Ask a Nurse: Given the Pandemic, Is Becoming a Nurse Worth It?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated July 10, 2023
    New nurses question if becoming a nurse during the pandemic is worth the time and effort. Here's the advice our experienced nurse has to offer.
    Featured ImageCredit: Fly View Productions / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: I currently have an LPN license and I passed the NCLEX on my first try, but I am having the same anxiety and reservations I had prior to thinking about entering that program. How were you able to get out of your head and just take the next steps and have faith in yourself? Do you think it is worth it with what all is happening currently? Thanks.

    First, congratulations on passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) on your first try! The feelings you are experiencing are not uncommon to new nurses.

    We’re interpreting your reference to “with what all is happening currently” to mean the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the circumstances from the pandemic, such as the postpandemic nursing shortage, have placed an additional burden on healthcare workers, hospital systems, and the global economy.

    The added patient load on some units has also increased the strain caused by the nursing shortage before the pandemic. This impacts working conditions for all healthcare professionals. Yet, while this time in history has created unique challenges, they are not insurmountable.

    Many new nurses also struggle with building confidence as a new nurse, getting out of their heads, and taking the next steps no matter the historical circumstances. In other words, the pandemic has little to do with feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and struggling to have faith in yourself.

    When you consider that your job in the hospital, outpatient clinic, or doctor’s office means that patients are placing their lives in your hands, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.

    In all likelihood, you also experienced the chaos and difficulties of clinicals. Many nursing students endure unkind remarks from staff, waste hours waiting for others, and feel unsure of themselves. These experiences can lead to new nurses having reservations about the profession and feeling they aren’t good enough to be a nurse.

    But it’s also important to realize that you’ve graduated from a challenging program and passed your licensure examination. You’ve already proven that you have what it takes to be a nurse.

    Seasoned nurses will also tell you to draw strength from your past challenging experiences which you successfully overcame. You learned how to develop strategies to pass your classes and nursing clinicals. These are valuable lessons that will help when you feel overwhelmed and discouraged on your first job.

    What Is the Reality of Nursing Right Now?

    There is no easy answer to describe nursing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reality is that it is different for everyone, and your experience will depend on many factors.

    Your development as a new nurse will be filtered through your past personal experiences and those in the nursing program. Each of these situations can build resilience to help you manage stress as a nurse and face future challenges.

    As you are experiencing some hesitations about the profession, it’s helpful to remember the reasons you chose a career in nursing. For example, most nurses were drawn to the profession because they enjoy helping and teaching others, or they like science. There is always an opportunity to learn, grow, and advance your career. If this pandemic has made one thing clear, healthcare is constantly changing and advancing.

    Nursing offers you:

    • A stable income
    • The chance to have a flexible schedule
    • A good salary
    • A sense of purpose in your work

    Only the last benefit can help offset the stress of working long hours with sick patients. It’s also important for new nurses to practice self-care for nurses as they care for their patients.

    Burnout and the Nursing Shortage

    Nursing is not all stress and burnout when you develop ways to avoid it. A review of the literature found that while burnout is a consequence of nursing it can be positively affected by coping strategies and resources. Nursing may increase the risk of burnout, but with the right support and practices, you don’t have to experience it.

    Taking care of yourself and being present in the moment are two crucial methods of preventing burnout. Evidence suggests that burnout can be avoided when nurses use individual, group, and organizational actions. For instance, some nurse leaders are supporting nurses’ mental health during COVID-19. Tips to avoid nurse burnout include:

    • checkYoga
    • checkCognitive coping strategies
    • checkCompassion fatigue programs
    • checkMeditation
    • checkWeb-based stress management programs
    • checkPsychological empowerment programs
    • checkResilience training programs
    • checkHumor
    • checkPsychological training
    • checkHealthy lifestyle choices
    • checkExercise
    • checkAdequate sleep

    The growing U.S. nursing shortage has had a significant impact on nursing care, especially in certain parts of the country. According to one survey, the most severe shortages appear to be in states with high numbers of senior adults or with greater rural areas. These include:

    • California
    • Texas
    • New Jersey
    • South Carolina
    • Alaska
    • Georgia
    • South Dakota
    • Montana
    • North Dakota
    • New Hampshire

    There are statewide initiatives to address the shortages in the U.S. But, until those shortages are corrected, you can take steps to deal with limited staffing resources where you work.

