So You Want To Be a Nurse When You Grow Up?

So You Want To Be a Nurse When You Grow Up?

You're interested in becoming a nurse. How do you get into the field? First of all, you need to assess your basic interest. Why do you want to get into nursing? Are you getting ready to graduate from high school and always wanted to be a nurse? Do you want to go into nursing, because a relative is in the profession or your family has a tradition of graduating nurses, and it seems like the right thing to do? Nursing seems like a nice secure profession-the pay attracts you? You've always liked helping others and you care a lot?

Have you worked in another career field and want a change for various reasons? Does the "nursing shortage" make you feel like you need to be a part of the "gold rush," because you have read and heard about all of the wonderful sign on bonuses? Thorough research still needs to be done, before the decision is made to embark upon a nursing career.

There are many resources which provide information on getting into nursing school, studying for and passing boards, getting into new graduate employment programs, summer exploratory programs, etc. But for traditional nursing work (bedside nursing) in a hospital or long term care facility (traditionally known as a nursing home), it really would do some good if you had a reality TV type experience. Reading books and articles exclusively, won't prepare you for what the profession is like.

During my first nursing clinical rotation, I knew instantly that I didn't like hospital nursing. However, I loved research, collecting data, writing papers, and so forth. Since I had a science background and had worked in various laboratory settings (e.g., a dairy plant testing milk to biotechnology company testing, human sera, a county environmental health lab testing water sample on a mass spectrophotometer, a food plant testing spaghetti sauce), going into nursing research seemed like a natural progression. The rude awakening: No one ever told me about the 5-6 years of med-surg hospital experience needed, before an employer would even look at me. It was not anyone else's responsibility to tell me this. Clearly, the lesson is to do all of your homework.

After graduating from nursing school, I combed the Internet, help wanted ads, journals, and even enlisted a network of friends to be on the lookout for any nurse research employment opportunities. Positions in nursing research were scarce. My diverse science background, along with my Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Rochester, weren't a powerful enough combination to hurry me into the interviewing seat. Hence, I never landed an interviewing spot for any nursing research positions.

There are simple, invaluable, economically efficient ways to thoroughly research nursing as a profession. Of course, nothing can substitute for the actual on the job experience. But you are not there yet, and you want to investigate to see if you want to get there. Here a few suggestions to include on your career research things to do list: (1) utilize the Internet to the fullest, (2) use the services of your ISP (Internet Service Provider) such as AOL, MSN, etc., (2) make contact with potential employers in your area, (3) try volunteering, (4) and find student mentors at your local college and university. Start with an open mind before you use any of these resources.

Many prospective students have their specialty title etched in stone. "I want to go into pediatric nursing, because I love children." "I want to work in trauma." Moreover, they don't want to discuss or research anything else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a vision of which practice area you'd like to specialize in, but it is a good idea to keep the door open for other possibilities. The turn over can be high and many nurses change specialty areas for various reasons, from burnout, boredom, needing a change of pace, advancement reasons, to unforeseen circumstances. The good thing about changing specialty areas is your skills are transferable.

Utilizing the Internet yields a wealth of information. There are many contacts to be made on the Internet. Let's hypothesize, for reference purposes, CRNA (Certified Nurse Anesthetist) will be used as an example specialty area, and hypothetically, you are interested in becoming a CRNA. Keep in mind you have already researched nursing schools, salary ranges, employment outlook, and in addition to becoming a registered nurse you're aware of the advanced degree requirement. This part of your research has already been done.

There are many organizations where you can make email contact, or get other contact information from nurse professionals who are retired CRNAs, or those who currently work in the field. Go to to do a search. Try Google's advanced search feature and type in keywords "email" and "CRNA" without quotes, on the first line.

Your first 100 search results will include some email addresses for people who are actually CRNAs. You will find some with university addresses, who may be professors or alumni, company addresses of CRNAs who are employees, and personal email addresses. Select a CRNA's email address from these four different areas: (1) university employed, (2) hospital employed, (3) military employed, (4) and other areas, such as a physician practice group. To narrow your search you may type in "email" & "CRNA" or "military" or "physician practice group" or "retired."

