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Toronto, Ontario - M5V 1R2
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What I Wish I Knew Before I Went Into Nursing

Written by Lauren Marinigh

There’s no question—nursing is a tough career.

Blood. Vomit. All sorts of bodily fluids. And things you never thought you’d see in your lifetime.

Nursing. It’s great isn’t it?

Most people who want to go into nursing because they can overlook all of those things. Things that us regular humans might cringe at.

They have a greater purpose and passion. Nurses want to help people. They want a career that’s rewarding. They don’t care if that means pulling all nighters and being completely overwhelmed with the workload.

Elizabeth Salvati, an Academic Program Technologist in the nursing lab at Georgian College and Victoria Wilson, a recent nursing graduate who has been working for The Hospital for Sick Children for a little over a year, chatted with me to give me the down-low on nursing.

Both nurses had a passion for being able to make an impact and help other people. However, although their passion was evidently there, that doesn’t mean it came easy.

Here is what Victoria and Elizabeth had to say about some of the challenges they had as students, and what they feel is important for people to know before they decide to go into nursing.

What do you feel is important for people to know before pursuing nursing in university?

Elizabeth: “I think it’s important for high school students to know that nursing is one of the most difficult programs to study in university. Not only do you have lecture-based classes with presentations, essays, and tests, you also have multiple labs and clinical placements. It’s much different than most degree programs and requires strong time management and organizational skills.”

Victoria: “It’s important for students to be aware of the potential drop in their grades. It is a different learning style that is not conducive for everyone. I think it’s important to seek out help early in the semester. Maybe from a student a year or two ahead of you, who can work with you to help clarify information on a regular basis. I also think it’s extremely important that people do not solely focus on school and also make time for themselves.”

What do you find people in the nursing program to be most surprised about?

Elizabeth: “I find a lot of students in the nursing program are surprised about what a nursing career is about and everything it entails. Even though they only see a glimpse during their clinical placements, they still seem shocked and often ask: “Am I actually going to be doing that?” Nursing students are given a significant responsibility and although they have an instructor watching them, they are still accountable for every decision they make in the clinical setting. They are working with real patients and real lives. Even though they are students, their decisions still impact the patient’s journey through the healthcare system.”

Victoria: “If I had to choose one thing that I think people in nursing school are most surprised about, I think it might be the impact you can make on patient’s and their families even as a student. Being a student in a placement, you feel as though families might be reluctant to receive care from you (you’re young, you’re inexperienced, and you yourself are extremely nervous). For someone like me, who is actually quite shy, beginning my nursing placements was always a struggle. I had to work really hard to overcome this in order to create a therapeutic relationship with my patients and their families. I think that some of the best experiences, and conversations I have had thus far have been during my placements. Even as a student, you are able to make a difference in the lives of those you assist with care.”

The ultimate candidate—what qualities you need to succeed

So how do you know if nursing is really for you?

What makes the perfect nursing student, other than just a passion to help others? Elizabeth says that it’s important for students to be adaptable and have exceptional time management skills, plus a willingness to change.

Those that can’t take constructive criticism, can’t handle stress, or even can’t handle odours that you never thought you’d smell (haha), definitely will have difficulties, she explained.

Victoria, works with sick children day in and day out.

A job that can have definite highs but also very low lows. She explained how much she depends on having a great support system, mainly consisting of other nurses to get her through those bad days, however there is no doubt that it takes a specific kind of person that is able to handle the stresses and demands of helping sick kids. “The many emotions you feel throughout various shifts, and learning how to cope with them is one of the most challenging things,” Victoria explained.

However, on the flip-side, Victoria explained that the many rewarding aspects of her job make it all worth it. “We work with some of the bravest and most resilient patients and families, and we share in their successes just as much as they do.”

What they weren’t prepared for…

It’s pretty hard to be fully prepared for any program, university is a huge change for anyone. You can expect new challenges, surprises, and you’ll learn a ton about yourself. And sometimes, you won’t really know if something is right for you until you try it.

However, Elizabeth wishes she knew that she would never feel fully prepared for when you lose a patient. And not just the first one.

“Every death is so different and specific to the individual that has passed and each one seems to stay with you forever.” She also mentioned how she wishes she knew what it actually meant to be a nurse—which went well beyond head-to-toe assessments and wound care.

“We take on many roles that are sometimes unexpected.” “One thing I wish I knew was that I would meet amazing people who make a huge difference in my life,” Victoria shared. The role of a nurse is to provide care for patients and their families and leave a lasting, positive influence on them.

However, what Victoria didn’t expect was how much of an impact patients and families would leave on her. “I never knew that I could be touched so deeply by people who were once complete strangers.”

Nursing can be an incredibly rewarding career.

However, it takes a person that is passionate about helping others. And also passionate about what it is they’re studying.

Elizabeth and Victoria are happy to share their stories of the highs and lows.

But at the end of the day, it all comes down to them being passionate and hardworking enough to get through those highs and lows of studying and working in a field they loved.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.