We get the word “nurse” from the Latin word nutrire, which literally means “to suckle.” Up until the 16th century, this term only referred to wet-nurses. Then it began to transition to a term that describes an individual who cares for those who have health needs.
Most cultures provided nurses as a way to care for those in need because of the religious practices of their era. Even before the foundation of modern nursing was built in Europe, the military, Catholic nuns, and high-ranking members of other religions would provide services similar to what nurses perform today to care for those in need. It would eventually turn into a secular profession in the 1800s.
Pioneers like Linda Richards and Agnes Elizabeth Jones helped to shape the idea that registered nurses could come from a working-class background. Schools began to appear in the United States and Japan that built upon the influences of Florence Nightingale. Then university-affiliated schools began to appear so that hospital training programs could teach clinical experience – and then eventually “book learning.”
If you’re thinking about becoming a registered nurse, then here are some of the pros and cons to review before finalizing your decision.
List of the Pros of Being a Registered Nurse
1. You have the opportunity to work almost anywhere.
Registered nurses are in demand in almost every community around the world today. That means you can move almost anywhere to find work. This advantage allows you to pursue life based on your own preferences instead of trying to move to where the work is every few years. If you want to work in the suburbs, then you can do it. There are top-rated city hospitals that will pay excellent wages for RNs. You can travel overseas with your license, obtain a work visa, or volunteer with your skills to make life better for many people.
There are even some positions that allow you to become a traveling nurse. Several different industries, including law firms and insurance companies, offer employment to RNs.
2. Nursing is a career option that is in high demand in the United States.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the opportunities for registered nurses to grow by at least 15% over the next 10-year period. That makes this profession one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States. Some regions will have even faster rates of growth, such as the Chicago area, where the opportunities could be double what the forecast average expects. Since the median salary in this career is $63,000, that means you can find a decent-paying job when you get out of school and first earn your license as well.
Even if you haven’t started your education yet, there are going to be jobs in this profession after you graduate. As Baby Boomers continue to age and Gen X’ers begin to reach senior status, there will be lots of new opportunities to provide care for people who need it.
3. Nurses can enjoy a high degree of flexibility with their schedules.
Although some RNs don’t have much of a say with their schedule when they first start working, this advantage will slowly evolve as your experience increases. You can generally work it out so that your career and personal life can function together seamlessly. There are options for you to work as a temporary worker, in a part-time capacity, or full-time work if you prefer. Some places allow you to work 12-hour days, alternating between 3-day and 4-day weeks, to give you some extra days off.
4. Nurses work in a profession with a high degree of personal satisfaction.
Being a registered nurse comes with a high degree of respect from a societal perspective. The role that you will play in the healthcare system helps to care for and comfort people when they are experiencing some of the worst moments of their life. They also serve as the link between the patient and the doctor to ensure that vital information passes from one to the other.
Nurses spend more time with patients than the doctors do, which means their job is to see people toward a full recovery. You’re helping the sick to become well, which is why it is such a satisfying job – even when there can be challenging moments.
5. There are several different ways that you can serve as a registered nurse.
Registered nurses are in demand in places that fall outside of the hospital or medical clinic environment. You can serve as an RN for your local school district to help kids with issues that develop in the classroom. Nursing homes require your skills so that you can help people with their daily living activities. Assisted living facilities offer similar opportunities to put your nursing degree to use.
You can even pursue entrepreneurial opportunities by pursuing an in-home care business that you operate thanks to your experience as a registered nurse. That means you can build a career that follows all of your passions.
6. You have the option to pursue becoming a nurse practitioner.
After you become a registered nurse, there is an opportunity for you to pursue becoming an APRN – an advanced practice registered nurse. You will need to have clinical training and specialized education to provide these higher levels of care to patients. The advantage here is that you can perform a variety of tasks that are not part of the standard RN license. You can even focus on a specific population group, such as geriatrics, mental health, pediatrics, or general practice.
