13 Secrets of Nurses


A good, caring nurse can be the difference between a pleasant hospital visit and a terrible one. And while you might know your nurse’s name, a lot goes on before, during, and after your stay that you might not be aware of. From the ER to the ICU, here are a few insights from caregivers from different arms of the nursing profession. 

Note: These nurses did not want me to use their full names or identify their hospitals, for fear of being reprimanded at work. I’ve used their first names only.  

1. WebMD is the enemy.

Nurses love it when you’re educated on your symptoms and potential treatments, but they say that sometimes the Internet does more harm than good for patients. “If I had a nickel for every time someone came in and said, ‘WebMD says this,’ I wouldn’t have to work,” says Hilary, a neurosurgical nurse in Washington, D.C. “Google searching can be disastrous because it can cause panic. It’s important to get information straight from medical staff as opposed to looking it up on the computer and thinking they have 24 hours to live.” 

2. Nobody wants the Monday shift.

The beginning of the week is rough for most of us, but nurses have it particularly bad. “If someone is sick, they’ll wait to come in until Monday,” explains Lila, an emergency room Registered Nurse in Nashville, Tenn. This means Mondays are slammed with people who’ve been living with their symptoms for several days. Plus, hospitals are short-staffed on weekends, so productivity drops. “Most of the main team takes the weekends off,” says Jessica, a transplant nurse. “So when you come in on Mondays you’ll get tons of orders because nothing was done all weekend.” 

3. Newbies get hazed.

“There’s a saying that nurses tend to eat their young,” Hilary says. “Unfortunately with older nurses that is sometimes the norm. New nurses might be given patients who require more work or have to be changed every hour, or heavier patients, things of that nature.” Research suggests between 35 and 60 percent of new nurses abandon their posts within the first six months due to internal bullying. Emily H., a family nurse practitioner in Atlanta, Ga., currently working in post-Ebola Sierra Leone, says this kind of confrontational culture makes it really hard to find mentorship and support. “Schools of medicine have really well established internal mentorship programs,” she says. “You have attending physicians, you have a system of residency. We don't really get that. If you want a mentor in nursing you have to go find one. I've knocked on plenty of doors asking for advice, even in my department, and I got a lot of 'well I'm just really busy.'” 

4. They do a lot of heavy lifting.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses suffer more than 35,000 injuries a year, making them some of the most commonly injured workers in America, alongside firefighters and police officers. The main cause? Rising obesity rates in patients. “Obesity is becoming a norm, and when we have to turn and boost patients, we have to do it ourselves,” Hilary says. “When you have a heavy patient, you are just physically and mentally drained by end of the day. One day a patient asked me if I had an artificial leg because my knee was so bad I was walking with a limp. And the hospital doesn’t always cover damages done on the job.” 

5. Nurses have a (twisted) sense of humor.

Anyone eavesdropping on a conversation between nurses would probably be appalled by what might seem like a lack empathy for patients. But making light of terrible situations is a coping mechanism. “I had a patient who got his leg broken by a camel and it’s just the funniest damn thing,” Lila says. “It sucks for the patient, but we all share stories about things that make us laugh because that really helps us make it through.” Pranks and games help, too: Hilary says it’s common on her floor for nurses to use saline syringes as squirt guns. Jessica says her team sometimes has impromptu dance parties. 

6. The bathroom is for crying.

Even with their various coping methods, nurses see a lot of terrible things, and sometimes it can be too much to handle. Instead of breaking down in front of a patient, nurses will escape to the bathroom. “That’s our spot where we cry and we grieve and we deal with it and then we wipe our faces off and put makeup back on and go back out there,” Lila says. “Our patients don’t need to see our grief. They don’t need to take care of us, we need to take care of them. I call it the emotional wall, and all nurses have it.” 

7. Young male patients are whiners.

When it comes to high maintenance patients, men between the ages of 20 and 40 are the worst offenders, Hilary says: “They cannot handle pain or discomfort. They’re completely babies. They’ll be like, ‘Can you please cut my food for me?’ No, you’ve got two good hands, you can do this.” 

