Real World Advice for Future Nurses

Interview with Carolyn Bernstein, Graduate of the MSN Program at the Universtiy of California San Francisco

If you're not in healthcare, you probably picture nurses as nurturing, white-capped, Florence Nightingale-esque healers, feeding patients crushed ice and gently injecting them with painkillers. If, however, you've advice for nursesworked in a medical setting, you know the truth. Nurses are often harried, overworked and caught up in a hierarchical system that may or may not provide them with the respect they deserve.

But if you can get past the stress and politics, you might enjoy this challenging and rewarding field. MSN degree holder Carolyn Bernstein offers a no-holds-barred look at becoming a nurse.

GradSchools: Why did you go into nursing?

I thought nursing would combine many of the aspects of medicine, holistic health and social work that I wanted in an education and career.

GradSchools: What's the best and worst thing about being a nurse?

I love working with people around their health - to me one's health, or struggle to regain it, is the foundation of how we operate and function in the world. There is an automatic intimacy in the relationship. I also love the flexibility I have given the range of jobs for nurses out there. I do sometimes struggle with the hierarchical structure that still exists - the "old boys club" that treats nurses secondary to physicians.

GradSchools: What type of person is ideally suited for nursing?

There is no one type of person that should be in nursing since nursing matches many different personalities. The ICU is a great match for the detail oriented, while the ER is the best place for adrenaline junkies. Those with endless compassion will likely fit well in oncology or pediatrics, and there is even a place in research and education for those who don't like patient care. However, nursing might be tough for those who don't want to pay their dues cleaning bedpans or working the graveyard shift.

GradSchools: What was your experience dealing with hierarchical systems in hospitals and medical settings?

It is still alive and well, especially outside major cities. I used to be a little headstrong about asserting myself as a nurse. Now I actually don't mind deferring at times, and not having my judgment being the bottom line. It's an exercise in humility.

GradSchools: What advice would you give prospective graduate nursing students?

Take an anatomy and physiology class, shadow a nurse, talk with a nurse you know about their work, visit a relative in the hospital and watch what nurses do. Then start comparing nursing graduate programs. There's a huge range of MSN programs to match the many different types of nurses. It's important to talk to a bunch of different schools so you can make a choice that's great for you.

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