Hot Healthcare Career: Nurse
The nursing profession is one of the most essential in the health care system and is the largest occupation, with nurses numbering 2.5 million in 2006. Nurses provide constant bedside care, carry out doctors’ orders, administer preventive care, perform diagnostic tests—pretty much the bulk of what goes on in any medical setting. The beauty about this line of work is that nurses can specialize in anything ranging from neuroscience to nephrology and work in settings as varied as holistic practices and hospices. Job security in nursing is excellent and with a nationwide shortage, nurses are always in need. The only hitch is if you are entering into the profession it might be difficult to get into a nursing program since the shortage in nursing also extends to nursing faculty.
There are multiple pathways to become a nurse, which allows for different entry points. Nurses that enter a state-approved four-year baccalaureate program earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and have an easier chance specializing in their careers and advancing by becoming nurse practitioners. Nursing students get approximately two years of supervised clinical experience. Currently, there are approximately 674 baccalaureate programs in the nation. Students can also earn a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and many times go back to school to earn the BSN. A less common route, especially nowadays when nursing education is happening more in the university as opposed to the hospital setting, is getting a Diploma in Nursing from a hospital. The diploma route only comprised 4 percent of all basic RN education programs in 2006.
Nurses are in demand and are expected to have a 23 percent job growth through 2016, much faster than average for other occupations. As health care is trending toward patients receiving care in outpatient clinics rather than hospitals, the demand for nurses is rising there as well. The U.S. Department of Labor quotes the average RN salary as $62,480. Interestingly enough, the highest paying nursing industry is the film industry, with RNs banking more than $74,000—hey movie stars need nurses too! California pays its nurses the most, with RNs making on average $78,500 in the Golden State, and Massachusetts and Hawaii following right behind.
Negative Side Effects
The nursing shortage stems from the dearth of faculty teaching in nursing schools. Experienced nurses aren’t transitioning from nursing to faculty at the rate needed to bring in the amount of students necessary to shore up workplace demand. In 2007 alone, nursing schools nationwide turned away 40,000 undergraduate nursing applicants and 3,000 graduate nursing applicants, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Many in the industry see the gulf in salary between faculty and clinical positions as a main detractor from nurses going into academia. The American Federation of Teachers report the national median annual salary for nursing school faculty ranges from $58,567 to $77,605. Counterpoint to that is the fact that clinical positions make much more: a head of nursing can earn on average $157,754 and a director of nursing can earn $164,191. So what choice would you make?
What could also compound the nursing shortage is Washington’s proposed education cuts for FY2009. President Bush has called for slashing Nursing Workforce Development Programs by 30 percent creating a shortfall of $46.2 million. However, in June Senate and House Committees both approved bills that would increase nursing education programs by $11.6 million and $18.4 million, respectively. The bills won’t go in effect till the next president enters office. So, here’s to hoping the next administration will take a closer look at the nursing shortage and realize these grants and loan repayment programs for nursing faculty will be tantamount in that struggle!
There are numerous opportunities in nursing to advance and specialize. RNs can specialize in many ways: by picking a specific work setting like a community outreach clinic, treating a specific health condition (i.e. diabetes), working with a particular organ or body system or caring for a well-defined population like pediatrics. Nurses can also go back to school to get a doctorate in nursing (the doctorate is becoming the new standard) and become a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners can prescribe some medications, diagnose and carry out their own treatment plans. These health professionals also make more bank; the average nurse practitioner pulls in $92,000 a year.