As they wait for signs that the economy is improving, many Americans are taking the opportunity to return to school. For some, a college degree will provide better job security, while others want to expand their career options by studying a new field altogether.
Nursing programs are attracting many of the new students, who see their desire to care for others meshing nicely with the security of working in the only industry that has continued to hire throughout the recession.
A few weeks ago, US News & World Report published its 2009 list of America’s Best Careers. Over 40 percent of the 31 fields listed were in healthcare, including registered nurses. US News based its findings on "the jobs with the best outlook in this recessionary economy (and beyond), the highest rates of job satisfaction, the least difficult training necessary, the most prestige, and the highest pay."
The demand for nurses is increasing for many reasons, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Professionals. Among them is a rapidly aging population: The overwhelming number of graying baby-boomers will require a much higher volume of healthcare services provided by more medical professionals than ever before. During the next 25 years, the over-age-65 population will increase at five times the rate of those under 65.
California’s Acute Shortage
California lags behind much of the country in the number of nurses per capita, according to a recent report from the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. The state has 647 registered nurses for every 100,000 people – far fewer than the national average of 825 per 100,000, according to the CLWDA.
Not that progress hasn’t been made. Nearly 10,000 RNs graduated from California schools in 2008, a 55-percent increase from 2005. The state now has 131 RN programs, 23 more than existed four years ago. And nursing program enrollments are up 69 percent in that same period, with more than 23,500 students currently taking classes.
Two Years of Training Opens Many Doors
Over half of all RNs have at least a four-year degree, but an associate’s degree is all it takes to launch this career. Terese Plesser is the nursing program director at Brown Mackie College in Kansas City. "A two-year associate’s degree prepares graduates for entry-level positions at hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities," she says. "From there, a consideration is obtaining a bachelor of science in nursing degree, which widens career possibilities to management and education positions."
Nursing offers varied choices in terms of work settings and areas of concentration. Hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, hospices, physician’s offices, and home healthcare providers all employ nurses.
Sherry Payne is a Brown Mackie faculty member who teaches obstetrics and pediatrics at the Kansas City campus. Upon earning her bachelor’s degree, she entered nursing with a focus on labor and delivery. Finding great satisfaction in her work, she stayed within the field of obstetric care. Payne now brings her rich career experience to the classroom, teaching others who wish to enter the nursing field. "I have great appreciation for my leap from a clinical setting to teaching. I see it as a way to expand on my personal vision of the world of maternity in a greater way," she says.
Personal vision seems to be a common thread running through nursing students today. "Many students show up after an encounter with nursing that has a lifelong impact," Payne notes. "A positive experience with the healthcare system plants a seed. They see nursing as a lifetime mission, not just a job. It’s a passion, a true vocation."
Other examples of the diverse experiences a nursing degree can deliver are seen in the career of Pat Frost, a Brown Mackie faculty member who began her career in the US Air Force as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit and spent time doing postpartum care. Back in civilian life, she worked with an ophthalmologist, then for several schools as a special-needs nurse and instructor of anatomy and physiology.
From there she returned to a clinical setting as an IV-therapy nurse before coming back to education at Brown Mackie College. "I’m working now on a master’s degree in nursing education," Frost says. "It is satisfying to see students come out of the classroom not only knowing facts and figures, but also learning about improving their lives."
These three professionals agree that nursing affords them opportunities to affect others in a positive way. "Nursing calls on many skills in a given day," says Plesser. "We are technologists dealing with medical equipment that changes frequently, diplomats dealing with sometimes difficult people, and educators telling patients about disease processes.
"The nice thing about nursing," she adds, "is if you get tired of one thing, you can try something else in another area."
For Payne, interaction is a vital component. Nurses interact with doctors, patients, families of patients, and each other. "Nurses are supportive of each other. We know when to delegate and when to collaborate. We sometimes work holidays and celebrate together. We become family."
Courtesy of ARAcontent