There are those who consider themselves ineligible for nursing because they are afraid of needles, shriek at the sight of blood, or believe they couldn’t handle the pressure of caring for sick patients.

So-called “squeamish” individuals need not write off nursing as a career. There are many nonclinical roles in nursing such as research and leadership, but they often require nursing experience. The following is a broad overview of careers for the squeamish nurse.

Within the Hospital

Many mental health nurses are not exposed to trauma, and depending on patient acuity, they may only administer oral medication. Similarly, nurses in narcotic detox facilities give out medication by mouth and rarely, if ever, deal with the more physically graphic aspects of nursing. Naturally, there are other considerations one would need to take into account in terms of disposition when addressing these patient populations.

There are hospital positions that require little to no medication administration. For some pre-procedure nurses, their work often focuses on preoperative interview and assessment. This may involve minimal physical contact with patients, such as assistance with surgery prep, disrobing, or preoperative skin prep. It requires well-developed assessment skills and familiarity with different surgical procedures. These positions will depend on how the facility distributes perioperative responsibilities among nursing.

Mother-baby nursing may be an appropriate position for the mildly squeamish nurse who can handle the occasional unexpected event. To the extent that mother-baby nurses are not required to rotate through labor & delivery or work with high-risk births; their role is mainly assessing newborns and managing the care of young, and mostly healthy mothers. This type of nursing involves a unique, highly specialized skill set for working with the youngest patients.

Outside the Hospital

Home health nursing positions are increasing where registered nurses oversee the work of ancillary nursing personnel, such as home health aides, and certified nursing assistants. Home health nursing may involve direct patient care where nurses assess patients, administer medications, and refer to advanced practitioners for any changes in patient regimens. Home health nurses may also work with insurance companies to protect patient coverage and advocate on their behalf.

Similarly, case management uses nursing expertise in a nonclinical setting. Nurses utilize their understanding of patient population-specific needs, but they do not provide direct patient care.  More commonly, case management involves advocating for patient access to necessary services and following up with patients to ensure their health needs are being met.

Outpatient clinic and primary care nursing focus on assessment and treatment of minor illnesses. Under this umbrella are school nursing and specialized outpatient clinics, such as internal medicine, pain management, psychiatry, and orthopedics. Primary care nurses do administer medication and perform wound care, therefore, the squeamish nurse may want to investigate site-specific duties.

Aesthetic nursing may be a good choice for a nurse who doesn’t want exposure to sick patients. This is a growing skill set within nursing and nurses can generate a lucrative income. Nurses in these roles will often administer injections.

A Caveat

It is important to keep in mind that every employer has different expectations and policies. Each individual must understand their own personal limits and job requirements before taking a nursing position. Furthermore, even positions suitable for the squeamish nurse require highly specialized skills and critical thinking.

All nurses are trained to work with a variety of patient populations, including the acutely ill. There is no way through nursing school without exposure to situations that many would consider either upsetting or even repulsive. That being said, there are many nurses who formerly identified themselves as queasy in the face of illness who find the reality of patient care much more tolerable than they anticipated. For many nurses, the spirit of service, and perhaps a bit of repeated exposure, together outweigh the upsetting sensory experience they formerly identified with nursing.

Nancy Swezey, BSN, RN, CNOR

Nancy Swezey received her BSN from Columbia University. She now practices in New York City in the operating room where she has worked as a staff nurse, and currently as a care coordinator specializing in head and neck surgery. Nancy is also pursuing her advanced practice degree at CUNY Hunter where she assists the faculty as a research assistant, focusing on nurse education and module development.

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