The More Difficult Parts of Nursing: What is it really like to be a Nurse?

Nursing is about caring and advocacy and health promotion. It’s also about some of the less pleasant parts of the human experience: from death and dying to blood and bed pans and badly infected wounds. If you’re considering a career in nursing, you may wonder how your emotions will hold up… and your senses. If you’re in a nursing program, there may come a point where you’re feeling a little disillusioned. It’s not all what you see on brochures: the vibrant nurse pressing a stethoscope against the chest of a smiling child.

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At some point along the path, you may find yourself doubting whether healthcare is right for you. Then you’ll want to ask yourself if it something you do intrinsically love. The junior volunteer coordinator at Methodist Hospital of Southern California notes that a lot of a young person’s growth depends on whether the motivation comes from within (as opposed to coming from parents and others).

On nursing forums, experienced nurses caution young people from going into the nursing field for the wrong reasons — i.e. because they hear there are jobs there. But they have a lot of reassurance for dedicated would-be nurses. If nursing is something you’re dedicated to, realize a lot of people have had their doubts along the way!

Becoming Sensitized

You might want to take a look at nursing forums. Many nurses note that a lot of things get easier with exposure. One wrote about seeing eyeballs in a bucket in anatomy and physiology class. Thankfully, most experiences afterward were not like that! Another said that injections used to cause him to pass out, but now he was able to look at metastized cancer during a surgery. Still another wrote about having something of a sympathetic gag response when others threw up, and said that it wasn’t that uncommon — some nurses got over it sufficiently, but others found that it did limit which wards they chose to work.

In some cases, the rewards just outweigh the negatives. If you find a population that you truly love, you may simply look beyond the unsavory things. On the forum at, nurses go on and on about the joys of working on the neonatal ward and seeing those barely formed preemies blossom into relatively self-sufficient infants. One nurse concurred that neonatal nursing is rewarding, but noted one negative: Some ostomy patients have a smell that nothing will wash off.

It’s a bit like parenting. Diapers and midnight feedings and caring for children with stomach flu when sick oneself… These are not the reason people choose to be moms or dads. They may not be liking the job at those moments. And yet how many are actually dissuaded?

Making the Decision

Of course nursing is not for everyone; some people are more sensitive than others in sensory ways as well as emotional ones. Another tech wrote of becoming dizzy twice when assisting with a C-section and then having doubts about becoming a nurse. Another health worker, recalling how a classmate had once panicked during a practice blood draw and botched the procedure, expressed the belief that becoming a nurse might in fact not be a good idea.

Will exposure make everything easier? It’s hard to say. If you’re feeling unsure about whether or not you’ll get used to the difficult parts, you’ll want to get as much exposure as possible before making a big commitment. Often mature nurses adjust more easily to various aspects of nursing than teenagers. They have more experience to tell them what they want as well as what they can handle. Experience as a CNA can give a person an idea about whether they are cut out to be a nurse. Job shadowing and volunteering are also instructive.