Following in the footsteps of Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, nurses currently represent the largest group of healthcare workers in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates more than 2.7 million registered nurses are employed at hospitals, physician offices, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and working outside of what is considered the “typical” nurse-related work environment. There are many different reasons why people choose to become a nurse, making the wide-ranging profession one of the most lucratively attractive, gratifying careers in today’s society.
Nurses are in Demand
As one of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S., there is a greater need in the nation (and across the world) to hire nurses than any other healthcare worker in the industry. According to Deborah D’Avolio, PhD, ACNP, ANP, an Associate Professor at Northeastern University’s Bouve College of Health Sciences School of Nursing , “a nurse is an expert clinician, scientist, healer, health translator, communicator, teacher, guide, and family supporter” – all of which are needed to ensure the health and wellness of individuals, families, and communities.
“Opportunities for nurses will continue to expand in the next several years,” says Dana Tschannen, PhD, RN, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing. “This is in part due to the Affordable Care Act and the aging population in the United States.”
And, the list of reasons why nurses are in demand continues with:
- Retiree Vacancies: An aging workforce will contribute to the thousands of new nursing job vacancies to open in the coming years. Predictions also claim that by 2020, the U.S. will be short close to 800,000 nurses  with California being the most-affected state.
- Population Growth: As the population grows with increased longevity, so does the need for more health care services. “Advanced practice nurses will be needed to provide preventative and primary care to an extending population,” says Tschannen. Because of a rise in the number of overall residents, certain states in the U.S., such as Florida, New York, Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina, will demonstrate a greater need to fill nursing job openings.
- Rural Healthcare Needs: Specialized programs and grants are in place to attract nurses to seek employment at some of the most remote, isolated, and understaffed geographic locations in the U.S. Rural regions are known for experiencing an overall health care provider and workforce shortage, as well as having a lack of effective emergency medical services, preventive care programs, and health and wellness resources.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), understaffed nursing schools must turn away qualified applicants because of a limited number of nurse educators. Not only does the number of RN graduates suffer, but also the number of advanced practice nurses, nurse administrators, and nurse managers trained to fill open positions; thus increasing the demand for nursing professionals all across the board.
A Stable Career Choice Offering Job Security
“Nursing is one of the best options for a “recession proof” career that pays well and has endless avenues to pursue,” says Nadine Saubers, RN, BSN.
According to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 26 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations in the U.S. The overall career field offers a high level of economic stability and job security – one that is especially attractive to recent high school graduates and those looking to transition into a new profession.
For example, after holding a number of jobs including postal clerk, seamstress and waitress, Saubers says she wanted to pursue an education, make good money, and excel at something.
“I kept hearing about nursing, and it sounded like a good fit for me as art and science were always my main interests,” Saubers says. “I wanted a career, not just a job.” For Mary Sue Kavalam, EdD, nursing was not her first career choice; it was the appeal of job security that eventually attracted her to the field.
“I fell into it,” she says. “My mom was a nurse, and after I graduated with an English degree and a dream to be an editorial assistant at Random House, I realized the pay and security was not there in my original choice so I went back to nursing school, and found myself interested in the intricacies and humanity of nursing.”
Michelle Golba-Norek, RN, BSN, MS, CEN, MICN, of Raritan Bay Medical Center in New Jersey, says her parents motivated her decision to pursue nursing by explaining the importance of healthcare, highlighting the constant need for nurses, and encouraging her to pursue a stable career field.
She says, “I chose nursing as a profession so that no matter where life brought me, I would always be able to find a job and support myself.” Golba-Norek says she encourages many people to become nurses.
“Nursing will never leave you without an option for work,” she adds. “You may not get your dream job right out of school, but there are jobs available; and you can grow and move on from there to other areas that may interest you.”
The Most Diverse Health Care-Related Career
The nursing profession is by far the largest and most diverse career choice related to the health care-centered job market . With plenty of entry-level job positions to consider, a nurse can also choose to fulfill the necessary requirements to pursue advanced employment at any time.