8. They feel like drug dealers.

The emergency room sees its fair share of “drug seekers”—people who claim to be in pain but are really looking for narcotics. “Some doctors have the perspective that we should give them what they want because we’re not gonna cure their drug addiction today,” Lila says. “So sometimes we feel like drug dealers in the ER. I know exactly what they want and exactly what they’re gonna get." 

9. They speak in code.

“When we have a poopy patient, all we have to do is yell, ‘CODE BROWN’ and nurses know what we mean,” Hilary says.

10. And they don’t say the Q word.

Nurses abide by a number of superstitions. For example, acknowledging that a shift is particularly slow is a jinx that promises a flood of new patients momentarily. “We never say ‘slow,’ ‘quiet’ or ‘bored,’” Lila says. “Unless you wanna get murdered in the ER.” If you must comment on the slowness, “chill” is the preferred adjective. 

Also, many nurses know the lunar cycle and claim the full moon coincides with busier shifts, though there isn’t much data to back this up

11. They wish you would stop bringing them cakes

Although doctors and nurses like being appreciated for what they do, they’re sick of the sweet stuff. “A lot of people think all we want is donuts and cake,” says Lila. “There’s constantly junk food everywhere because people want to boost our morale by bringing us food that makes us fat. It’s really hard to stay in shape.” 

12. They’re morning drinkers.

A common ritual among nightshifters is the morning beer over breakfast with your fellow nurses. It’s a good way to let off steam and bond with coworkers. “If you work the night shift, you know the places that start serving alcohol at 7 a.m.,” Lila says. 

13. You should ask them for the good stuff.

Nurses know where the hospital keeps its stash of extra pillows, blankets, and toiletries; all patients need to do to get them is ask. Another good rule of thumb: Be good to your nurse, and they’ll be good to you. “We do our best to go the extra mile if someone really wants something,” says Jessica says. “I had a patient who loved pizza but hated our pizza, so my coworker had a boyfriend who worked at a local pizza shop and she brought pizza in for them.” 

Andrew Burton/Getty Images
job secrets
11 Behind-the-Counter Secrets of Baristas
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Being a barista is no easy task, and it’s not just the early hours and the don’t-talk-to-me-unless-I’ve-had-my-coffee customers. While people often think working at a cafe is a part-time, temporary gig, it takes extensive training to learn your way around an espresso machine, and most baristas are in it for the love of coffee, not just to pay the bills. Mental Floss spoke to a few baristas working at the New York Coffee Festival to learn what exactly goes on behind the counter, and why you should never, ever dump your extra coffee in the trash.


One of the biggest misconceptions about the profession, says New York City-based barista Kayla Bird, is “that it's not a real job.” But especially in specialty cafes, many baristas are in it for the long haul. Coffee is their career.

“It's a chosen field,” as barista Virgil San Miguel puts it. “It's not like you work in a coffee shop because it's a glamorous job,” he explains. “It's more like a passion.”


“Being a really good barista takes a lot of studying,” explains Jake Griffin, a wholesale representative for Irving Farm Coffee Roasters who has worked in the coffee industry for almost a decade. “It can take a few years. You have to start to understand origins, production methods, where your coffee came from.” You have to go through an intensive education before you start pulling espresso shots for customers, so it's possible that the person taking your order and fetching your pastry isn't even allowed to make you a drink yet. “They have to be what we call 'bar certified' before they're even allowed on the machine,” he says. “Usually people start off in our cafes in various support roles, then start to go to classes and go through the training program.”


Sure, baristas take full advantage of all that free coffee. And if they work in their company’s training programs, their whole job is to drink coffee. But it has its downsides. “I taste—at minimum—ten shots of espresso a day,” John Hrabe, who trains baristas at Birch Coffee in New York City, says. On his busier days, it might be as many as 20. You get used to all the caffeine, he claims—at least until you take a few days off. “Then when you go on vacation and you're not working ... everyone's like, 'Why's John so tired?’”