    It’s important to remember that your first day as a nurse and the first months will be chaotic and scary as a new nurse. Over time, and with experience, it gets easier. You build skills that can develop when working as a nurse.

    The Importance of Nursing Relationships and Advocacy

    During the first months of orientation, you will have a preceptor. This is an experienced nurse who will help you learn the specifics of working on the unit. Consider seeking a nursing mentor. This is a seasoned nurse who can provide guidance and support the development of your nursing skills. The importance of mentorship in nursing includes mutually beneficial relationships that last far longer than your orientation. The overall goal of the mentor is to teach, coach, and inspire a new nurse.

    Nurses also have a voice in how staffing resources are used. Working together with hospital administration increases your sense of control and helps reduce your risk of nurse burnout. By taking action to help reduce staffing stress, such as advocating for more mental health days for nurses, you can help reduce your own stress.

    Work with staff and administration to develop greater flexibility in scheduling. Other options include rewarding mentors and preceptors for their work with new nurses and suggesting improved nurse benefits to attract new nurses and retain experienced staff.

    How to Build Confidence as a New Nurse

    During your first year as a new nurse, it’s essential to focus on building your confidence. Those initial weeks and months are full of reservations and anxiety for nearly every new nurse. The goal is to get past the uncertainty by taking purposeful steps to grow and develop. One of those steps is managing your expectations.

    During clinicals, you worked with experienced nurses who effortlessly managed confusing conditions. You will not reach that level of expertise for some months. So, you mustn’t beat yourself up for every misstep or seemingly unnecessary question.

    1. In nursing, the only wrong question is the question you didn’t ask

    Asking questions is part of the learning process. Every nurse on the unit recognizes that you must ask questions if they expect you to work seamlessly with their team. However, it’s key to find the right time to ask questions.

    Write your questions down in the middle of an emergency and ask them later. Try to spend lunch with your preceptor 2-3 times a week so you have the opportunity to understand the expectations of your team.

    2. Communication is key to your learning and professional growth

    Communication helps build soft skills for nurses such as lasting relationships with your colleagues, conflict resolution, and efficient teamwork. Each of these benefits is crucial to a solid nursing team. This can also promote quality patient care and better outcomes.

    3. Finally, it’s important not to take comments and criticism too personally

    It’s easy to understand your stress and anxiety over a new job. However, it’s important to remember that no matter how experienced a nurse may be, there are days when they can also be stressed. You don’t know if they had a fight with their partner this morning or if their child is flunking out of school.

    Whatever the reason, try not to take every comment and critique as a personal assault. Listen to the constructive criticism and filter out the remaining comments that may have nothing to do with you.

    Ground Yourself in the Pros of Nursing

    At the end of each day, it’s helpful to remind yourself of the benefits of pursuing a career in nursing. This helps lessen the stress from the day and builds a more positive mindset for your time off.

    Here are some of the advantages of nursing. You should add on to this list to create a personalized approach to your positive outlook.

    • checkReliable job
    • checkFlexible schedule
    • checkCan work anywhere in the country or abroad as an international travel nurse (if you know the language)
    • checkCan have a travel nurse career and work for up to six months in one location
    • checkGreat pay
    • checkGood benefits
    • checkHave a positive impact on people
    • checkHigh demand
    • checkGood earning potential
    • checkCareer advancement
    • checkEducational opportunities
    • checkCan work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, correctional facilities, recreational centers, and more
    • checkTrusted profession
    • checkEasy wardrobe and comfortable shoes
    • checkExercise by walking throughout the day
    • checkDiverse opportunities

    To Stay Grounded, Avoid Doomscrolling and Negative Narratives

    Social media platforms seem to attract either highly positive or highly negative posts. It is very easy to start venting on social media after a hard day at work. It’s not long before others are chiming in about how overworked and underappreciated they feel. Suddenly, everything you’re reading is negative.

