel like you need to be a part of the “gold rush,” because you have read and heard about all of the wonderful sign-on bonuses? Perhaps you are getting ready to graduate from high school and always wanted to be a nurse. Or you want to go into nursing because a relative is in the profession or your family has a tradition of graduating nurses. Or you’ve worked in another career field and want a change. Whatever your reasons, reading books and articles exclusively won’t prepare you for the real world of professional nursing.

Reality Check

Thorough research is essential before making a decision to embark upon a nursing career. Many resources can provide information on getting into nursing school, studying for and passing boards, getting into new-graduate employment programs, summer exploratory programs, etc. But for traditional nursing work (bedside nursing) in a hospital or long-term care facility (nursing home), it is best to have a reality-TV type experience.

There are simple and inexpensive ways to thoroughly research nursing as a profession. Of course, nothing can substitute for actual on-the-job experience. But you are not there yet, and you want to investigate to see if you want to get there. Here are a few suggestions to include on your career research to-do list: (1) utilize the Internet to the fullest, including the services of your ISP (Internet service provider, such as AOL, MSN, etc); (2) make contact with potential employers in your area; (3) try volunteering; and (4) find student mentors at your local college or university. Before you use any of these resources, start with an open mind.

Keep Your Options Open

Many prospective students have their specialty title etched in stone. “I want to go into pediatric nursing, because I love children.” “I want to work in trauma.” Moreover, they don’t want to discuss or research anything else. There is nothing wrong with having a vision of which practice area you’d like to specialize in, but it is a good idea to keep the door open to other possibilities. Turnover can be high in some areas, and many nurses change specialties for various reasons, from burnout, boredom, needing a change of pace, advancement reasons, to unforeseen circumstances. The ability to change specialty areas is one of the good things about nursing, made possible because skills are highly transferable.

The Internet holds a wealth of nursing information and contacts. Many organizations can provide email addresses or other contact information from nurse professionals who are retired or who currently work in a particular field. Go to (or your favorite search engine) and type in keywords “email” and the nursing specialty that interests you. You’ll see a number of national associations listed, most of which have local affiliates. Find the nearest affiliate and give them a call or send email to see if you can attend their next meeting. Tell them a little about yourself and your interest in the profession, and that you’d like to sit in on a meeting or attend an upcoming event as a guest. If you don’t receive a favorable response, try another organization, even if you aren’t interested in the specialty area. Remember, the idea is to gain some experience and knowledge about the profession of nursing.

If you get to attend an organization’s meetings or functions, interacting and mingling will benefit you greatly. You will surely meet nurses who have changed specialty areas at some point in their careers. Another good way to explore the various specialty areas is online through the ANA (American Nurses Association) link to nursing organizations:
Discussion Groups

Online nurse-focused discussion forums are another place worth investing some time. You can ask open-ended questions about getting into nursing, or you can read message threads of those who have already asked similar questions. Remember, you don’t have to be a nurse to read or participate in most forums. A good place to start is, since it has one of the largest number of participants in nursing forums.

Be objective when you read the posts in these forums. You may run across some discussions from disgruntled message posters, but don’t let this discourage you. This is another person’s experience. You are not in their situation and you don’t have all of the facts. For all you know, the person may not even be a nurse.

Contact local hospitals and other employers that hire nurses, and ask to speak with the human resources or personnel manager. They will be able to provide you with information on nursing and may be able to connect you with someone on staff who could speak with you about the profession.

Another important part of your research is volunteering at a hospital or nursing home; many organizations need volunteers to sit with patients or residents as companions. Working in the mail department won’t help, so concentrate your efforts on volunteering in a patient care setting, where you can have a direct visual of the nurse-patient interaction. This experience will be invaluable for you.

If you have a busy schedule and don’t have time to volunteer, there’s another alternative. Contact your local college or university’s school of nursing and ask them to put you in contact with a first- or second-year student and a senior. Spend a day with them in school. Due to liability issues, you probably won’t be able to go on the clinical rotations with the senior, but that student can inform you of what can be expected and you can attend a few classes for the day.

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