Other baristas who have worked in the field for a long time say the same. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I used to have five or six coffees a day,” Michael Sadler, who helped develop the barista education program at Toby’s Coffee, says. “Now I do two,” he says, both because of the caffeine-induced anxiety and the withdrawal headaches he would get on his days off.


Like any job, there are things that go on in coffee shops that the boss would definitely not approve of. According to one barista who has worked at both a corporate coffee chain and specialty cafes in Delaware and New York, coffee shops can get pretty rowdy behind-the-scenes. “If you see a barista with a lidded cup behind the bar, there's probably a 50/50 chance: It's either coffee or beer,” he says. “You never know.” And it’s not just the booze, either. “I’ve been a part of secret menus that have cannabis-infused coconut milk,” he explains. “I had a pretty good cappuccino.”


You don’t want to hold up the line telling a barista your life story at 7 a.m., but even if you’re in a hurry, don’t forget to say hi before you jump into demanding that large coffee. “Walking up to somebody and saying 'Almond latte,' when they just said 'How are you today?' is probably the biggest thing you can do to get on a barista's bad side,” Toby's Coffee's Sadler says. “It's like, exchange pleasantries, then get to business.”


Not everyone is super perky in the morning, but if you can’t be civil, you’re better off making your own coffee at home. At some places, if you get snippy with the employees, you’re going to get worse than furtive eye rolls between baristas (though you’ll get that, too).

“Be nice to your baristas, or you get decaf,” warns one barista. While it varies from cafe to cafe, multiple baristas told Mental Floss that it happens. Rude customers might get three letters written on their cup: “They call it DTB—‘decaf that bitch.’”

There’s a less potent way a barista can get back at you, too. If the hole in your coffee lid lines up with the seam of your paper cup, you’re going to get dripped on. And sometimes, it’s not an accident. “When a barista puts the mouth on the seam, they want it to leak on you,” a New York City-based barista explains.

Others are a little more forgiving of rude patrons. “I like making them the best drink that they've ever had, just to kill them with kindness,” one coffee shop employee says. “I don't want them to be like, ‘She’s a bad barista.’” Just to be safe, though, it's better to be nice.


“The longer you work in coffee, the more when someone walks in the door you read their personality type and say, I know exactly what you're going to drink,” Jared Hamilton, a self-described “espresso wizard” at the Brooklyn-based chain Cafe Grumpy, says. When I ask him to predict my drink, he proves his skills. “What you're going to drink is like, an alternative milk, flat white or cappuccino. So maybe soy, probably almond. Nonstandard. You don't want a lot of milk, just enough.” He’s not too far off—my go-to is, in fact, a non-standard, some-milk-but-not-too-much drink, a decaf cappuccino, though I drink regular milk in it. He points to another festival visitor who is dressed in business attire. "That guy right there, he drinks espresso all day," he guesses.

Depending on the coffee shop, the barista might know what customers want more than they do. Dominique Richards, who started her first barista job in Brooklyn three months ago, says she has to order for her customers around a third of the time. “Usually if someone's looking at the menu for more than 30 seconds, I jump in and say, ‘Hey, what would you like?’” She then asks them a few questions, like whether they want hot or cold coffee, and goes from there, often recommending lattes for people who are just getting into specialty coffee. “It's kind of a learning experience for the majority” of her customers, she says.


“People treat cafes like they're [their own] kitchen,” according to Cafe Grumpy’s Hamilton. “My favorite thing people do is when they walk in and they rearrange the condiment bar. Then they order, then they go use the condiments.” Apparently, some people are really particular about the location of their sugar packets. And if you throw off their routine, watch out. One of his colleagues describes a customer who threw a fit because the shop didn’t have a cinnamon shaker, demanding a refund for both her coffee and her pastry. (They eventually found some cinnamon for her.)


