A career within the nursing profession is perfect for those who are looking for personal fulfillment within their chosen career. The role demands compassion and care within every task it covers, from the clinical to the personal interaction with each patient as well as their families and friends. According to the American Nursing Association ‘nurses use their judgment to integrate objective data with subjective experience of a patient’s biological, physical and behavioral needs. This ensures every patient, from city hospital to community health center, state prison to summer camp, receives the best possible care regardless of who they are or where they may be.’
Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that overall employment in healthcare occupations as a whole is expected to grow 13% from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than average for all other occupations and is expected to result in approximately two million new jobs over that time. On average, there will be around 1.9 million openings per year, that are projected to arise from growth and replacement needs within the sector.
What do nurses do?
The role of a nurse varies depending on their specialism and the area in which they are working, but broadly speaking, wherever there is someone in need of care, nurses work to identify and protect the needs of that particular individual. Responsibilities can range from providing inoculations in schools to making acute treatment decisions and everything in between.
Registered nurses (RN) provide critical health care to the public whenever it is needed. Responsibilities include providing health promotion, counseling, and education, administrating medications and other interventions, performing physical exams and health histories to assist in making decisions, and coordinating care in collaboration with other health professionals.
The role of the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) includes treating and diagnosing illnesses, managing chronic disease, and providing primary and preventative care to the public.
APRNs practice specialist roles include nurse practitioners, who may be involved in prescribing medication and the diagnosis of minor injuries and illnesses, certified nurse-midwives who provide gynecological and obstetric care, certified registered nurse anesthetists who administer more than 65% of all anesthetics and clinical nurse specialists who deal with a range of physical and mental health issues.
Licensed practical nurses (LPN), also known as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), will be expected to support core health teams, working under the supervision of an RN, APRN, or MD. Responsibilities will include performing basic nursing duties such as wound dressing and changing bandages, administering medications in some settings, checking vital signs, and ensuring patients are comfortable and hydrated.
How caring for people can make you feel good
As well as enjoying job security and attractive pay, for a lot of people, the prospect of a job that is personally fulfilling is just as important as job security.
It has been claimed that helping people not only makes you feel good but is also actually good for you.
You can produce those feel-good endorphins not only when you are doing exercise but also when you are helping someone else. This has been described as ‘helpers high.’ This concept first arose in the 1980s, and there have been various studies since then about it. Broadly it consists of positive emotions following selfless service to others. Better health and increased longevity are associated with this.
Endorphins are chemicals the body releases when it feels pain or stress and when it’s involved in pleasurable activities such as eating and having a massage. They help relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve your general sense of well-being. They are feel-good chemicals as they can make you feel better and put you in a positive state of mind.
The tangible benefits of being a nurse are easier to define.
Nursing is regarded as a highly trusted profession, and although the work can be emotionally and physically demanding, it is also extremely meaningful. You will be supporting individuals who are at their most vulnerable, and by treating them with care, respect, and kindness, you will be making a huge and positive difference to their wellbeing. You will be giving help to the sick and injured, and for some, you will be saving their lives.
The nursing world is constantly evolving, and life-long learning is an absolute necessity. Once you have your initial qualifications, you can decide which direction you would like to focus on and study and learn in order to do that, as well as undertake regular training to keep your skills and knowledge up to date.
You will also be part of a team wherever you work and whatever your role, and that brings rewards in itself. It may be with other nurses, social workers, care managers, or doctors, for instance, developing mutually collaborative relationships in order to pursue a common aim. These can make your days very fulfilling as you can learn from others and feel you are all making a difference together.
Nurses play an essential role in society by being advocates for the promotion of good health, educating the public and their patients about preventing illness and injury, helping with rehabilitation, and providing care and support. The knowledge that nurses gain through their work also helps them to address and understand the wide range of factors that influence how long and how well people live, and thus are able to help drive strategies and solutions to move things forward positively.
When taking the first steps toward nursing, there has to be a commitment to lifelong learning and personal development. Education doesn’t stop at the first or master’s degree. It is constant, not only for clinical and medical developments but within our own character and coping strategies. It involves sourcing and appreciating new ideas in order to achieve a new and wider perspective.
Nurses who truly wish to grow within their profession need to seek regular improvement via additional education and training opportunities, so they can develop academically and professionally. Developing new abilities allows nurses to provide all-around better care for their patients and progress to more senior roles if they want to.
It may be that your workplace provides opportunities for learning, or you have to seek them out. They may be specific to your role or, more generally, developmental. Keep on top of what you need to do by reading academic papers and journals, so you are ensuring you know what’s going on in the wider field and not just within your place of work. This will help you connect to your patients effectively.
Where nurses work
Nurses can be found in a variety of settings, the most common including general medical and surgical hospitals, physician’s offices, nursing care facilities, and home healthcare services. They can also work in outpatient care centers, the federal government, employment services, specialty hospitals, and continuing care retirement communities.
But there are other opportunities. For instance, you could work within a school, providing basic care such as treating minor injuries and illnesses and referring patients to urgent care if required. Nurses also work in courts of law where biological evidence needs to be assessed, and forensic nurses evaluate crime victims who have experienced violence.
