Registered Nurse: Educator, Caregiver, Life-changer

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So you want to be a registered nurse? Becoming a nurse takes passion, dedication, and hours of study and clinical practice, but if you have the head—and the heart—for the profession, it can lead down many interesting paths.

Nursing is an ever-growing field that demands qualified candidates with a passion for helping others. Nurses can specialize in a number of different areas, including education, private practice, and nonprofit organizations. As both an art and a science, the study of nursing combines health, wellness, and physiology through health care. In order to become a nurse, aspiring students can choose from a number of degrees, but one of the most marketable that also offers advanced opportunities for further study is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.).  

During the Crimean War in the 1850s, Florence Nightingale, along with her nursing crew, changed the nurse’s job description from a handmaid to a highly respected and intelligent caregiver. Since that period in history, nurses have served not just in hospitals and nursing homes, but many related health environments, from pharmaceutical research companies to community clinics. Today, the boundaries of a nurse’s job description are being expanded even further due to technological advancements in the field and a growing need for nurses as the baby boom generation ages.

What does the job market look like for nurses?

The market for nurses has been steadily growing as more jobs are created to care for the aging baby boomers. The need for RNs is pressing, particularly in home health care for elderly patients, and the profession was listed as the top occupation in the country for projected growth, as of February 2012. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing profession is expected to grow by 26% from 2010–2020 (2.74 million to 3.45 million practitioners), which is faster than any other occupation.

This projected increase is also due to technological advancements in treating illnesses and disease, as well as projected growth in the public sector due to health care reform. As more patients are being treated, more nurses will be needed to care for them. With greater health care opportunities and increased demand, the role of nurses will expand even further from the traditional bedside care.

What specialties can nurses work in?

Registered nurses, particularly those with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, have a wide range of work opportunities. A B.S.N. degree prepares registered nurses with a basic understanding of each medical specialty, enabling them to choose which one to focus on for their employment. Some specializations include being a school nurse, burn specialist, or a county health department nurse. Nursing offers flexibility to practice in a variety of ways. Some nontraditional settings include nonprofit and travel nursing; these nurses can volunteer their time to an organization or become entrepreneur consultants for patients. Travel nurses typically work under independent contracts and can work for one month on site at a specific location for a high salary, rather than full-time hours at average pay. Nurses can also work in a homecare setting for the elderly or handicapped and even begin a private practice by opening their own clinic after attaining their master’s or doctoral degree.

How can I become a nurse?

Nursing offers many educational opportunities. Some people choose to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), while others opt to become a registered nurse (RN). An LPN completes a one-year certificate program to perform basic bedside care, such as maintaining patient hygiene, administering injections, and checking vital signs. The LPN serves under the RN and doctor and often cannot work in the ICU, ER, or burn unit, among other areas. While RNs and LPNs have some of the same educational courses and hands-on educational practices, RNs are also trained in the administrative aspects of nursing.

Registered nurses “provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. RNs are stable, reliable caregivers who are educated with a foundational understanding of the various medical specialties so they can serve as a resource for health and wellness tips. Health care providers are highly trusted professionals for the community, and nurses in particular are consistently ranked as one of the most trusted professionals by various public surveys. RNs serve as health experts that bridge the gap between patients and doctors, and RNs are often able to build relationships with patients and their families that a doctor does not have time to provide.

Students can become an RN by completing a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Having a B.S.N. provides more opportunities for advancement in the nursing profession. RNs with a B.S.N. can go on to pursue a master’s in nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice, and they can practice in a wider range of work environments.

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing prepares students to be advocates within the health/wellness field. A B.S.N. goes beyond bedside care to being a proactive, engaging career that requires ingenuity, dedication, and skill. A B.S.N. prepares students to be nurse generalists who understand the basic foundation of every area and then have the versatility to choose what specialty to pursue. They carry a multidimensional role of caring for people and educating them about their health and wellness. A B.S.N. also teaches leadership and management skills.

All nursing certificate and degree programs have educational bridges to advance to the next level, but not all courses are acceptable by transfer. Some degree completion programs require students to only take courses from their college or university. For example, a two-year R.N. can be an acceptable foundation for a B.S.N., but prior course work may or may not count toward the B.S.N. degree completion. Students should check with their program of interest to find out what courses are accepted, then carefully decide what level of nursing education they wish to complete.

What do B.S.N. programs entail?

The study of nursing entails rigorous, hands-on learning. Students put their classroom knowledge to use through clinical practice, simulation labs, and interactive assignments. First-year classes provide an intensive study of the basic health and science information needed, and students must fulfill their general education requirements and take introductory nursing courses during their first year. In their second year, they not only have classroom research and studies but their first clinicals as well. Students get real-life experience in a hospital setting or other medical practice as they put their classroom education to work. The ability to serve others while learning makes the B.S.N. a highly valuable degree that goes beyond classroom innovation.

While nurses with an associate degree are able to practice nursing with less schooling, nurses with a B.S.N. have the advantage of more opportunities in the job market and for further education. People trust the nurse as a caregiver who will give solid health care information while keeping their best interests in mind. Today, many nurses are even beginning private practices for themselves. Unlike nurses with just an associate degree, a B.S.N. nurse is not limited to bedside care and facilitating a doctor’s practice. They are often given more responsibility and have the opportunity for further graduate education with a Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice. In addition to nursing job prospects, many employers prefer to hire a nurse with a B.S.N. degree.

What is the legacy of nursing?

Nursing is a highly valuable profession that continues to grow with technological advancements and an aging baby boom generation. More jobs are being created to meet the demands of patients, making registered nurses an even greater asset in the medical field. With a variety of specializations to choose from, nurses can devote their time and energy to a career that truly interests them. A nursing education, particularly a B.S.N., aids scholars to be active educators, caregivers, and life-changers through their work in the medical field.

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