Male nurse in blue scrubs smiling and standing by window on high floor

Unexpected Pandemic Takeaways for Aspiring Nurses

The COVID-19 pandemic may have sent nursing to the bottom of your dream career list, but before you rule it out, consider all these positives.

Happy International Nurses Day and National Nurses Week! Nursing has always been a noble profession, but we’re all extra appreciative of the sacrifices that nurses and other medical professionals made on the front lines during the pandemic. If you were considering majoring in Nursing and pursuing it as a profession, you may feel more passionate about it than ever—or perhaps COVID-19 deterred you from this potential career path. I can’t blame you for that.

I may not be a nurse, but I do live with one, so I see secondhand both the hardships and the rewards that come with being a nurse. No job worth doing is ever going to be easy, but some can certainly be far less rewarding if you choose the safer route. So before you count out nursing as a potential career field, consider these surprising takeaways of being a nurse during a global pandemic.

In any crisis, you’re essential

There are a lot of people who lost their jobs when the pandemic went into full swing. Whether the job loss is temporary or permanent, a lot of people were (and still are) struggling to pay their bills. As a nurse, you’d have more job security with a stable profession; nurses will always be essential, whether it’s a global pandemic or any other kind of emergency. While many nurses conducting nonessential care were furloughed for the duration of the pandemic, hospital nurses were in such short supply that those furloughed nurses temporarily transferred to working as travel nurses, being sent all over the country to aid hospitals in need—with increased pay. “The patients we had before the travel nurses came were no less sick,” said Connor C., RN, an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse from Massachusetts who worked on a COVID-only floor. “Having these nurses being sent from all over the country has been a huge relief as they gave us the ability to give the best care to people in need. Our staff nearly tripled since the travel nurses were sent to us.”

While you may have to deal with the stress of returning to work every day on the front lines, you’ll always go home with the relief that there’s still a paycheck in your bank account—and a good one at that, as the state with the lowest pay for nurses ($64,500 per year) is still higher than the national average salary ($61,900 per year) for any other job, according to 2023 data. Money may not be everything, but if you’re passionate enough about nursing to consider making it your career and brave enough to face it knowing the potential for emergencies, then the larger paycheck for your hard work is worth it.

Related: Possible Majors for Students Who Want to Become Essential Workers

Once-in-a-lifetime experiences

Pandemics don’t happen every day (thank goodness), but when they do, we have to find the silver linings. Nurses have unmatched professional experience they likely won’t have gained elsewhere. No one wanted the pandemic, of course, but as a result of this situation, nurses are far more equipped to handle anything thrown at them with the knowledge and experience they’ve gained—all of which can be passed on to future nurses of health care.

Elizabeth C., RN has been a pediatric nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital for 33 years. Having never cared for adults in her entire career, the pandemic changed the way she looked at nursing and expanded her skill set. “My mind is being stretched in ways it hasn’t been for a long time,” she said. “As scary as it is, I don’t have any anxiety when I’m taking care of patients. There’s a wonderful switch that turns on when you’re a nurse. Your focus is on caring and having compassion for your fellow human being. When you keep busy helping others, you feel more in control of the unknown.” Nursing requires you to be adaptable, which may not always be required in professions where the day-to-day work doesn’t change as fluidly. This adaptability allowed nurses who never would have thought they’d find themselves in a pandemic to care for patients in a new, career-evolving way.

A team that always has your back

Let’s not pretend that nurses fighting the good fight as individuals. A nurse’s true success comes when they also have the support of a great team to provide the best possible care for patients. When you’re working long, grueling hours, your colleagues on the floor with you truly become like a second family. Catherine F., an ICU nurse from New York, felt that special bond and saw the value in her fellow nurses at a time when it felt like they were all she had. “Nothing brings you closer to your peers like having them be the only thing you’ve got,” she said. “We are all scared and worried, but we’re in it together, and that’s really something special.” 

Sydney F., RN, an ER nurse in Massachusetts, also maintained a positive attitude through her appreciation of her team. “Comradery and teamwork are the two words I would use to describe the changes among our team since the outbreak of the pandemic,” she explained. “Rather than collapsing under the strain, our team at Holy Family has rallied together, working to support one another. We laugh when we can, offer a shoulder to one another when things get tough, and make it through each shift knowing that the people sitting next to us have our backs.” 

And not every nurse who’s essential faced COVID-19 in the same way; Ashley F., RN worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at a hospital in Nevada. While she didn't personally care for adult COVID-19 patients, the pandemic still affected her day-to-day care of the infants on her floor, and she saw the impact the pandemic had on her hospital as a whole. “While this whole thing has definitely been scary, and it’s such a change, and every day is an unknown for us, all the nurses I work with have come together,” she said. “We’ve always been like a family in my unit, but it’s just really showing now. Everyone is there for each other—even hospital-wide—which is pretty amazing to see!” 

Related: A Day in the Life of a Health Care Team

A testament to your character

Have you ever been in a situation where you haven’t been seen in the best light? Having someone question your character and your goodness as a human being isn’t an easy thing to swallow. As a nurse, you’d be working to care for others, you’re often putting your own health at risk in emergencies, and you’d be toughing it out through long hours—who could question the character of a person doing all that?

Going into nursing proves to the world that you’re a strong individual ready to face adversity for the sake of the greater good. Morgan H., RN, who worked as a float nurse at Mercy Hospital in Maine during the pandemic, admitted that she worried for her safety but put on a brave face for her patients. “Being the only person allowed in a positive COVID patient’s room has its own challenges; despite the fear of bringing the virus home to a loved one or getting sick myself, these patients’ families are not allowed in the hospital,” she explained. “So here I am, the only person this patient will see for 12 hours. You become thankful for your health so you can be there for that scared patient. To be a nurse, you need a sense of empathy in order to be there for the patient, to understand, and to act as a proxy family member.”

You may have heard many nurses denouncing the word “hero” being thrown around to describe them. But to the family whose mother they helped through cancer or a husband whose wife’s life they saved after a horrible car accident, nurses are heroes. Not everyone may have the tough skin and compassionate soul required to hack it, but if you do, the nursing world needs you.

You’ll always be making a difference

Before you decide that nursing is too scary to pursue because of the unknown, give it some real thought. You’re likely braver than you think (there’s that good character shining through), and there’s so much to gain from nursing in the day-to-day and in a crisis. It may be one of the most rewarding fields you can get into. Nurses save people’s lives—often. Even when there isn’t a pandemic, people need care, and while hospital doctors are overseeing the overall care of patients, nurses are in hospital rooms all day or all night at their bedside.

Nurses make a difference simply by being caring humans giving patients and their families comfort and hope in the darkest of times. “If anything, this has made me fall in love with being a nurse all over again. Things are hard, and they’re so sad at times, but we’re getting so much new knowledge every day, and being a comfort to the community in these times is what we did all that hard work in nursing school for,” said Catherine F.

Related: Make a Difference by Majoring in Nursing

The world was a scary place during the pandemic, and remains so in many ways right now. Being a part of a strong community of nurses, getting firsthand experience with health care methods you wouldn’t otherwise see, and making an honest difference in people’s lives could be worth facing a potential pandemic. You just have to be brave enough to reach for it. And if we leave you with any words of wisdom, let it be this sentiment from a recent Nursing program graduate who’s about to start his career in the face of this pandemic:

“If we made it through nursing school, we can make it through anything.” — Austin C., BSN; St. Joseph’s College of Maine graduate

From the CX Team to all the hardworking nurses around the world, thank you for all that you do! Get searching for a great Nursing program now with our College Search tool.

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