Deciding whether or not to work while you go to nursing school can be a difficult decision. Should you focus on studying? Should you get the experience of working? Today we’re talking about 6 reasons why you should work during nursing school, (and one situation where you shouldn’t.) Some people don’t have a choice. They’ve got rent to pay, or other people to support, and they have to work during nursing school just to stay afloat. But, maybe you are lucky enough to be living somewhere rent-free, or you have a partner who’s working, or you’ve planned ahead, and have saved up money so you don’t have to work. So, I’m gonna cover 6 reasons why you should work, one reason why you shouldn’t, and I’ll also share what I decided to do.
6 Reasons You Should Work During Nursing School
Hey you guys! Welcome back to the Nursing School Week by Week Podcast. Today we’re talking about 6 reasons why you should work during nursing school, (and one situation where you shouldn’t.)
Now, some people don’t have a choice. They’ve got rent to pay, or other people to support, and they have to work during nursing school just to stay afloat. But, maybe you are lucky enough to be living somewhere rent-free, or you have a partner who’s working, or you’ve planned ahead, and have saved up money so you don’t have to work. So, I’m gonna cover 6 reasons why you should work, one reason why you shouldn’t, and I’ll also share what I decided to do.
Now, in your very first semester of nursing school, you’ll take a fundamentals or foundations class. This is basically the equivalent of a CNA, or Certified Nursing Assistant course; and once you’ve completed this class, you can get a job as a nursing assistant, or in some hospitals, it’s called a “Patient Care Assistant.” You just have to apply only, go to the interview, and then provide proof that you’ve successfully passed the Foundations class.
So, if you decide to work, unless you already have a job that’s making a lot of money, and will be ok with you working part-time, you should be looking at a job in the hospital as a nursing assistant. This is the job that’s going to give you the best pre-nursing experience and be flexible enough to do while you’re a student. About half of the people in these positions are nursing students, pre-med, or pre-physician assistant students, so they won’t give you a hard time when you say, “I only want to work every other weekend.”
So, the #1 reason to work while going to nursing school is: to get comfortable in the patient’s room. While studying for my classes, I felt like I was getting the book knowledge, but then I’d go to clinicals, and my patient would tell me they needed to go to the bathroom, and I’d think, “I don’t know what to do with that information.” I didn’t know where the bedpan was, I wasn’t confident I could remember how to put it underneath them. Do I even offer them the bedpan? Or should I ambulate them to the bathroom? Should I use the gait belt? Working as a nurse’s assistant, you’ll learn all those things. You’ll get comfortable taking vitals, ambulating, doing glucose checks, helping patients use the toilet, bedpan, and bedside commode, inserting in-and-out catheters, performing bladder scans, recording I’s & O’s, and just learn how to talk to the patients and help them with their activities of daily living. Yes, you could learn all these things as a new nurse, but you’re already going to have enough new things to learn and perfect, like medication administration. It’s better to have the basics down pat, so you can focus on the nursing-specific skills. Not only will getting a job as a nurse’s assistant help you feel more comfortable in the patient’s room, but it’ll help you feel more comfortable in the hospital in general. So, I actually just started working as a nurse’s assistant in a large hospital, and during my first week, I learned where to park, how to get to the cafeteria, how to clock in and out, how to use the phone system. I’m so glad I learned all these things now, when the stakes are low, vs when I’m a new nurse and trying to look competent and delegate tasks to other staff members.
Alright, reason #2 to work during nursing school: to practice the skills you learned in lab. So, you spend all this time perfecting skills in lab, and then you go to clinicals, hoping to get a chance to practice them, but often, you don’t get to. I’ve done three different clinical rotations in two different hospitals, and I still haven’t had a chance to give a bed bath, or insert a catheter, or empty a urine bag during clinicals. These are skills that if you don’t use em, you lose em. Yes, your school most likely has open lab times where you can come in and practice these skills on mannequins, but let’s be honest, how many people go to those, unless your teacher makes it mandatory? And wouldn’t it be better to get paid while practicing your skills on a real person? I can honestly say, I learned more about the basics during my first shift as a nursing assistant than in 18 weeks of clinicals. Other skills you’ll get to practice are organizing your patients on a “brain” sheet, and giving report. Nurse’s assistants give report to each other with the shift change, just like nurses do. This is great experience! Also, nurse’s assistants usually have about 8-12 patients, so if you can organize 8-12 patients in your notes, or “brain” sheet, then the 4-5 patients you’ll get as a nurse will seem so much easier!
