Becoming a nurse means you leave behind the possibility of having a humdrum or run-of-the-mill career. It means signing on to a job that can be more demanding and rewarding than many other careers — and potentially more dangerous. Hospitals and clinics aren’t risk-free work environments. Being a nurse means you have to be skilled enough to contend with the day-to-day dangers of the job.
Before going any further, though, a bit of clarification: Nursing, thankfully, isn’t among America’s deadliest jobs. You’re very unlikely to encounter something on a shift that will kill you. However, there are still plenty of on-the-job risks for healthcare workers. These are the obstacles nurses face and how to defend against them.
Related resource: A Day in the Life of a Nurse
First, the good news: Being a healthcare worker today is safer than ever in terms of exposure to disease and infection. The 20th century saw amazing strides in sanitation and hygiene, and hospitals and clinics are no longer the vectors of disease they used to be.
However, by their very nature, healthcare workers are more likely than other professionals to come into contact with dangerous chemicals and biological agents. Nurses are just more likely to have an incident with infectious bacteria than, say, librarians are. This is precisely why sterilization and sanitization procedures are so essential when working in healthcare. Those best practices aren’t just there to protect patients. They’re very much in place to protect healthcare workers themselves.
Related resource: How to Succeed in Nursing School
There’s no way we can sugarcoat this: Nurses can face violence at work. One of the things that makes nursing more relatively dangerous to other professions is a greater incidence of assault. Patients (or their families) are often angry, stressed, afraid, or fatigued, and sometimes they express those emotions violently. Nurses are often the nearest healthcare workers to them.
Given all that, it’s imperative every nurse know what to do if a patient becomes violent. Know your workplace’s policies, who to go to, and how to de-escalate a bad situation.
One of the hardest parts of nursing is also invisible. Nursing is a demanding job that often entails long shifts while on your feet, sometimes moving from one high-stress situation to another. While it’s possible to have a quiet shift when you’re a nurse, it’s also possible you’ll deal with high emotions, life-or-death situations, and some of the most monumental episodes of your patients’ lives. And you could do it all over again during your next shift.
This physical and emotional stress can lead to burnout, and is precisely why self-care can be so important for nurses, both professionally and personally. Taking breaks and being mindful of your own limits will help you better manage your stress at work, and ultimately keep you happy and healthy.
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Despite the stress, danger, and potential for burnout, nursing is still rewarding. In fact, nursing can be rewarding because of the danger, not in spite of it. Doing something that’s truly difficult and that can exact a cost is rewarding; mastering and surmounting dangers is part of why being a nurse is a career like no other.