One of the best ways to find out what a nurse’s day is really like is to shadow a nurse for the day. Whether you are a nursing student, a new nurse, or a nurse with many years of experience, job shadowing someone before you venture into a specific arm of nursing is a smart career move.

Kathy Quan, RN, BSN, PHN, author of The Everything New Nurse Book, and founder of The Nursing Site, says she thinks shadowing is particularly important for home health nurses and those considering something like hospice nursing.

I loved the home health rotation in college,” says Quan. “You have that one-on-one with patients that you don’t get in the hospital. You can spend that time with the family and with the patient.” And although that one-on-one time is what Quan wanted to have, a more experienced nurse explained the reality of home health to her so she could understand the big picture and what the job really required. “She said, ‘If you want this for a Monday to Friday, 8 to 5 job, this probably shouldn’t be your primary goal.’”

Home health jobs, Quan learned, are really 24/7, because of the very relationship you build with the patient. If a patient needs you or has special needs that you don’t want to hand over to someone else, you need to be available, she says. You also need to be able to let some responsibility fall to a patient. “You have to have faith that they can do this,” Quan says. For instance, you have to trust they will take their medication and keep an eye on an IV if needed.

And, surprisingly, the amount of paperwork for home health is greater than it is in a hospital, says Quan. If that’s not something you think you could keep up with, it’s certainly good to know before you look for a job in the field. When you shadow someone for a day, whether as a home health nurse, in a hospital, or in the field, you’ll have a concrete understanding of what their tasks are.

Shadowing a nurse also gives you an incredible perspective that you would never get from a job interview process. For instance, if the paperwork seems endless at first, it helps to know how another nurse handles it. For Quan, seeing how the paperwork in home health care is built around the nursing process made it easier for her. “It is a lot, but after you get used to it, it’s old hat,” says Quan.

And hospice nurses use their nursing skills in a way that is different from something a nurse in a cardiac unit might do. There is an intimacy to discussing and helping with end-of-life care for patients. If you are considering hospice nursing, you would benefit greatly from shadowing a hospice nurse for a couple of days. By doing so, you can see how nurses engage with patients and families and use their nursing skills for comfort. You will be able to gauge if that’s something you could and would want to do full time.

The extra time spent job shadowing a nurse can help point you down the right career path.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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