    As a new nurse, it’s important to recognize there is a balance in any career. There will always be people who don’t like their job and want to quit. The negative comments always seem to attract more negative comments.

    Instead of relying on these negative narratives to shape your expectations for nursing, talk with people you know. Ask what they like or dislike about their job.

    While the struggles nurses are facing right now are very real, you will likely find more nurses who enjoy being in the business of saving lives than those who don’t. A NurseJournal survey revealed that favorable public perceptions of the nursing profession and interest in healthcare careers have increased during the pandemic.

    Remember: Nurses Are Humans, Not Heroes

    During the pandemic, many have characterized nurses as heroes fighting on the front line of an infectious battlefield. However, this mindset can lead to problems.

    When new nurses believe they must be a hero, it is intimidating. It may result in imposter syndrome or a sacrifice of self-compassion. Imposter syndrome means you doubt your abilities and feel like a fraud. It can also feel like you aren’t doing enough, even when you’re doing your best.

    Most new nurses already doubt their ability without the added stress of living up to a “hero” status. Feeling incapable of living up to expectations may reduce your ability to learn new skills efficiently. It can also lead to burnout as you seek to overcome feelings of being a fraud by using all your energy to maintain a perfect front.

    You may have heard that nurses are saving lives every day. Yet, if you recall from your clinical experiences, these life-changing events were not daily. Instead, your comforting presence and listening ear are often enough to make a real difference in your patients’ lives. These actions don’t require superhuman abilities but rather the compassion that nurses around the globe have been practicing for centuries.

    It can be difficult to overlook the hospital TV show and adjust your expectations. While you do change people’s lives every day, you may do it in a way that you may not have considered.

    It’s OK to Make Mistakes as a Nurse

    Some new graduates are scared to make a mistake at work. It’s not like making a mistake at most other jobs because you take care of people’s health and wellness.

    However, it’s no secret that humans make mistakes. Nursing mistakes are more challenging because one mistake can impact someone’s life. You can take steps after an error that help you recover, develop strategies to reduce the likelihood of another mistake, and continue to practice.

    It’s important to own up to your mistake so you and your colleagues can focus on the next best steps for the patient and the unit. Nurses must place the safety of their patients above their pride.

    Reflect on the error, and give yourself permission to be human. But don’t dwell over the mistake and on criticizing yourself. This can lead to greater mistakes or leaving your profession.

    It is also important to be open about what happened to help foster an open culture in your unit. Nurses need to work through what went wrong, how it happened, and how to fix it.

    Fear of speaking up and embarrassment can lead to poor reporting and poor patient outcomes. If the mistake is part of a system failure, then it will continue to happen until it’s identified and fixed.

    It’s normal to feel bad after making a misstep. Try to learn from it and then be kind to yourself. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of moving forward and growing in your career.

    In Summary:

    • The challenge of getting out of your head and taking the next steps as a new graduate is common to all nurses, no matter what time in history. Many new nurses feel overwhelmed, anxious, and struggle to have faith in themselves.
    • Nursing during the pandemic is not all stress and burnout. Your actions can positively affect your coping strategies and reduce your risk of experiencing burnout.
    • Nurses have a voice in staffing resources; consider working with the administration to develop greater flexibility in the structure and scheduling.
    • Manage your expectations, ask questions, communicate with your preceptor, and remember not to take every comment personally.
    • Remember that nurses are humans and not heroes. Trying to live up to a hero status can raise your doubts and stress, possibly leading to burnout and imposter syndrome.
    • Every nurse makes mistakes. It’s important to own up to your mistake, learn from it, and be kind to yourself.

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.