Even if you ask for room for milk in your drip coffee, the cup is still sometimes just a bit too full. It’s tempting to just pour a little into the trash can, but whoever has to take out that garbage is going to pay for it. “Please don't pour it in the garbage,” Bluestone Lane barista Marina Velazquez pleads. “Because at the end of the night, it ends up on our feet.” If the shop doesn’t have a dedicated container for you to pour out your excess coffee, take it back to the counter and ask them to dump a bit in the sink. Your baristas will thank you.


When you’re waiting in line, it may look like baristas are doing the same thing over and over for dozens of drinks. But in fact, every order presents its own challenges.

“There's probably not an appreciation for how much a coffee can vary,” explains Katie Duris, a former barista of 10 years who now works as a wholesale manager at Joe Coffee. High-quality coffee is “really dynamic as an ingredient,” she says. Baristas “have to make micro adjustments all day long. You have to change the grind based on the humidity in the room or a draft or how much coffee is in your hopper—if it's an espresso machine—so they're tweaking all day long … good baristas are making adjustments all the time.”


Making espresso drinks all day long can wear you out, and not just because you’re on your feet all day. There are also repetitive stress injuries to consider. “There's physical wear and tear on your joints when you're a barista,” Birch's Hrabe says. He’s worked in coffee for 11 years, and says that tamping espresso shots (compressing the grounds before brewing) day after day has given him tennis elbow. “It's totally common for baristas,” he says.

In short, baristas are probably doing more work behind the bar than you give them credit for, whether it’s dealing with customers or actually making coffee. “Being a barista is fun, but it's hard work,” Bluestone Lane's Velazquez says. “Everybody should be a barista at least once. I think it teaches humility.”

job secrets
10 Secrets of Ski Instructors

If you’ve spent this fall wearing shorts and sandals, you’re not alone: Temperatures have been warmer than average across the United States. But no matter how warm it is where you are, there’s still snow (and skiing) in the forecast somewhere. Before you hit the slopes this winter, check out these on-the-job secrets of ski instructors, from why they love bad weather to what they do during the summer.


No one can control the weather, but ski instructors cross their fingers for frosty temperatures and heavy snowfall. “Ski instructors love cold, appalling winter weather because it so often results in big snowfalls and the skier's dream—velvety powder snow,” says Chalky White, a ski instructor and the author of The 7 Secrets of Skiing.

But big snowfalls don’t always happen, so ski instructors try to make the best of whatever weather they encounter on a given day. Tony Macri of Snow Trainers, a ski and snowboard training company based in Colorado and New Zealand, tells Mental Floss that the weather’s unpredictability makes ski instructing an adventure. “I never think that weather is disappointing,” he says. “It is what creates more challenge and mystery in every day, versus going back to your cubicle that always has the same florescent light shining down on you.”


Although some ski instructors also teach (and love) snowboarding, the majority of them try to stay away from snowboarders on the slopes, at least when they’re teaching. “[Snowboarders] tend to push all the fresh snow down the hill with their natural movements. Gets pretty frustrating!” justind99, a ski instructor in Quebec, writes in a Reddit AMA.

But other ski instructors have a more zen attitude when it comes to snowboarders and preach coexistence. “We are all here to have fun,” rbot1, a ski instructor in Salt Lake City, says in a Reddit AMA. “The snowboarder vs skier stigma does nothing but cause problems. Share the mountain!”


Ski instructor teaching adults

Depending on the country in which they become certified, ski instructors must take classes and pass a series of tests to prove their proficiency. In the U.S., the Professional Ski Instructors of America and American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI) establishes certification requirements for instructors. Once instructors become certified, they can take additional tests of their technical skills to earn higher levels of certification.

“Level 1 is pretty easy to get. Anyone that can ski a blue square comfortably can pass a level 1 exam,” rbot1 says. But achieving certification for higher levels is more challenging, requiring ski instructors to demonstrate their mastery of various turns, bump runs, and drills. “A single mistake in any of those runs nets you a fail,” says rbot1, who spent two years preparing for his Level 2 test. “These drills might be easy to complete, but you have to do it perfectly.”


