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10 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Being a Nurse

Nursing is not all gentle bandage-wrapping and following doctor's orders. These are the everyday realities about the job that full-time nurse Nancy Congleton has learned in the trenches.

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Group of medics with clipboard discussing along hospital corridor. Doctor and nurse briefing medical report with female colleague talking on mobile phone.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Sometimes nurses have to disobey orders

It’s a common misconception that nurses simply carry out doctors’ orders. Physicians may chart the course for patient care by diagnosing diseases and writing orders, but sometimes they don’t get it right. Nurses are front and center, monitoring patients’ responses to prescribed interventions and notifying physicians when unwanted or negative outcomes arise. Nurses are responsible for all orders that are carried out, including those that are wrong or contraindicated. Therefore, nurses must make sure that the orders they receive from physicians are appropriate for their patients, and they must use their skills and training to know when to interrupt, or even stop, an order. This part of our job literally saves lives.

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Young doctor writing notes on clipboard paper as copy space for patient's medical history. Healthcare and medicine conceptNaluenart Pimu/Shutterstock

Nurses are expected to know everything

Whether it’s family, friends, or community members, people will expect nurses to know everything from all areas of nursing and healthcare. On one hand, it’s a compliment that people think of nurses as having all the answers, but it can also be unrealistic and annoying. These are the medical facts that doctors and nurses want everyone to know.

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Asian nurse checking up the history of the disease elderly patient lying in bed. Nurse cares for a elderly woman.Prasit Rodphan/Shutterstock

You don’t always know where you stand with patients

I’ve heard it all from patients doubting my capabilities, “You can’t be my nurse, you’re just a little girl!” or “Do you even have a license?” Patients are often scared, hurting, frustrated, and feel as if they don’t have a voice; on many occasions, it’s not actually about the nurse; it helps to remember that. Learn what doctors are thinking (but won’t say to your face).

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Couple of Surgeons Washing Hands Before Operating. Hospital Concept.santypan/Shutterstock

Nurses handle an abundance of bodily fluids, and other squishy, gross things

In addition to snakes in buckets, I’ve been handed pieces of fingers over ice in cups and seen the aftermath of toes colliding with lawnmowers. Projectile vomit? Explosive diarrhea? Nurses see it every day. These are the craziest things ER nurses have ever seen.

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Families can be demanding

Nurses are taught that patients are their primary focus. In reality, nurses’ time with patients is often cut short because of the many other demands of the job, and often, expectations from the patient’s family members are so high as to be nearly impossible to meet. These are the things doctors and nurses wish patients wouldn’t do.

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profession, people, health care, reanimation and medicine concept - group of medics or doctors carrying unconscious woman patient on hospital gurney to emergencySyda Productions/Shutterstock

Nurses do a lot of heavy lifting

Someone could faint or have a seizure, you might have to turn a patient or help them get out of bed or to the bathroom. In nursing, a patient who’s 125 pounds or less is considered a lightweight, and many patients weigh much more. Even many construction workers (who are usually big, strong men) are restricted to lifting far less than that.

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Stethoscope with clock on booksbeerkoff/Shutterstock

Nursing school doesn’t prepare you for everything

People go to nursing school to learn how to be a nurse. However, it is impossible for nursing instructors to cover every disease, symptom, and treatment that a future nurse will encounter, so often we’re learning as we go. If you want to learn too, here are the definitions of the medical jargon doctors and nurses use.

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white metal clock on wooden wall with warm light in late morningRatchat/Shutterstock

Sometimes nurses work beyond their scheduled time

Even when nurses’ shifts may be over according to the clock, it doesn’t mean that they can leave. If a nurse heads out the door without being officially cleared to do so, he or she could be charged with patient abandonment. Check out these heartwarming stories about nurses who went above and beyond.

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Female medical professional in meeting with colleagues. Doctor during meeting in the conference room.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Nurses may be responsible for a lot more than patients

In addition to being responsible for patient care, nurses may also be in charge of other nurses, nurse aids, nurse techs, medical assistants, and other personnel. Learn the secrets hospitals won’t tell you.

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Nursing can take a toll on your life outside of work

Weight gain, bouts of crying, and brief moments of insanity are all part of the job, but saving lives every day makes it all worth it. Don’t miss the 75 things nurses won’t tell you—but you’ll want to know.

Nancy Congleton is a Registered Nurse and author of Autopsy of the NP: Dissecting the Nursing Profession Piece by Piece.