To get an idea of the variety of possibilities associated with a nursing career, consider the following:
Multiple Career Paths: Nurses may fill general practice positions, such as becoming a registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner (NP). Others may concentrate on a specialty, as seen in the oncology nurse or family nurse practitioner (FNP). Certifications also open the doors for nurses to qualify for job opportunities that seek very specific skills and experience. Examples include Certified Bariatric Nurse (CBN), Certified Dialysis Nurse (CDN), and Certified Radiologic Nurse (CRN).
“There are multiple career paths a nurse can take throughout his or her career,” says D’Avolio, who is also the Project Director of “Interprofessional Geriatric Education for Team Based Care” at Northeastern University. “If you enter nursing specializing in one field, you can always change specializations when you feel that a change is needed.”
Wide-Ranging Work Environments: Where a nurse can work is just as diverse as the job positions. Work environments include hospitals, elementary schools, government agencies, home care facilities, specialty care centers, doctor’s offices, insurance companies, military bases, nonprofit organizations, and even on-site nursing options found at amusement parks, zoos, and state/national parks.
Encouraging Job Trends: Over the past couple of years, Kavalam has noticed trends in nursing that make the profession a more appealing career choice, such as “more men in nursing; nursing as a second career; [and] nursing as a stepping stone.”
Never-Ending Possibilities: The basic skills, knowledge, and experience that nurses receive during his or her training and career creates a job applicant with highly marketable, portable skills that can fill virtually any entry-level nursing position.
“…positions are available throughout the nation (and beyond), thus opening up opportunities for travel and relocation,” says Tschannen. “Regardless of where one resides, opportunities for employment in a meaningful profession are endless.”
Widespread Opportunities to Gain an Education
“When you become a nurse, you gain a powerful education that expands your horizons and your future,” saysSarah Rose, RN, Heights Unit Coordinator at Menorah Park Center for Senior Living.
As a nurse for ten years, Rose spent most of her time in LTC and SNF management, and calls nursing an appealing field because it ‘teaches you as you go.’
“Once you have your knowledge base, you can gain experiences that will not only teach you about healthcare, but [also] about yourself and your community,” she continues.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the educational pathways available to aspiring nurses which allow men and women from “modest means and diverse backgrounds to access careers” in nursing, are ever-evolving. Nursing graduates are not obligated to complete a four-year degree program in order to secure an entry-level position in the field, and nurses can return to school at any time to earn an advanced degree.
Pamela Triolo, PhD, RN, FAAN, and author of Death Without Cause – A Medical Mystery, says she has noticed education trends that include an increasing demand for nurses with college degrees in nursing; the GPA for entering students is very high; and employers are “hiring only BSN prepared new graduates [and] more doctoral prepared nurses.”
Today, the most common educational options for nurses include:
- ADN – Opening doors to an array of entry-level nursing positions, an Associate Degree in Nursing typically takes two years to complete. “A lot of people (me included) have to start out with an associate degree,” says Saubers. “But I did get my Bachelor’s degree later on, and most people with [an] ADN will end up going back to school because it’s essential for becoming 100% marketable in every aspect of nursing.”
- BSN – A Bachelors of Science in Nursing program typically takes four years to complete with accelerated learning options available to students possessing a baccalaureate degree in a non-nursing field. “Nurses are much more autonomous than in years past, and this independence requires the critical thinking skills and advanced knowledge of a BSN degree,” says Jessica Cox, RN, BSN, the Director of Medication Compliance at PharmaPoint.
- MSN – Registered nurses with an interest in becoming an advanced practice nurse, nurse educator, nurse anesthetist or nurse manager, must earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing through an accredited graduate degree program.
Attending a degree program is not the only manner in which a nurse can become educated, enhance his or her skills, and/or gain valuable experience.
Lou Diamond Rosenfeld, RNC, MSN, of Diamond Women’s Healthcare, says nursing school is just the beginning, as specializations and certifications continue to educate nurses who now assume duties once reserved to doctors only.
“With this new nursing responsibility, there are testing and certifications to ensure that the nurses are educated and skilled to perform these extended roles,” she says.
In an effort to encourage nurses to advance their careers, the number of options for funding an education has also increased. For example, scholarships and grants are available through colleges, medical associations, private parties, and nurse-related organizations.