Once you complete an advanced degree program, you can practice independently in this role. It allows you to pursue opportunities that are similar to that of a doctor. Many APRNs that work in a practitioner role can even authorize prescriptions.
7. People trust nurses more than they do most other professions.
Nurses are often rated as the most trusted profession in the United States. Gallup conducts a poll each year to determine which careers generate the most trust in the general population, and the 2016 version of this survey found that RNs were the most trusted for the 15th consecutive year. It can feel good to know that people believe that you are capable of helping them at one of the darkest times of their life.
There are many benefits that come with this career that have nothing to do with money or vacation time too. You’ll have people bringing you treats because they are grateful for the help you provided them. Kids will often create thank you cards that you can display at home or in an office area. Even a warm hug of thanks can help you to know that you’re in the right career.
8. There are several different specialties that you can choose as an RN.
There are several different career paths that you can follow as a registered nurse, even if you want to stay in a formal medical setting. You can choose to work in critical care, as a cardiac nurse, in neonatal care, or in nephrology. There are always ways for you to improve your education so that you can pursue these opportunities as they arise too. When you’re an RN, there are plenty of new challenges that you can conquer to build a better life for yourself. When your experience increases, then your earning potential typically will at the same time.
9. It is pretty easy to get ready for work each day.
If you hate picking out clothes to wear in the morning, then you’re going to enjoy working as a registered nurse. You’ll get to avoid this frustration because you will be wearing scrubs almost every day. Although this apparel isn’t always flattering, it does tend to be comfortable. Most nurses will tell you that if you look good wearing your scrubs, then you’re likely wearing the wrong size.
Some nurses say that they don’t even worry about hair, makeup, or similar elements as part of their morning routine because of the scrub hats and other protective apparel that you’ll need to wear over the course of your duties.
10. You are going to encounter something new every day.
There is a lot of variety that you’ll encounter when you work as a registered nurse. If you don’t like the idea of a repetitive job, then you’re going to enjoy being in this career. Every shift offers something different that will come your way.
Most of your shift is decided by the ailments and personalities of your patients. Those factors can vary widely daily. You might be making rounds one shift, dealing with an emergency situation on the next one, or helping a healthy patient check out. You can encounter the joys of birth and the grief of death in the same day.
11. There is a lot of camaraderie in the nursing profession.
You will always encounter people at work that get on your nerves. There are times when personalities clash, and there isn’t much you can do beyond staying out of that person’s way. What you’ll find when you begin working as an RN is that there is a high level of camaraderie in this profession. You are often placed into positions where you must work with a team to save a person’s life or care for their illness. These moments of crisis create bonding experiences that can help you build friendships while making the job a lot more enjoyable.
List of the Cons of Being a Registered Nurse
1. There are specific educational and licensing rules you must follow.
If you want to become a registered nurse, then you must first obtain a two-year or a four-year degree in nursing or a directly-related field in the United States. The program you attend must also be accredited for nursing. There are expedited options at some schools that can help you obtain this education faster, but you cannot proceed with your licensing without coursework that includes physiology, chemistry, patient care, and what the law expects of you while working.
You will then need to pass the NCLEX-RN examination. You’ll want to register with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to sign up for the testing. You’ll receive an authorization when you’re approved to test. You’ll need to complete an average of 119 questions with a passing grade within six hours. Failing to pass requires that you wait at least 45 days to re-take the exam.
Then you’ll need to obtain a state license. Every territory, district, and state in the United States requires registered nurses to have licensure, but the mandates can be variable. You may need to complete an extensive background check.
2. Emotional burnout is common with registered nurses.
Your work as an RN will put you in touch with some of the worst types of human suffering that exist on our planet today. Depending on where you’re working, you might find patients with bullet or stab wounds, strokes and heart attacks, or traumatic injuries that have the potential to disfigure the body. Many of the people that you will encounter during your career will be in extreme pain.
