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How working as a nurse makes you stronger

Family Nurse Practitioner Brittany Jamison works at the computer between seeing patients at Premier Health Urgent Care in Springboro. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

It goes so much further than the leg muscles that nurses develop walking an average of 986 steps per hour at work. At every level, nursing makes a person stronger, sometimes in unanticipated ways. Some take those strengths to another line of work after a short experience, while others use the power to climb the career ladder or put that strength to use in their personal lives.

It’s not exhaustive, but this short list sums up the many ways nursing makes you stronger, as defined by those on the front lines:

Nurses become strong judges of character: "Working as a nurse exposes you to all kinds of people in all kinds of situations," noted licensed practical nurse and school nurse Christy Smith. "For the most part, it isn't a good or happy time in their lives. You see people at some of the most vulnerable moments of their lives. You also meet people, whether delusional or manipulative, trying to manufacture or exaggerate health ailments for attention or sympathy. Having experience with different people in many different, sometimes extreme situations, helps you gain insight into human behavior in general and informs the decisions you may make in your own life."

Nurses develop strong critical reasoning skills. "The best nurse thinks outside the box," explained Minority Nurse. "Adapting to changing situations, unique patient presentations, unusual medication combinations, and a rotating team takes awareness. Assessing and evaluating the whole picture by using the critical thinking developed in school and on the job is essential to success."

Leigh Goldstein, assistant professor of clinical nursing at the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing, agreed that nurses become aces at critical thinking, at least if they want to succeed. She told Minority Nursing that “nursing is not like working in a bank. It’s not 9 to 5. It’s always a unique set of circumstances. You have to tailor and adjust the care you deliver based on the picture the patient is giving you.”

Nurses have more strength to draw from in adversity. "Witnessing people suffer and grieve can make you more prepared to deal with adversity yourself and give you the confidence that you can handle whatever comes your way," Smith added.

The best nurses become strong communicators. Nursing may not make every person in the career better at talking to others, but those doing the best work in nursing are definitely amping up their communication skills while they work.

As summed up in a study from The Academy of Medical Sciences of Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Good communication between nurses and patients is essential for the successful outcome of individualized nursing care of each patient. To achieve this, however, nurses must understand and help their patients, demonstrating courtesy, kindness and sincerity. Effective communication requires an understanding of the patient and the experiences they express. It requires skills and simultaneously the sincere intention of the nurse to understand what concerns the patient.”

Nurses have extra-strong confidence. Another aspect of constantly working around people faced with awful situations and their varying levels of grit and determination is that you develop a certain confidence, Smith explained. Yes, you're more likely to know that the odds of survival can be slim and side effects can be brutal and alter lives. But "another side of it is seeing people overcome huge obstacles and recover from major illnesses or accidents," she added. "This gives you confidence that even if faced with serious health problems they can be overcome. Working around other healthcare workers also gives you confidence that there is goodness in other humans and that you can depend on them should you or your loved ones ever need health care."

Nurses are strong in looking at the big picture. The sleuthing skills nurses form at work also become a strength in the "real world." As LaDonna Northington, director of the traditional nursing program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center told Minority Nurse, "Nurses can’t usually just treat one patient issue, they have to determine how the patient’s diagnosis or disease has affected them across the lifespan. And nurses have to consider not just the best choice for the patient and the best option for the nurse right now, but they also have to consider those things in light of the city they are in, the timing, and the resources they have at hand or that are available to them."

Nurses only get stronger with every challenge. “We are fortunate to have such a deep understanding of the human body, and because of our exposure to patients when they are at their most vulnerable, we mature quickly, as do other human service providers,” noted Linda Grabbe, a doctor of nursing, certified Family Nurse Practitioner and clinical assistant professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in Atlanta. “Every time we are challenged, we can grow.”

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