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Registered nurse: What I do and how much I make

Julia Walker, a 27-year-old Registered Nurse, shares her experience working in a Critical Care Unit. She highlights the importance of both the science and art of nursing, emphasizing the human connection, compassion, and patient education. Julia also discusses the challenges and rewards of her job, and the potential for career growth and salary increases in nursing.

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Video transcript

My name is Julia Walker, I'm 27 years old, I'm a Registered Nurse, and I make around $56,000 a year. So I work in a hospital in a Critical Care Unit. Critical Care Units are typically the most intensive care that a hospital will provide. So, I tend to care for the sickest patients that walk through the hospital doors. So, as an inpatient nurse, I typically work about three shifts a week. That's a total of 12 hour shifts, which you never leave on time. It's more like 13, 14 hours that you're on the job or on the clock, if you will. And I try to clump them together so that I know my patients, so I don't walk in the next shift and get a different patient assignment. Sometimes you have that happen, but for continuity of care, that's really nice in nursing. You get to know your patient, their families, and they get to know you as well and trust you. I go on around six at night, get there a little early of course, get settled, but then I'm there until 6:30, seven in the morning. And it's a different pace at night. There's pros and cons. Pros, you know, it's not as busy, so that's very nice in some ways, you know. You don't have as many family coming in, physical therapy's not pulling your patient out of bed at four in the morning, and you really get to be with your patient and spend more time on the cares, if you will. But also, it's very hard on you as the nurse because your circadian rhythm, that's your sleep rhythm, gets totally off because you go from working, staying up three nights, and then you have to go back to normalcy for four days or so. And so, personally, that can be very difficult. You have to do a lot of self care. But when I walk on, onto my first shift, I take my assignment from my charge nurse, I go and look at all of my orders from the physician. That includes medications, what the plan of care is, any special studies we have to have performed, and really, I make a plan for those 12 hours so that I know exactly where I am and where my patient needs to be. And I coordinate that plan, not only with the patient, but their family, and the physicians, and other nursing staff that I'm working with. So there's two different branches of nursing that we're taught in nursing school. There's the science of nursing, which is very honed in upon, but then there's the art of nursing, and that's really where it gets to the human to human connection and interaction. That's where you give your patient a hand massage just because they need a little tension relief. You clean them, that's honestly one of my favorite things to do, is clean a person. There's nothing more humane that you can do to somebody than help them feel worth and feel like they have dignity. Cleaning their environment, making sure they have a nice, clean hospital room, preventing infection, and sometimes helping them pass on as well. That's a big part of nursing, and that's one of the most rewarding things, really, that I've done, is helping people pass beautifully. And it can be done. A lot of people think that the soft skills of nursing are just ingrained in nurses. I've worked with many nurses who are fabulous nurses that don't necessarily have those soft skills, but have to learn it. Now, these skills are compassion, patient teaching, patient education. There is such an art to explaining a disease process to a patient. It's hard to communicate, but most nurses have a healing touch, I find. They have, when they lay their hands on a patient, you can tell that they're communicating their love, strength, nurturment. And you can tell when a patient has been cared for well that day. And so, while you have to be a great critical thinker and have a lot of knowledge base, you also really have to have the compassion. A lot of people end up in the hospital for issues that, really, they don't need to be there for. They're more just needing somebody, needing to be heard. And that's, it's nice to be that person. So I love that about nursing. I love the compassion. I love being tender to people that maybe haven't really felt tenderness before. I love the variety too. You can be an ICU nurse or you can work in a school with children. I mean, there's great variety, and that can change throughout your career. You don't have to be stuck in one thing. Registered nurses have a lot of variability in what they can make as far as their salary. They can make anywhere from 35 to 45,000, which is around where I started in outpatient nursing, to over $100,000. You can make that kind of money if you become a clinical nurse specialist. So you're still a registered nurse but you have more credentialing, you focus on specific fields, or if you go into nurse leadership, you can certainly branch into higher salary brackets. If you decide to advance your education and obtain a masters or doctorate degree in nursing, you have even more potential for salary increases. So, nurse practitioners in the state of Colorado right now can make starting around $80,000, which is an nice jump from where I've been as a registered nurse. So that's one of the reasons why I'd like to become a nurse practitioner. But also, you have more autonomy as well, which is very important to some nurses.