Saturday, October 6, 2007

Nursing: A Career for All Seasons

Are you interested in a challenging, exciting multifaceted career that allows you to learn new skills, practice in a variety of different environments, travel to new and different places, influence the political landscape in respect to health care, meet new people on a daily basis, and make a difference in the lives of those for whom you care? If you answered yes to these questions, then nursing may be the career for you. Today is an exciting time to be a nurse….because the sky’s the limit in respect to career opportunities, and the supply of nurses has not kept pace with current and future demands.

When and where you begin a nursing career depends upon you. You may enter a nursing program when you complete high school, a basic entry requirement. Length of the formal education varies from one year to four or five years. All nurses, regardless of program preparation, are licensed through a state-administered examination. Nurses have an opportunity to progress up the career ladder from licensed practical nurse (LPN) to associate degree (AD) and diploma preparation, to baccalaureate (BSN) and advanced practice options at the masters level (MSN), including nurse practitioner programs (NP) or clinical specialist in a content area (such as gerontology). You may wish to become a nurse researcher or teach future nurses in a community college or a university setting (see and for descriptions of different programs).

What is important for students in high school to know is that preparation for a nursing career begins in junior and senior high school and forms the foundation for the chosen program and/or college experience. For example, nursing education builds upon a strong arts and science base, a process begun during the high school years. A strong interest in mathematics, chemistry, and biology lay the framework for the chemistry, microbiology, and anatomy and physiology courses in the first year of nearly all nursing programs. Nurses must have the ability to speak and write articulately, thus making the English and writing composition courses from high school extremely important.

Many universities also require knowledge of a foreign language, unless students have completed those requirements during their high school years. Why is a language so important? Because we live and work in a diverse, multicultural environment and chances are that many of our patients will speak in tongues other than English. Additionally, knowledge of a foreign language allows the nurse broad flexibility geographically and often includes significant additional financial reward.

Are the financial incentives gained from a nursing career worthwhile? According to the American Nurses Association, it does pay to be a nurse. The average staff nurse salary is about $35,000 per year, with additional incentives to work 12 hours shifts or off hours such as evenings or nights. Income is steady, and based upon present and projected need, there appears to be great job security.

So, what does it take to be a nurse? The candidate must be a good student, with an interest in the physical and biological, as well as the social sciences. There must be an ability to communicate with others and an openness to work with a variety of individuals, both colleagues and patients. Nurses must possess the ability to maintain confidential information. And they must provide leadership to others who make up the health care team.

Can you afford to complete a nursing education? Many grants and scholarship monies are available for students enrolled in nursing programs. Because of the current and projected nurse shortage, the federal government is making monies available for students at all levels of education. In addition, local institutions (such as hospitals and nursing homes) across the country are providing scholarship support, especially during the final years of a nursing program, in return for a commitment to spend one or more years gaining clinical experience within that institution (for a competitive paycheck, of course). There are also local organizations which provide scholarship support to select populations.

What kind of education is required? Regardless of the program chosen, there will be classroom and clinical course expectations. All nurses need an understanding of wellness and illness, and the nurse’s role in care of patients with specific health conditions. Nurses learn to care for a patient holistically, addressing physical and psychosocial needs. All nursing education programs include information about health, nutrition, and drug therapy. For nearly every classroom offering, there are clinical experiences, both in a learning lab (similar to a chemistry or biology lab) where the student is able to practice skills, and in real life situations. No matter what program you pursue, it is imperative that your grades stay competitive.

Hospitals are where nurses are most commonly found in media situations and in literature. However, while nurses are definitely employed in hospitals, long term care, and other institutional settings, they are also employed throughout the community in clinics, home care, physician offices, schools and as entrepreneurs running their own businesses. In advance practice roles, there are nurse lawyers, nurse anesthetists, nurse administrators, and university professors. Nurses help patients and their families stay healthy and deal with the problems that accompany illness.

There are also programs designed for individuals who already possess a degree in another discipline and are interested in new career options. A variety of programs exist to fast track these individuals through a university program to obtain either a BSN or ND (Nursing Doctorate).

Criteria for admission to the various nursing programs can be obtained by contacting the specific school of interest by phone, letter, or website. Good luck to each of you. High school graduation opens the door to all sorts of careers. Learn about what best fits you and your needs, and know that your initial career can continue throughout your lifetime, taking turns and twists that you would never imagine!

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