Many hospitals, such as the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN), Northwest Community Hospital (Arlington Heights, IL) and Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center (Oakland, CA), pay for nurses to continue their education by offering some form of tuition reimbursement or loan forgiveness.
An Interesting, Wide-Ranging Career Filled with Excitement
“Nursing is such an exciting profession,” says D’Avolio. “One can never be bored as a nurse.”
A nurse rarely knows how his or her day will unfold as they come in contact with endless patients on a daily basis who create new decisions to make, come with new problems to solve, and keep them on their toes. There’s never a dull day, and every workday is different. Some nursing positions present more unpredictable challenges and unique experiences than others, such as:
- Travel nursesmay relocate to cities in the U.S. demonstrating the greatest need for healthcare professionals, or go abroad to locales such as South America, Australia, Western Europe, and the Philippines, to help manage health clinics, treat patients, or educate local nursing staff.
- Flight nursesprovide wide-ranging pre-hospital, emergency, and critical care to patients needing a medical evacuation via air transport (helicopter, propeller aircraft, or jet aircraft); and tend to victims of a natural disaster who are in need of a rescue.
- Research nurses gain the opportunity to work alongside some of the best leaders in medicine and science from across the globe. They are often amongst the first to learn about fascinating developments related to the medical world before anyone else does.
- Emergency room nurses work in a fast-paced environment treating patients who need immediate medical attention, such as victims of car accidents, gunshot and knife wounds, severe burns, unexplained pain, severe asthma attacks, allergic reactions, poisoning, heart attack, stroke, and any other life-threatening injuries.
“I would say the coolest and most inspirational thing about my job was seeing or hearing about formerly critically ill patients when they are well and outside the hospital living their lives,” says Saubers.
She also says, “I took care of regular kids from regular families, famous children, politician’s children, and kids that became United Way poster children.”
And while not every nurse will get a chance to treat a celebrity, sometimes the excitement comes from simply helping another patient achieve a health care milestone.
Endless Opportunities to Increase Earnings
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for a registered nurse as $67,930. In addition to earning a generally attractive base salary, nurses also encounter endless opportunities to advance their annual wages, or supplement his or her income, such as:
- Overtime and On-Call Pay:With varied on-call rates determined by position, employer and location, nurses earn an hourly rate for the expectation of coming into work on scheduled times – even if they are not called in. Nurses may also earn overtime pay.
- Extra Shifts: Whether volunteering to take extra shifts when necessary, or relieving a coworker in need, it is commonplace to see nurses padding their paychecks with money earned from extra shifts.
- Specialties: Nurses with specializations and certifications often earn higher salaries with some of the highest-paying nurse specialtiesincluding Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Researcher, and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.
- Relocate:Some nurses earn more money by relocating to states that offer a higher annual salary. The BLS identifies the top five highest-paying states in the U.S. (with median salaries) for registered nurses as California ($94,120), Hawaii ($84,750), Massachusetts ($83,370), Alaska ($80,970), and Oregon ($78,530).
- Teach: Educating and training the next generation of nurses at a local or community college earns extra money. Nurses can also become a certified instructor and opt to teach CPR and First Aid classes to supplement their income.
Better Yourself [or Grow] as an Individual
“In private life, a nursing framework guides me in my family and community life,” says D’Avolio. “What other career offers you so much in return!”
“The most important thing that I have learned is that being a nurse is a special privilege,” she continues. “One must always remember that others place their trust in you to deliver the best possible care always.”
The skills and experiences gained during a nursing career not only enhance the health and wellness of others, but also help nurses grow as individuals.
