How to Become a Nurse

I don’t like people, can I be a nurse?

You will be dealing with the public and a good trait for the occupation of nursing would be to “like people” but not a total deal breaker.

I had a student once who came to me for advice after her first quarter of nursing school and told me she was going to quit nursing school….her reason: “she had decided that she really didn’t like people or being around people.” On the surface this sounds like a pretty good reason to leave nursing.

After talking with her further, it came out that she had just broke up with a very long term boyfriend and was still grieving the loss. She pretty much not only hated people in general…but hated life in general. She had spent a lot of time doing all the pre-requisite courses and had finished her first quarter successfully. She needed some time to heal  before making the decision to quit.

In the mean time I talked with her about all of the available jobs to nurses that did not involve people. There are plenty of insurance companies who would love to hire you to work in a back cubicle reviewing charts and claims all day long and doing case management work. I talked to her about the opportunities in research and working behind a mask in the operating room or doing chart audits in your own office.  After reassuring her that jobs were available that did not involve a lot of people contact she made the decision to stick around.

The good news, with time came some healing and by graduation she realized that she really did like to work with people and avoided the insurance job working in the cubicle. I bring this story up to demonstrate a point. No matter what your personality…..there is a job for you in nursing! True, the ability and nature of liking people makes you a more likely candidate to enjoy the field of nursing but it is not a deal breaker if you don’t.

How to Become a Nurse

I have a past, which involves the law; can I still be a nurse?

This can be a deal buster. A record that included “rustling cattle” is a deal buster in our state.  What the state will or will not allow varies from state to state. If you are a registered sex offender, this is most always a deal buster. Most schools will require a background check, which will turn up any convictions you have on file. If you manage to get around the check for the school … may not get by the check that the state does before issuing your license after you have gone through all the schooling and are ready for licensure.

Word to the wise, if you have a past conviction, before applying to nursing school check with your local state board of nursing to see if you will be allowed to hold a license in your state. Use the state list I provide you in the bonus section to find the phone number and web site to contact your state.

A sad story. A student who had an incident during his last year of nursing school which he kept from everyone. He thought he was safe because he had passed the initial background check. When he went to apply for his license from the state, his offense came up and he was disallowed from holding an RN license. He said he agreed to a plea bargain for a guilty verdict.  He said if he had known he would have pleaded not guilty and fought the accusation.

The state has the responsibility to protect the public. Many of the individuals that nurses care for are vulnerable, incapable of protecting themselves and need advocates on a state level to protect them. So the state has created a list of offenses that they deem may pose a threat to those individuals. You would be surprised as to what is allowed by many states… on the safe side….if you have something in your past….research to make sure it is not a “ deal breaker”…before you start taking your pre-requisites.

Nursing is seen as a very ethical profession. For the 11th year running it was named by Gallup Poll as leading all others as “MOST ETHICAL “. The public viewed nurses as the most honest and ethical, with military officers 2nd and pharmacists 3rd, at the bottom of the list were car salespeople, lobbyist and members of congress. The only break in this 11 year run was in 2001 when firemen beat out nurses after 9-11. The public has set the bar high for nurses. They TRUST you.

Years ago I was setting up a display at an information session for H.S. seniors advertising our school of nursing. I was approached by someone setting up their display from a different private university in the same state. She immediately started telling me her very sad story involving her health and personal problems related to her illness. Total stranger, yet she trusted me (a nurse) to keep her problems in confidence and she trusted that I could help her and comfort her in some way. This is the trust she had in the profession of nursing, not in me the stranger.

Most public schools have an open-door policy in regard to criminal records, so technically the nursing program cannot refuse admittance based on this criteria. But if you push this open admission policy, you may go through the entire nursing program and then be ineligible to receive an RN license based on your states criteria.

Another dilemma that may exist: Your criminal offense will be allowed by the state for license but the clinical sites used by the college/ nursing program have a stricter list of qualifications and will not hire or allow students with certain criminal background to take care of patients at their facility.  So, you will not be eligible for placement for clinical experience and therefore will fail your classes for incompletion of work. When in doubt, be upfront with a nursing advisor, so she can assist you in your decision to pursue nursing before you have completed all of your pre-requisites and then are faced with this dilemma?

Because of this image and because of the vulnerable that nurse’s care for, the public and regulatory government will continue to hold nurses to a higher standard of behavior than those who run for government office.

Do I have to be physically strong to be a nurse?

I do not know of a program that requires a physical performance test, like firemen or police candidates have to go through. You will NOT be asked to perform 50 push-ups or 10 pull-ups. A rare program may require a physical exam. What you will probably be asked to do is sign a document or a statement that says you have read and understand the requirements.

