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What do you find the hardest part of being a nurse? Why are you working in this hospital/location? How do you handle the stress of the job? What is your greatest skill as a nurse? How do you handle patients who are rude?

I am a ninth grade student and looking forward to pursue a nursing career when I get into college. I am compassionate.

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Suzanne’s Answer

Hi Kate,

My name is Sue and I am a retired oncology nurse. I worked with very sick people for over 30 years in many settings: the hospital, clinic, clinical trials units, private doctor's officers, and their homes. I hope I can answer your questions.

1. What is the hardest part of being a nurse? For me, it was knowing that people's lives were in my hands and that if I made an error, it could cause harm or death. So I took nursing as a huge responsibility. I checked and double checked my nursing actions. I studied. I tried to keep up with the most recent information. I would review every doctor's order and ask questions if needed. I never took my role to be "just a job" but rather a profession with the highest meaning; helping others.

2. Why did I work in any particular hospital/location? I started in an extremely large inner city hospital as there were no other jobs! Sometimes, our locations will depend on many factors. I went on to work in specialty cancer centers (City of Hope) as I had become very specialized in my practice.

3. How did I handle the stress of the job? Sometimes, by talking about it. By exercising. Sometimes, but quite honestly, burning out. If I had a good nursing manager, that was helpful. But sadly, good managers are hard to come by. Because of the nature of oncology nursing, I found the best stress release was talking with my peers as they understood the day-to-day pressures the best.

4. What is my greatest skill? A rapid patient assessment. By checking vital signs, touching someone's skin, listening to them speak and watching their movement, I was expert in detecting changes from their baseline status and either improvements or worsening conditions. The doctors were often amazed as I would give them a heads up as when a patient was in trouble and needed emergent intervention. Nursing involves looking at the whole person, not just a scan or a lab test. I became very good at this, but then again in my practice I cared for thousands of people. It was a skill that I learned in nursing school and it improved with practice.

5. How did I handle patients who were rude? In retrospect, this only happened on a few occasions. It is very hard to not get defensive when someone is either yelling or demanding. I was deeply human and honest with my patients. So if someone was rude, most likely I became either hurt or angry in response. I would always accept responsibility for my actions though and talk things through with the patients. For the most part, being honestly myself, caring and compassionate prevented situations that would result in rudeness.

I commend you on asking these questions and setting early goals for yourself. Nursing is a fabulous career. I hope you continue to pursue this dream!


Thank you! Kate B.