A great nurse patient relationship is the true reward.

Rewards Vs. Challenges: Nursing Edition

By Krystle Maynard, DNP, MSN, RN, SANE-A

Nurse and elderly patient having a laugh together.

If you were to ask what was the most challenging and rewarding career path, the answer would be a no-brainer: Nursing. As the top trusted profession for many years now, nurses went into healthcare because it is so rewarding to help others. However, one of the biggest challenges faced by nurses everywhere is burnout. Work-related stress, combined with all of the other challenges nurses encounter, it can get to be too much, therefore impacting the mental health of nurses everywhere. 

Top Rewards in Nursing

Nurses save lives. At the end of the day, THAT is why nurses do what they do. Nurses endure brutal nursing programs, endless hours of studying, and thousands of hours developing their knowledge and skills to help people. Nurses are present during the beginning and ending stages of life and everything in between. They are with patients more than any other medical provider, so they know the subtle changes that can be the beginning signs of something life-altering that’s about to occur. When nurses catch those signs and intervene, they are helping to save a life. The time spent working with patients to help them get better and then watching even the most minor improvements, all of it, is rewarding. When asking a few nurses what their most significant rewards were in nursing, the following statements say it best:

“Feeling like you did your best to make a positive difference in someone’s life.” —Jessica Cox, MSN, APRN

“Sending a patient home (or to the floor) who fought hard to stay alive in the ICU.” —Amira Martin, BSN, RN

Top Challenges in Nursing

We understand that nothing in life is without challenges. We often celebrate when people can overcome challenges like it’s a contest. Nursing is a little different, though, because the daily challenges generally fall under the same five umbrellas, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel for them. Not without organizational change. 

Inadequate Staffing

For years, the American Nurses Association (ANA) has fought for safe staffing ratios, and sadly, their efforts have not always been successful. The narrative remains that when nurses are staffed appropriately, fewer patients die, their hospital stays are reduced, and more medical errors and events are prevented. 

The impacts of inadequate staffing ratios are numerous. Medications are delayed, documentation suffers, tasks go unfinished, and patient needs aren’t always addressed thoroughly. Nurses are expected to complete an impossible amount of work with fewer people, fewer resources, and less help. Everything from the patients to the nurses themselves suffer; even the organization suffers (it’s just not as easy to see from the public eye). 

A nurse with burnout collapses in the corridor for a quick breather.

Long Work Hours

Most nurses work 12-hour shifts, and though there are some perks, there are equally downfalls. For starters, 12 hours is never really just 12 hours. Shifts often end up being 13 to 14 hours long. That is a long day to be on your feet with little to no break and possibly inadequate food or hydration. All of this can build up to job fatigue, weaker job performance, and the need for more recovery time outside of work. 

Inadequate Pay

Nurses are not paid enough for all the responsibilities they have to cover during each shift. Many think that nurses are paid very well, but that is simply not the case. Nurses are responsible for human lives and have an unnatural number of tasks to complete during each shift. There are not enough hours in the day for nurses to safely and successfully manage everything they are expected to achieve. Nurses deserve triple their current pay. 

Lack of Boundaries/Self-care

Nurses are some of the most selfless individuals, and while some may consider this a positive trait, others can understand how it might contribute to the onset of burnout in nursing. Nurses go into healthcare to help people, and they do a fantastic job at helping others. Often, their need to help others will overshadow their ability to practice self-care. They know they must eat right, drink plenty of water, get adequate sleep, develop hobbies, etc. But when they are at work, and a patient, coworker, or administrator needs something, nurses quickly put their lunch down, push back their break, ignore their growling stomach, skip a bathroom break, etc. These actions are never done to ignore oneself, they are done to help others, but at the expense of themselves. 

Nursing Burnout

Nurses are humans, too, and when all of the work-related stress, mental exhaustion, and overwhelm sets in, burnout becomes a real challenge. Creating a healthy work environment would be one step in the right direction to combat burnout in nurses. 

Did you know there is a Bill of Rights for nurses? With what we know about healthcare and the environments nurses are forced to work in daily, organizations would benefit from studying those rights for nurses. 

Nursing is rewarding. 
Nurse and little girl exchange a high five before she is released.

Final Thoughts

There are rewards and challenges in any occupation, though nursing is in a category all on its own because we are responsible for human lives. Witnessing life being born and die can be bittersweet, depending on the circumstance. But having a hand in helping save a life, helping someone recover, watching someone who was given a poor outcome walk out of the hospital alive and well … these are all rewards that nurses experience daily. The challenges are heavy, therefore pushing more and more nurses out of healthcare and away from the bedside. We hope that healthcare leaders and organizations wake up before it’s too late. 

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