What are those requirements? Many times nursing programs will take the requirements from their clinical sites. Clinical sites are those sites the program visits for training of their students. These may vary, so the strictest guidelines will be used.

What might the guidelines look like? The Candidate must possess the physical abilities to generally function and be able to execute movements required to provide care to patients in the health care setting:

  • Able to balance: Maintain body equilibrium to prevent falling when walking, stooping, standing and in other conditions.
  • Reach: Extend hand and arm in all directions
  • Walk: move by foot to accomplish job, may include long distance
  • Stand: May include sustained periods
  • Bending/ crouching : frequent stooping may be needed
  • Pushing & Pulling
  • Lifting: raising objects/patients from a lower to a higher position or horizontally.  50#’s
  • Kneeling/crawling
  • Fingering: picking, pinching, typing and working with fingers
  • Physical stamina: energy to carry out duties
  • Senses: able to gather information with all senses- especially:
    • eyesight: from afar and capable of close visual inspection
    • hearing : able to understand conversation and gather auditory information: i.e.: patient voice, heart tones, bowel and lung sounds
    • Other requirements may include items other than physical requirements: mental competencies. Statements may be included to keep those that are mentally unstable and mentally incapable of performing as a nurse at a distance to protect patients. These statements may include items like:
      • Adaptability to: situations, accepting responsibilities, direction, control, planning, feelings, ideas, dealing with people, evaluations, decisions, giving and receiving directions, perform under stress, set limits, tolerance, perform variety of duties, empathy, ambiguity, critically think, synthesize, effective communication oral and written,  effective relationships, changing tasks.

So how strict are these guidelines and if I have an old football injury from high school which keeps me from kneeling for long periods of time will “I be ok?”  “I am on anti-depressants.” Will disclosure keep me from being nurse? This leads to the next question below.

I have a physical disability can I be a nurse?

You will not be asked to be tested in the above requirements. Although, I recently saw a 4’ 8” 75 pound nurse’s aide candidate be asked to demonstrate her ability to lift 50 #’s and transfer a client unassisted at a Long Term Care Facility (LTC). She was unable to perform the task. She was told that she would not be hired by the LTC but, she may be eligible for other places of work like: assisted care where lifting would not be an issue. The facility was trying to keep patients and the worker safe. With the cost of workmen’s comp insurance premium rates rising, the facility wants no one getting injured. Better to identify potential problems ahead of time before a claim occurs, and an employee becomes permanently disabled.

My admissions committee has allowed a candidate with only 3 fingers on one hand after he demonstrated he could handle a syringe and perform other tasks a nurse would be asked to do. Candidates with hearing difficulties have been evaluated and allowed in to the nursing program with adaptive equipment purchased (electronic amplified stethoscope) for assistance.

Best judge, may be you. Job shadow a nurse to see what exactly the job entails and honestly ask yourself if your old football injury would keep you from performing the job? Some areas of the hospital do afford an easier physical load. While I was 8-9 months pregnant I opted to work in the psychiatric floor. This area was much easier physically, skills needed here were all verbal, and I still had those.  Keep in mind you will have to perform at multiple clinical sites while in school and will not have the option of picking the “easier” less physically demanding floor.

The college may have a very open policy which may include almost all disabilities. The disability services department at your college provides accommodation. Many of these services will not apply to the nursing school. Deaf and blind services might be available by the school but, not the nursing dept. /program. The nursing department is only required to provide reasonable accommodations. Emphasis is on the word: reasonable. The program is not required to make modifications that would alter the nature or requirements of the program or provide an undue burden at the college or its clinical sites (this means money).There are a few programs in the country who do allow access to their nursing programs for blind and deaf students. The jobs open to this candidate would be limited.

I have students who have struggled with test taking anxiety, I have advised them to go to disability services to receive accommodations for extended test taking time in a quiet environment. This accommodation has helped their performance tremendously. Be aware, some colleges will not cover the cost of testing or exams to show/document a disability and these can be pricey. You may have a personal physician who knows you and can sign off for your anxiety issue or other disability.

You may be asked to sign a statement on the nursing application and again when you are ready to apply for your license. The statement will ask you if you have any disability: physical or mental that would keep you from performing your job as a nurse. There may be an additional statement related to current substance abuse, which you will need to sign as well.

Check with your state office of nursing or nursing advisor if you are questioning a physical, mental disorder or current substance abuse problem that may later keep you from obtaining a license and performing the duties of a nurse

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