Welcome to Nursing, Welcome to Opportunity

How can you make a difference and improve the lives of others? Become a nurse.

How can you make a difference and improve the lives of others? Become a nurse.

Modern medical technology would be nothing without caring, knowledgeable people to implement it in a patient care setting. That’s just what nurses do. They are essentially the most immediate interface between patients and the massive, complex health care system, affecting millions every day.

Nurses encompass a plethora of categories: Staff nurses at hospitals process and administer care to patients. Acute care nurse practitioners can travel by helicopters to serve among the first responders to disasters. Nurse administrators introduce and oversee policies and regulations that affect people at local, national, and even international levels. Home care nurses are essential visitors in caring for the elderly and disabled. Nursing scientists and researchers produce the knowledge base for nursing practice and policy. And nursing faculty educate and mentor generations of new nurses.

When you decide to become a nurse, you embark on a path full of discovery, challenges, and opportunities. There are so many different paths toward your ultimate academic and professional destination that along the way, you just might change your mind and take a totally new direction! Nursing encompasses a wide range of specialties and subspecialties, from pediatrics to geriatrics, from mental health to infection control, from public policy to informatics. Nursing addresses the entire human life span, examines health disparities, develops research- and evidence-based practices, embraces global health care systems, and introduces new health initiatives into communities.

Nursing facts and figures

Nurses enjoy some of the best career opportunities and prestige rankings in the nation. For seven years straight, the Gallup Organization’s annual Honesty and Ethics poll has put nurses at the top of the list of trusted professionals—ahead of medical doctors, pharmacists, teachers, clergy, and police officers. By choosing nursing, you will almost automatically garner wide-ranged respect and admiration that can help you advance in your professional goals, as well as improve your ability to make a difference and change lives.

Yet, it is the global nursing shortage that continues to drive the critical need for nurses. The 12 million nurses around the world are not enough to meet the demands of a rapidly aging global society. Beginning in 2011, the first members of the Baby Boom generation will reach age 65. By 2020, the U.S. Bureau of the Census projects that about one in six Americans will be considered elderly, due both to longer life expectancy and declining fertility rates. Although today there are more than 2.6 million registered nurses in the United States, the U.S. Department of Labor expects employment to grow 23% from 2006–2016, much faster than the average for all occupations! Despite economic crisis, about 587,000 new nursing jobs are expected in the next six or seven years, plus hundreds of thousands of positions due to retiring nurses.

Nursing salaries are also very strong. Although they vary based on education, experience, geography, and specialization, nursing is one of the few professions that pays well even for those with minimal instruction. Registered nurses without advanced degrees fit into this category; in 2008, the median wage for RNs was $62,450, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Of course, the further you advance in your nursing education, the greater your earnings. Nurse practitioners, for example, are primary and specialty care providers who have acquired a graduate degree in such fields as acute care, pediatrics, family nursing, or women’s health. For 2009, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners found the average full-time total salary was $87,400 and steadily growing.

Nurses are vital members of society, and their prominence and authority continue to increase. No longer are nurses limited to the commendable but constrained subordinate roles dictated in the past by medical doctors and misunderstood by the general public. And with men increasingly choosing nursing as a profession, nursing is no longer merely “women’s work,” as it is still regarded in many pockets of the world. You can help nursing redefine and fulfill its image on its own terms, not the terms determined by those who fail to comprehend its true nature.

Nursing education and careers

A nursing career is virtually limitless. Nurses who have four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) degrees rack up hundreds of hours of clinical training in hospitals, and their course work covers everything from standard biology and anatomy and physiology to psychiatric/mental health, acute and critical care, and nursing ethics and informatics. After graduating, they can easily find careers within health care systems, nonprofit agencies, and other organizations all around the globe.

While RNs certainly have plenty of opportunities for rewarding careers in hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other locations, why not take your education further once you get your bachelor’s degree? Nurses with master’s degrees, or M.S.N.s, take their education and practice to the next level. They have the power to advance into roles as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, or midwives—all of which cover specialties and subspecialties. Public health nurses, for example, both assess and analyze the health of populations and communities to plan, implement, and evaluate public health programs, specializing in everything from international health issues to infection control. Medical-surgical nurses focus on the care of patients recovering from illness and living with chronic conditions like cancer.

The peak of the nursing profession is the terminal degree: the Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) or the Ph.D. Both of these doctorates are considered the pinnacle of nursing—the former for practice and leadership, and the latter for research and education. The D.N.P. is called the future of advanced nursing practice, as it is reserved for the most highly educated and qualified nurses. Those with nursing practice doctorates use their education and expertise in leadership roles and enjoy a level of autonomy and authority almost unheard of a few decades ago. On the other hand, nurses with Ph.D.s are prepared for careers as researchers, scientists, or university faculty members. Their research helps develop the evidence base of nursing science, which can bring about a profound effect on health knowledge, practices, and procedures around the world.

Nursing simply excels—as a profession, as a science, as a spiritual and emotional commitment, and as a global identity. No other calling offers such a winning combination of diverse opportunities and exciting career paths, recession-proof job security, prestige and respect, high salaries and benefits, and, most of all, the chance to truly make a difference in the lives of others.

Jason Barone is the Assistant Director of Marketing for the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. 

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