Why choose nursing as a career? As a new graduate nurse I was constantly asked that question by my friends and family. The answer is just as clear today as it was thirty-three years ago! There is no other professional career that I know of that offers you as much opportunity as nursing does. Very often smart nurses are asked, “Why did you choose nursing and not medicine?” There is an easy answer for that. While both nursing and medicine are needed, they are different. Physicians are focused on the cure of illness while nursing is also focused on helping the patient and family adapt to illness.
How many professionals are given the gift everyday of being close to others in their happiest as well as their saddest times—at birth and at death—during health and during illness? Nurses share the most intimate moments with their patients and are the most trusted health care professional today.
I often ask my students why they chose nursing and what the essence of nursing means to them. Some of their answers include: caring for others, teaching patients and families, advocating for the most vulnerable of patients, and building relationships with patients, families, and other professionals. For me, the ability to be present with patients and families at the best and the worst of times is what is important to me. Sometimes you don’t have to say a word. Just being there—knowing that it is best not to say anything—listening, holding a patient’s hand, crying and laughing and supporting a family member is what is most meaningful to me.
When I ask my nurse colleagues what sustains them in job that is often difficult and stressful they unanimously answer that they love what they do. They love being challenged. They are always learning and when they become bored, there are many other job opportunities. The career options in nursing are endless. Nurses work in a variety of settings ranging from the hospital to outpatient clinics, emergency rooms, community health centers, visiting nurse agencies, schools, work places, nursing homes, and the military. Just about anywhere! Nurses work in a variety of roles—staff nurses, nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, clinical specialists, nurse researchers, nurse educators, nurse midwives, and nurse managers. Some nurses have even started their own businesses as consultants or advanced practice nurses.
Because there is such diversity of roles and increasingly complexity in health care, nurses not only have to be caring but they must be smart. You often hear nurses say how difficult their work is. A nurse is very often the first person who recognizes that a patient is having difficulty. The nurse will make that initial assessment and will intervene with the appropriate medication or therapy until the rest of the health care team arrives. Nurses must be highly intelligent, as they have to synthesize knowledge from all of the sciences with their knowledge of nursing and medicine.
There are many routes to becoming a registered nurse today. The Registered Nurse (RN) license is awarded upon passing the NCLEX-RN examination given following graduation from an accredited RN Nursing program. The most common programs today are associate degree programs and bachelor degree programs. While the associate degree program is shorter (2 years versus a typical 4 years for a BS program) the Associate Degree graduate has a more limited role. The Massachusetts Association of Nurse Executives (the nursing directors and VPs of hospitals) has endorsed the Bachelors Degree as the entry level into nursing and many hospitals in the Greater Boston area are hiring only RNs with a baccalaureate degree in nursing. Because of a nursing shortage, there are increasingly more scholarships coming available for students going into nursing.
With this shortage of nurses expected to last well into the 21st century, nurses are in high demand and start at an approximate salary of $50,000 in the larger metropolitan areas in the country. Most nurses who work a full-time schedule work three 12-hour shifts per week and with overtime and night and evening shifts they can make even more. Many hospitals provide signing bonuses and offer generous continuing education benefits for nurses who want to continue their education beyond the associate and bachelor degrees.
But even better than the salary are the many benefits a career in nursing affords you. With endless job opportunities, variety in settings and roles, flexibility in work schedules, and many options for advanced education, you are always learning and growing. There is never a dull moment as a nurse! Most important of all—you are making a difference in the lives of others.