Click on the web page links to view email addresses listed. Send each nurse professional a simple introductory email, about your interest in the profession and ask them three open ended questions: (1)"What are some of the things I should consider before deciding to go to nursing school to become a CRNA?" (2)"What is your outlook on the future of CRNAs?" (3) "What are the positive and negative aspects of working as a CRNA?" Nurses are a kind body of professionals and most won't mind that you took the time to contact them. It is always a good idea to get feedback from someone who is currently in the field (new graduate and seasoned professional), as well as retirees. Your email should be composed of a very brief note. Don't forget to thank them for their responses.

Another place to locate a CRNA is the AOL people directory, provided you are an AOL subscriber. On your navigational tool bar, just click on "People”, then "Member Directory." Next, on the first text field line, type in “CRNA” and you will find hundreds of CRNAs who are already in your own backyard. If you are not an AOL subscriber, check to see if your ISP has a searchable membership directory and find other members in a similar fashion. Send a member or two the same introductory note mentioned earlier. This may be time consuming, but going through nursing school and getting an advanced degree, only to find it is not for you, is both equally cost and time consuming. So save yourself some time, money, and peace of mind. Becoming a CRNA is an investment.

Nursing associations, in which your specialty area is affiliated with, usually function on a national and local level. Here are two examples: on the national level, American Association of Nurse Anesthetists,, and on the local level, Alabama Association of Nurse Anesthetists, http://www.ala-

It's important to note, these are not the only CRNA focused nursing associations, they are merely cited here as examples. Study their respective websites and contact them to see if you can attend their next meeting. Tell them a little about yourself and interests in the profession, and that you'd be interested in sitting in on a meeting or attending an upcoming event, as a guest. The national associations have local affiliates, so find out where the nearest affiliate is and give them a call or send email. The worst they can say is "No." If you don't receive a favorable response, try another organization, even if you aren't interested in the specialty area. Remember the idea is to gain some experience, and more knowledge about the profession of nursing.

If you get to attend one of the organization's meetings or functions, you will surely meet nurses who have changed specialty areas at some point in their career. Therefore, interacting and mingling will benefit you greatly. If you were interested in another specialty area, here is an ANA (American Nurses Association) link to Nursing Organizations:

Online nurse focused discussion forums are another place worth investing some time in. You can ask the same open ended questions mentioned earlier. Or you can read message threads of those who have already asked similar questions about getting into nursing. Remember, you don't have to be a nurse to read or participate in most forums. Also, you may run across some discussions from disgruntled message posters, but don't let this discourage you, this is another person's experience. You are not in their situation. You don't have all of the facts. For all you know, the person may not even be a nurse. Be objective when you read the posts in the nursing forums. A good place to start is All Nurses website,, since it has one of the largest number of participants in nursing forums.

Contact your local hospitals and other employers that hire nurses, and ask to speak with the human resources or personnel manager. The manager will be able to provide you with information on nursing and may be able to connect you with one of their employees who would speak with you about the profession.

The last task you need to complete is to try to volunteer at a hospital or nursing home. You don't have to commit to a lifetime of volunteering; many organizations need volunteers to sit with patients or residents as companions. Volunteering in the mail department of any facility won't help, so concentrate your efforts on volunteering in a patient care setting, and then you can have a direct visual of the nurse-patient interaction. This experience will be invaluable for you.

Now, if you have a busy schedule and you're saying, "I don't have time to volunteer," there's another alternative for you. Contact your local community college and college or university's school of nursing. You can ask them to put you in contact with a first & second year student at the community college and a freshman and senior student and the college or university. Spend a day with them in school. Due to liability issues, you probably won't be able to go on the clinical rotations with the senior student, but that student can inform you of what can be expected and you can attend a class or few for the day. Find out how many courses the student is enrolled in and how much time is spent on studies. Remember, this will vary with each student and educational institution.

All of this data and experience should be collected and completed at least six months to a year before you decide to apply to nursing school. The Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) title was used merely as an example and any aspect of this career research can be applied to any person seeking information on how to career research for becoming a nurse and wishing to practice in any specialty area. Before you actually start applying to schools and taking entrance exams, as you can see there are many ways to do your research on nursing as a profession. In addition to researching schools, reading career books, taking aptitude tests, talking to family and friends in the profession; these combined reality experiences will help you to become better informed and prepared for the decision you will make. Best wishes with your nursing career.   

By Pat Wooten, RN, BSN