There are also roles within the prison service, and there is a growing need for personnel as the number of inmates in America rises. As well as this, you could become a military nurse or work overseas. Health insurance companies require nurses to assess claims from medical providers in a non-medical setting. They can also play a role in analyzing health benefits in order to help companies improve their policies and packages.
Soft skills for nurses
As well as the clinical skills required for nurses, there are also soft skills that are vital to master so that you can do your job effectively. They are more difficult to measure but are just as crucial to a good nurse. Excellent communication skills are required, as well as honesty, compassion, flexibility, adaptability, patience, emotional stability, and intelligence, plus a strong work ethic, effective time management, and being a good team player.
Effective communication means you can not only talk to colleagues, patients, and their friends and family but also listen, comprehend, and explain clearly what is happening and what they can expect. Critical thinking is also important as nurses have to make crucial decisions that make a huge difference to their patients and can sometimes save lives. The process includes interpreting and analyzing information, events, and other data, then evaluating outcomes.
Compassion combined with professionalism is an absolutely key soft skill that, used correctly, will enhance everyone’s experience within a healthcare setting. Patients are often in unfamiliar and emotionally stressful environments, worried and anxious about a diagnosis, for example. Understanding situations from their point of view with kindness and understanding is a very important part of the job, as well as making them feel confident that they are being looked after well.
Nurses do not just work with individual patients; they also have to work well with others within their team as well as outside agencies they may have to deal with. Being part of an effectively functioning team makes the workplace experience not only easier but also more positive. An ability to understand and manage their own stress is also vital as the job can be very demanding. The effects of a very stressed healthcare practitioner can also put patients at risk, so developing self-care strategies will pay dividends in the long term.
Resilience is a characteristic that can be learned and developed, and it is hugely important for someone working within the nursing profession where decisions can have life-or-death consequences. Reliant nurses are more able to deal with challenging situations and setbacks and can learn to adapt to constantly changing professional environments.
How to prepare for a career in nursing
If you want to become a nurse, you can start to take the right steps before you even apply to do your first course. Some school districts offer high school nursing programs or prerequisite courses to help students prepare for college courses, but if you aren’t lucky enough to be able to take advantage of that, there are other ways you can begin your nursing journey.
Do your research and check the coursework needed and other requirements to get on the right program. You can also volunteer with healthcare facilities, such as a local hospital or assisted living facility, to get some experience within the world you want to work in.
Ensure you take the right classes and try to take as many advanced placement courses as you can within subjects such as math and science, as nursing relies heavily on these skills. You could also talk to someone within the role in order to gain some understanding of what it’s actually like, such as a school nurse.
You can also learn first aid and life support skills – often there are weekend training courses to help you become familiar with the basic skills needed, and this will be a good way to show your commitment when you apply for courses.
HOSA – Future Health Professionals, formally known as Health Occupation Students of America, provides an opportunity for future nurses to take advantage of professional and academic resources while still attending high school. It offers events, scholarships, competitions, and resources to enable you to connect with the nursing world while still at school.
It’s also important to research degree types so you can identify what direction it is best for you to take. If you aren’t yet ready to commit to a lifelong nursing career, for example, you can pursue licensed practical nurse qualifications or apply to associate degrees in nursing. Alternatively, if you are sure nursing is what you want to do long-term, you can apply directly to a Bachelor of Science in nursing program.
Think ahead – some nursing programs may have waiting lists, so it’s important to ask prospective schools about when you can apply and enroll in the program you want. As well as this, investigate the courses on offer and their pass rates so you can determine how well a training program prepares students for the working world. As well as this, you may need to do a nursing entrance exam on basic healthcare and nursing knowledge, so it’s important to prepare as far in advance as you can
Most nurses begin their studies with an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and can then go on to earn a master’s or doctorate if they wish to advance their career. All will need to pass the NCLX-RN exam to become registered nurses.
You can study for an Associate Degree in Nursing Diploma or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited college or university. Following that you can enroll in a Master of Science in Nursing program (MSN) to become an advanced practice nurse, such as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified registered nurse anesthetist, or certified nurse-midwife.
There is also the Master’s in Nursing in Education if you wish to train or teach other professionals or the Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Nursing Practice if you wish to train scientists, researchers, and practitioners.
Launching your career in nursing without a first nursing degree
For some, nursing is a calling from an early age, and they will have taken a degree specific to that role straight from high school. However, if you already have a bachelor’s degree that is not connected to nursing and now feel that this is the career for you, there are options.
The accelerated RN program online at Elmhurst University is ideal for anyone who wants to pursue an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ASBN) but doesn’t have a specialist nursing degree. You will earn your qualification in 16 months and be fully prepared to take the National Council Licensure Examination which will then enable you to apply for roles providing direct patient care.
The course will provide dedicated student advisors who can support students from application to graduation, enable you to gain confidence and skills in simulated scenarios led by faculty in the Simulation Lab, and is accredited by the CCNE.
The application process is simple and will open the door to more opportunities in the future.
Whichever route you choose to take into nursing, you will be embarking on a career path that will demand much of you but will also give you a lot back. With commitment and compassion, you could have a fulfilling and rewarding job that can also make you feel like you are making a real difference, not just to individuals but to society as a whole.