The #3 reason you should work during nursing school is to get your foot in the door at the hospital that you want to work in. Many of us chose nursing because it promised to be a steady job. Everyone says, “Oh they always need nurses”, and for the most part, that’s true. But, if you live in a smaller town, with a smaller population, there may be older nurses who are staying on longer in hospitals. It’s sometimes harder and takes longer to get the higher paying jobs in hospitals, vs working in a nursing home or clinic. In most hospitals, once you have a job doing anything for them, it’s easier to get a new job with them, because you’re in the system; it’s considered a lateral move. So, if you have a job as a nurse’s assistant during school, then once you graduate, it’ll be an easy, quick transition to a RN position within the same hospital. Plus, you’ll have some nursing-related experience to put on your resume for that 1st interview!
The #4 reason to work while you go to nursing school is because nursing assistants make the best nurses. Nursing is a team sport. You are not an island, and you cannot do it all by yourself. You have to learn to be a team player, and learn to delegate tasks. If you’re anything like me, the being a team player part comes naturally, meaning I’m always willing to help out another member of my team. But, asking for help, is another thing entirely. I tend to try to take on too much and try to do too much on my own. But effective delegation skills are necessary if we’re going to be the nurse who actually gets it all done, and not the nurse who is quietly drawing in the corner room. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable asking a nurse’s assistant to help out if you’ve walked in their shoes and been there, done that. Also, being comfortable handling the basics of care will make you a better team player because you’ll be able to jump in and help your coworkers when they need it.
The #5 reason you should work during nursing school is to test out a nursing specialization or unit, to see if you even like it. Maybe you think you would enjoy working in the ER, but you wonder if it would be too stressful; working in the ER as a nursing assistant would be a great way to try it on for size to see if it’s a good fit. A really great way to get experience in lots of different units, is to reach out to a recruiter within the HR department and see if you can be a floating nurse’s assistant and just go wherever they need you.
The #6 reason, and the least important reason, in my opinion, is for the money. You are not going to make a lot of money working as a nursing assistant. Your starting pay will probably be between 12 and 16 dollars an hour, depending on where you live. It’s hard, physical work, for little pay, but the reward is the experience you’re gaining and just finishing each shift knowing you really made a difference in someone’s life that day. You helped someone when they were at their lowest.
So, I just gave you 6 reasons why you should work during nursing school, but there’s still the question of when. When should you get a job as a nurse’s assistant? I said before that technically, you can get a job after completing your fundamentals class, which you’ll take in your first semester. But, I would wait until after your 2nd or 3rd semester. In most programs, there will be some kind of break about half way through the program. For my program, we had half of the summer off. You want to apply to the nursing assistant job about 1 month before that break. That gives you enough time to interview, and do your drug test, etc. Then you can start orientation and on the job training during your break from school. There’s no need to work as a nurse’s assistant from day one of nursing school. If you start about 6 months before you graduate, you’ll still get a solid half a year of experience under your belt, and you’ll have the added benefit of being able to focus on just nursing school for the first half of your program.
And this leads me to the one reason why you should not work during nursing school. If you are struggling in any way with your grades, and I mean if you’re not making all A’s and B’s, then you should not be working at all. Take out a loan if you have to, and just focus on studying. I’m gonna repeat that, cause it’s so important: If you are making less than A’s and B’s in nursing school, do not work. Just study. The end goal here is to pass the NCLEX and get those 2 letters, RN, after your name. That’s not going to happen if you don’t pass your classes. Also, even though some people will tell you your grades don’t matter, as long as you pass, that isn’t true if you decide later to pursue an advanced degree beyond your BSN, so grades do matter.
One more thing I want to mention is when I say you should work during nursing school, I mean on a very part-time basis. You’re doing this for the experience, and you can get that experience with even just one day a week, or in my case, every other Saturday and Sunday. Taking a PRN position is perfect, because you can choose your own schedule.
Alright, you guys, those are my 6 reasons why you should work during nursing school. I hope this was helpful to those of you who’ve maybe been on the fence about working, and have been weighing the pros and cons. Alright, thanks for listening, and have a great week!