INTERVIEW | 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Nurse with NP Rachelle Colas

A career in nursing requires flexibility and the ability to embrace change. From transitioning from nursing school to being employed, working in different units, and possibly advancing your career, change occurs often. Although change is expected, it can still feel uneasy.

With change comes lessons and the wisdom to share what you have learned with others. Rachelle Colas, a Nurse Practitioner in New Jersey, identified 5 things she wished she knew before becoming a nurse. She also gives us insight into what her daily life is like right now.

How long have you been working as a nurse?

I’ve worked as a Registered Nurse for 5 years. I’ve been a Nurse Practitioner for 6 months.

Do you work in a specific department/unit? Or do you work with a specific population?

As a registered nurse, I started at a long term care facility. Then, I went into acute care. I worked at Valley Hospital in an open heart(cardiac)/telemetry unit for 3 years. Currently, as a nurse practitioner, I work with both pediatric and adult patients. 

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

I honestly chose nursing because I love helping people and science. I wanted to be able to help people when they’re most vulnerable. To help them transition back to health. 

Describe your daily responsibilities and schedule: 

As a nurse practitioner, I work Monday-Friday. I diagnose and treat both acute and chronic conditions for infants, children and adults. I perform physicals/well women exams, provide education on chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol. 

When I was a registered nurse, I worked 12 hour shifts at night and every other weekend. I took care of patients who had open heart surgery, inserted IV’s, administered IV medications, blood and blood products, monitored cardiac rhythms, chest tubes, and pacer wires. I was able to differentiate heart rhythms such as Atrial fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia, and different heart blocks. 

Think back to when you were a nursing student. Now that you have been a nurse for some time, is there anything about your career that you weren’t expecting?

I was not expecting to start my career at a long term care facility. However, I was able to learn time management skills with the amount of patients I had (20 patients). I also learned how to give breathing treatments, change tracheostomy dressings, how to set up a wound vac and how to communicate with doctors.  

What brings you the most joy at work?

Interacting with patients and learning that the treatment I chose for them has alleviated their problems. 

What brings you the most stress at work?

Trying to juggle patient care and charting can be challenging depending on how busy the day is. 

If you can give advice to a group of nursing students, what would you say?

I would tell them to soak in everything while they are at clinicals, ask questions, network and talk to the manager/nurses on the floor and build relationships with them. Always do your best, you never know who is watching. 

If you could give advice to someone who just graduated from nursing school, what would you say?

Look for an employment with a great orientation. Your first couple of months working as a new graduate nurse are critical to your career. You can start anywhere, just make sure you’re always learning something new. 

Can you identify 5 things you wish you knew before becoming a nurse?

1. Don’t settle for the first job that comes your way! 

2. It will be hard at first, but everything is hard when you’re new. But, you will be great!

3. You will have to study for the unit you will work on. That’s when the real nursing education begins. 

4. It’s hard to juggle personal/work life.

5. Your first mistake is the worst and they never get easier. You will never forget them and never make them again. 

When an experienced professional, like Rachelle, shares insight as to what they wish they knew before their career, it can be extremely beneficial to people who are just starting out. You might be wondering, what do I do now with all of this information? The next step would be to look further into each of the 5 things Rachelle discussed by speaking with other nurse professionals and doing your own research. Here are some articles you can follow up with after this one to dive deeper:

  1. Rachelle is right, you do not want to settle for your first healthcare job. Before you start applying for jobs, read through this articles to ensure that you’re taking the time to find a job that makes sense for you: Choosing the right health career for you and Job Search Strategies for Healthcare Professionals
  2. Rachelle mentions that starting a nursing career is hard at first because everything is new. Check out these articles to prepare for this: 10 Tips on How to Be Successful at Your First Job Out of School and 5 Challenges You’ll Face as the Least-Experienced Healthcare Team Member
  3. Luckily, studying for the unit you will work on can provide you with continuing education units. Take Rachelle’s advice and study and compliment your hands on experience at work with studying outside of work. Check out these helpful articles: Nursing CEU’s – Continuing Education for RN’s and Best Workshops for Nurses in NYC to get Continuing Education Units
  4. Rachelle also notes that it is hard balancing personal life and work life. This is a common concern amongst healthcare professionals. It would be helpful to start working towards balancing these two worlds as soon as possible. Read through our articles on this topic: Stress Relieving Strategies Nurses Can Do On the Job and How Do You Cope With Work When You’re Being Affected By Personal Problems?
  5. Rachelle is right, mistakes happen when you’re a nurse. The mistakes you make might have a life-long impact on you and will be some of your greatest lessons. There are some mistakes that you can prevent, and others you cannot. Review these articles that will help you prevent and accept the mistakes that are going to come your way: 4 bad habits nurses should avoid in any medical practice and 3 life lessons you’ll learn working at a hospital

Are you an experienced nurse? We want to know what advice you would give to students. Share in the comments below.

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About the author

Kristie Cabrera

Kristie is an occupational therapist, mental health advocate, and amateur urban farmer. Her experience with taking care of others in the healthcare setting and taking care of the land are both important pieces that make up who she is. As a life-long learner and creative, she hopes to create content that is centered around wellness and healing.

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