Just some of the attributes and abilities that nurses learn while on the job include:
- Stress Management:“One of the most important things I’ve learned as a nurse is dealing with emotionally charged situations and managing the stress that comes with those situations. As a nurse, you learn quickly to help patients and their families cope with difficult circumstances, and these traits will last a lifetime.” –Jessica Cox, RN, BSN
- Listening Skills: “I am constantly refining my listening ability. I can’t help my patients understand what they consider their healthcare needs without hearing and understanding their thoughts.” –Lou Diamond Rosenfeld, RNC, MSN
- Compassion: “Every person is important. Regardless of whom they are and where they have
come from, every single person is important and should be treated as such.” – Michelle Golba-Norek, RN, BSN, MS, CEN, MICN
- Inner-Strength: “Because I worked PICU, air and ground transport and trauma resuscitation, and I saw a lot of really gruesome, tragic and heart wrenching stuff, people have always asked me how I could be around such sadness and tragedy. I tell them it’s because I wanted the best for my patient, so even though the situation might be dire and heartbreaking, I put aside those feelings to focus on giving the best care.” – Nadine Saubers, RN, BSN
A Career Overflowing with Flexibility
Nursing is an extremely accommodating career choice because it satisfies the scheduling needs of most workers, including night owls, early risers, and employees with families. There are many opportunities to work on weekdays and weekends – typically in incremental shifts of 4, 8, 10, and 12 hours.
“The flexibility and variety of a nursing career can be amazing,” says Kavalam.
She continues, “You can work two days a month or seven days a week; you can work at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m.; you can work in NJ or Paris; you can work with 2 year olds or interact with a 102-year-old; you can give flu shots at a workplace or get the adrenaline rush of caring for a trauma patient in a helicopter – all while having job security and moderately good pay.”
Pamela Treister, MSN, CNS, RN, who is a Clinical Instructor at the New York Institute of Technology School of Health Professions, says she always wanted to work in healthcare, and that nursing was a perfect fit.
“I initially wanted to be a physician, but it was important for me to have the flexibility to be able to stay home and raise children if my husband and I could afford that luxury,” she says.
Aspiring nurses also encounter flexible options when pursuing an education that include:
- Accelerated nursing degree programsallow students to earn credentials in less time, and are usually geared towards students who possess a degree in a non-nursing field.
- Online degree programsmake it easier for nurses to work and study at the same time.
- Hybrid degree programsblend classroom instruction with online learning to accommodate learners.
- Dual-degree (or ‘fast-track’)options let nurses seamlessly transition between two different programs to earn multiple credentials in a quicker amount of time, such as ADN-BSN, BSN-MSN, ADN-MSN Bridge Programs, and BS-to-PhD Pathway Programs.
RN Credentials Speak Volumes
“Nurses have credibility,” says Saubers. “Because I’m an RN, I was able to get work when it would have otherwise been impossible because of my health.”
Registered nurse credentials add value to a work history that is often respected in other fields, which makes it easier for nurses to find work if they become disabled, retire, or seek new employment. Some choose to pursue interests outside of the acute care aspect of nursing, like Saubers.
After working 11 years as a nurse, an illness left her bedridden, forcing her to leave the profession. Upon reaching a point where she could work from home, the Internet became a place for Saubers to market her skills.
“I wouldn’t have been approached to write books [and] I would never have been hired to do medical research for books and films,” says Saubers, who also invented an aligner removal tool for invisible braces. “And I can use my RN credentials to market the Outie Tool.”
A Respectable Career Field
Today, nurses are an indispensable part of the healthcare system. Rosenfeld says a shortage of doctors has created a trend that now sees nurses taking over jobs and responsibilities that were once performed solely by physicians.
“Nurses have more autonomy; they are more valued,” says Carole Kenner, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Associate Dean at Bouve College of Health Sciences.
“Our work is less invisible,” adds Kenner. “We are a critical part of the health care team and we are clear about our contribution to advancing care, education, and the science through research.”
A Profession for Science, Math & Technology Enthusiasts
Nursing is a career field that attracts a wide range of people, including those with a curious nature who oftentimes have an interest in science, biology, mathematics, and/or technology.
“I was always interested in healthcare from a young age,” says Cox. “I chose nursing as my profession because it combined science and technology with the human experience, and no experience is ever the same!”
D’Avolio states that it is an exciting time to become a nurse because of the evolving nursing science.
“We now focus on evidence based care which embraces the science behind the interventions,” she says.
On a daily basis, nurses often encounter a wave of technological, biological, and science-related puzzles to solve and dilemmas to overcome. “As science of the body and biotechnology grow, the demand for better educated nurses intensifies,” says Rosenfeld.
