What Does It Take to Be a Nurse?

I look forward to coming home and spending precious time with family. Life is short and in the end, these precious moments are all that matter. During a recent family dinner back home, the conversation turned to my niece-a bright college student who currently works as a pharmacy assistant. I asked her what her career goals were and she mentioned that she wants to be a neonatal nurse like her aunt (gush), but doesn’t know if she can handle the blood. My first reaction came as a moment of melting pride followed by an instant shift to nurse recruiter. Here is a bit of what I would say to her as well as anyone else considering this most noble profession. What exactly does it take to be a nurse??

Willingness to Learn

Studying nursing is serious. It is not a study to just pass a test or get by. It is a study of the human body, how it functions, and how to support it when it no longer can function on its own.   It is a study of caring for the whole individual, mind, body, and spirit. The seriousness of understanding and retaining what is taught in school can not be understated. Take every class seriously and pay attention. Ask until you understand. This form of thinking will continue throughout your career as care is constantly evolving.

Ability to Adapt

The nursing profession is constantly evolving. Medicine is constantly evolving. It is essential to be able to change with it. In addition, it is important to be able to multitask and be prepared for the unexpected. While every hospital and its respective unit has routines, no two shifts are alike. One shift can be smooth sailing while the other can feel as if a hurricane blew through.

Sense of Humor

Do not take yourself too seriously. Do not take others too seriously. Laugh at the silly mistakes you will make along the way. We all have made one or two.

Tough Skin

Your skin will thicken beginning with your first interaction with a challenging coworker or patient. It may be that stern, unbending nurse that everyone warned you about. Perhaps it is a challenging patient. Try to view these individuals as a challenge for your growth as a nurse. These are the individuals that will teach you to be strong, a quality that will follow you in life.

Strong Stomach?

Being afraid of needles yourself is not a reason to dismiss nursing as a career. I still sweat and ask for a 24 gauge needle when having blood drawn, but have no problem sticking a patient. If seeing bones twisted in every unnatural position or lacerations the size of a crater make you cringe, you don’t have to be a trauma nurse. There are so many different specialties in the nursing profession that you can work in an area where you hardly see blood.


Be humble enough to know that you do not know everything. Be teachable. Be open to new ideas. If you always have to be right, nursing perhaps is not for you.


Empathy is a word often associated with nursing. This is perhaps the most essential element of nursing. Empathy and compassion are something that every nurse-to-be must have or learn. They can both be cultivated with practice. Before entering a room, imagine each patient as your friend or family member. Imagine yourself as the patient. How would you feel if you were hospitalized instead of home?

All of the aforementioned qualities are those that can be cultivated with time and experience. They are obviously not prerequisites to the profession, simply observations of one nurse. As the nursing shortage grows, choosing the profession will give you job security and flexibility. You will find your way, your niche. You will be joining one of the most highly respected professions and find yourself growing in ways you never imagined.

Lori is an American nurse and yogini living in Gothenburg, Sweden. She contributes regularly to Mighty Nurse, AWHONN, American Nurse Today, and has been featured in The Huffington Post. Follow her adventures through her blog, Neonurse, or on Instagram.


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