There are also times when it will feel like fate is unfair, like when there is a young mother trying to fight an aggressive cancer. Most nurses see more patients die than they can count, and every situation will affect you in a different way. It is imperative that all RNs find the right levels of counseling and support to manage their emotional health.
3. Some people cannot handle the 12-hour shifts that some RNs work.
The shift schedules for a nurse can be taxing. Some medical facilities do not subscribe to the 12-hour shift with the alternating weeks, so you might not need to worry about this issue. What you might encounter with the 8-hour shifts is that last-second call-offs can leave you short-handed at your facility, forcing a double shift when you might have other responsibilities to manage.
Whether you’re working 8, 12, 16, or even more hours during the day, you might find that there is limited time to take a lunch break during your shift. There can be times when it is a challenge to carve out enough time to use the bathroom. It can be non-stop, strenuous work that can limit the amount of time that you spend with your family.
4. You will receive more exposure to germs and illnesses.
Your work as a nurse will bring you into contact with people who are sick almost every day. That means you need to be at your best all of the time when managing personal cleanliness and care. You are going to be in frequent contact with blood and bodily fluids that could offer the potential to transfer disease to you. Your immune system will eventually catch up with your work to provide you with more robust protection, but it will be a challenge to feel well for some new nurses for the first 6-12 months of their career.
This disadvantage can extend to the rest of your family as well. If you have kids at home, you might notice that they will feel under the weather more often during your first days as an RN. If you tend to be sick a lot already or get squeamish around injuries or blood, then this job option might not be for you.
5. There are significant physical demands placed on nurses today.
You will be on your feet a lot when working as a nurse. Some facilities, such as an assisted living facility, might require you to put several miles on your legs every day as you go from room-to-room to provide help when needed. There will be times when you can sit down to fill out your paperwork or manage client files, but you’ll want to make sure that your physical stamina is up to the task of this job.
There are requirements to lift patients sometimes in this career as well. You might be responsible for making transfers between wheelchairs and beds. There will be equipment that helps you to take care of this task safely, but there are some basic strength requirements that you’ll need to meet.
6. Nursing can be a highly stressful career.
There is a high degree of personal satisfaction that comes with your work as a nurse, but these moments can sometimes be few and far between. Some days won’t bring you a lot of fun or joy. There are moments that may even try to overwhelm you, like when a patient passes away that you’ve been caring for over an extended time. You never really know what to expect when working in this career option.
Some patients might not even want your help even though they need it. The only way to manage this disadvantage is to have a lot of patience and the ability to manage challenging circumstances. If you don’t have a useful coping skill ready to use, then alcohol and drug use could become issues in your life over time.
7. Nursing can be a profession that’s severely underappreciated.
Most people trust nurses and appreciate their help when they need it, but the benefits can often end there. Some people will not appreciate or understand your dedication and hard work. There are more steps to follow to even start practicing as an RN compared to other career opportunities, but not everyone understands this work. Most people will be dealing with a stressful personal situation when they encounter you, so there are unpleasant conversations that can leave you feeling frustrated.
You can even put in some excellent work for an entire shift with a single patient only to have them complain to the doctor that you weren’t doing enough for them. It can be a challenge to manage these personal interactions, especially if you tend to have an introverted personality.
When you work as a nurse, then you’re in a career where your job is to help save lives and improve the condition of your patients. What could be more rewarding than that? The care and attention that you provide to people allows you to recognize potentially dangerous changes to their condition that a doctor can treat immediately. The work you do benefits the world every day.
When you start to consider your future, then the pros and cons of being a registered nurse can help you to see if this option is right for you. If your stomach turns when you smell vomit or you feel faint at the sight of blood, then you might want to question whether or not this profession is the best fit. There are certified programs that you must complete, and then you must pass nursing exams and get licensed before you can find some work.
You might start your career as an RN in several thousand dollars of student debt, but it might also be one of the best decisions that you ever make in your life.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.