Since nurses need science and math to deliver competent health care to patients, the following subjects are generally included in the typical nursing degree program:
- Biology: Nurses take courses in Microbiology, Human Anatomy, and Human Physiology to learn about the parts, functions, and systems that make up the human body.
- Chemistry: Courses in Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry help nurses gain an understanding of the physiology of the human body, and the chemical activities that take place within the body.
- Mathematics:Nurses use Algebra to measure, convert, and review proper doses regarding different units of measurement. Statistical Science incorporates math and science, which helps nurses to better understand medical reports, conduct research, and understand vital statistics (body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure).
- Physics: Nurses use physics when dealing with advanced technology, electrical measurements, sound waves, and radiography. Surgical nurses rely on certain aspects of physics to operate equipment and perform calculations regarding the care and safety of a patient. Nurse anesthetists learn how the gases they use and flow rates affect overall patient outcomes.
- Clinical Pharmacology:Incorporating chemistry and algebra, pharmacology coursework teaches nurses how to safely keep track of, classify, and administer medications. They also learn how the human system typically reacts to drugs.
A Challenging, Stimulating Career
Kathleen Lattavo, MSN, RN, CNS-MS, CMSRN, RNBC, ACNS-BC, says an interest in sciences and caring for people motivated her to pursue a nursing career.
“I wanted to challenge my mind while making a difference in someone’s life,” she says. “Being a medical-surgical nurse has met both of those interests; it’s an incredibly rewarding specialty.”
Lattavo is now the President of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN), and says she is grateful for making the decision to become a nurse. Over the past couple of years, Lattavo notes that “people are sicker; treatments are more complex; and nurses are challenged with more to accomplish in the same amount of time.”
“I am always learning and being challenged intellectually,” she adds. “New information about disease process and treatment makes you relearn and rethink previous beliefs.”
An Enriching ‘Medical Network’ of Support
Many individuals typically play an active role in shaping and steering the direction of a nurse’s career. From classroom to workplace, the support system available to a nurse is unending, and includes the likes of professors, clinical instructors, faculty, alumni, doctors, and other nurses.
“There are many options for a nurse if one is open to change and trying new things,” says Taylor Brock, BSN, RN, PHN, who has held many different jobs over the course of her nursing career.
Brock’s work history includes medical sales, working with oncology patients, caring for infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), starting a traveling nurse agency, heading a nurse staffing business, and serving as a patient care coordinator for an insurance company.
“I would meet people along the way that would suggest something new,” says Brock, who received recommendations via what she calls a ‘medical network’ – the people she has met through her jobs and through her husband, who is a physician.
Also, nurses who join an organization or association often gain a wealth of support that generally includes financial assistance through grants and scholarships, as well as access to job opportunities. Members typically pay dues and participate in activities, such as attending conferences and contributing to journals.
The following organizations illustrate the diversity of options available to networking nurses:
- American Academy of Nursing (AAN)
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
- Emergency Nurses Association (ENA)
- National Association of Hispanic Nurses
- National Association of School Nurses (NASN)
- Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN)
A Rewarding Career that Makes a Difference in Many Lives
“Although it requires commitment and dedication (and sometimes sweat and tears), nursing is one of the most rewarding professions,” says Tschannen.
Nurses make a difference in their patient’s lives by providing hands-on care and assisting complete strangers in leading a healthier life. The warm feeling of ‘helping others out,’ giving back to the community, and influencing the success of nationwide healthcare makes nursing an intrinsically rewarding career field to pursue.
“The work that you put in is equal to your reward,” says Saubers. “You’ll learn skills that can be adapted to a myriad of life and work situations.”
“Nurses are helping patients and families during their intimate times of need,” says D’Avolio. “Such an amazing career…whether helping to deliver a new life into the world or providing expert end of life care as someone transitions to their last phase…it is diverse, exciting and always evolving.”
Why nursing? Taylor Brock sums it up best. “Nursing can be a very rewarding profession,” she says. “It’s about caring, listening, thinking, organizing, and leading.”
“It fosters confidence in oneself because it takes ability and smarts,” she continues. “One can make a decent living, feel good, and have a multitude of professional options.”