Although some people think of skiing as a risky activity, ski instructors insist that, statistically, skiing is no more hazardous than many other sports. That said, most ski instructors have seen at least one nasty injury on the slopes, including broken legs and noses, concussions, and shoulder dislocations. “The worst injury I ever witnessed was a spinal fracture from a kid landing on his back after attempting to do a jump in the snow park area,” justind99 says.

“I have seen some injuries to knees, but the worst was when a friend concussed himself so bad that he was knocked out and was actually sleeping with his eyes open,” Macri says. White tells Mental Floss that a helicopter once picked him up from the slopes because medics suspected that he’d broken his neck. “Good news—I didn’t."


The income ski instructors make can vary widely, based on where they teach and their level of expertise. Some instructors earn $10 or $11 an hour for group lessons but charge more for private lessons or longer coaching sessions. While most beginning ski instructors may make just $20,000 per year, the perks of getting paid to ski outweigh the lack of cash for many instructors. “I do understand that at some point I’ll need to either start working really hard to boost my earning potential as an instructor or find another field,” rbot1 says. “For now, it’s a blast.”


Ski instructor teaching children

A group of young kids bundled up in ski jackets while they try to balance on narrow skis might look adorable, but teaching children to ski comes with plenty of challenges. “Some kids don't have the muscles to do it at [a young] age and some do,” explains inkybus21, a ski and snowboard instructor who has taught in Canada, Australia, and Japan. To make sure his young students don’t lose interest or give up, he makes up games that require various skiing motions and uses visuals to help kids figure out how to properly use their bodies.


Ski equipment can be pricey, and ski instructors know the pain of an empty wallet firsthand. From skis and boots to bindings, poles, helmets, goggles, and other accessories, ski instructors can easily spend over $1000 on their equipment. And because their gear gets more use than a casual skier’s, instructors typically go through a pair of skis, boots, and liners each season. But many instructors are eligible for steep discounts on their gear, thanks to their employer or their PSIA-AASI membership. “I haven't bought anything at retail price in years,” rbot1 says. “I can’t even imagine paying full price for a pair of boots or ski/binder set up.”


In a career dependent on the winter season, what do ski instructors do during the summer? Some of them travel to the opposite hemisphere to work at a ski resort—essentially working two winters in a row. But because it can be costly to travel and live on another continent, most ski instructors work odd jobs or use their savings to rock climb and explore the outdoors in the off season. Rbot1, for example, has spent his summers working at a ski resort’s restaurant, boxing fish at an Alaskan processing plant, and living off of his savings. “Most people have a seasonal job. The most popular is raft guiding, the second most popular is working at a state park,” he says.


Ski instructors don’t always receive tips from their students, and they wish more people knew that they welcome—and in some cases, expect—gratuity. Rbot1 recounts the story of how he once earned $1500, his biggest tip to date, after instructing a family of four for five days, taking them to different parts of the mountain and even eating lunch with them. “At the end of the week it was all hugs and smiles, but my hand was left dry,” he says. “Anyways, next day I got an email that said ‘you have a tip in the office’ and BOOM $1500 in an envelope.” Rbot1 made good use of the generous tip, paying two months of rent and car payments, as well as buying new ski goggles and gloves.


Although skiing is good exercise and an enjoyable winter activity, learning to ski can also help people feel more confident. “It’s not always about skiing and teaching people to be the best skiers,” Macri says. “A lot of [the job] is just about showing people a good time and helping them achieve their goals or overcoming their fears.”

Macri particularly appreciates the amazing views from the top of a mountain, as well as the feeling he gets when he takes students down a great run and everyone high-fives one another in joy. “I sit back and think this is my office and I am having just as amazing [a] time as everyone else. The only difference is that I am getting paid for it,” he says.

All photos courtesy of iStock.


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