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Nursing: A Great Career for Smart, Caring Women and Men
By Nancy Kennedy

Jane Montgomery

There has never been a better time to become a nurse, say several local nursing leaders who speak with pride, enthusiasm and authority about their profession. Nursing offers so much: intellectual challenge; personal fulfillment; a broad education in science, technology and the humanities; lifetime job security and unparalleled opportunities for specialization and advancement. Despite the persistence of outdated, stereotypical depictions of nurses on television, today's nurses are educated professionals with their own scope of practice that is fully based on science. In 2013, health care is complex, sophisticated and high-tech, as is nursing. In every area of health care, nurses are an essential and valued presence. With a deliberate balance of clinical expertise and compassionate caring, nurses humanize the health care settings in which they work.

Those settings are many and varied, says Cherith Simmer, RN, MS, assistant professor of nursing and assistant dean of the School of Nursing at Duquesne University. "Nurses are clinicians, scientists, teachers, and counselors. You have to be smart to be a nurse; you also have to be caring. Nurses are concerned with the whole person." Although 60% of nurses work in hospitals, the rest may be found in home health care, hospices, schools, private practices, clinics, long term care facilities, managed care companies, universities, the military and public health agencies. A hospital nurse can specialize, with clinical options including birth centers, emergency/trauma, critical care, pediatrics, mental health, oncology, cardiac care and many others. A nurse can advance her education and become a nurse-midwife, nurse-anesthetist, nurse educator, nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist. Some nurses enter administration and lead healthcare organizations; others become university professors and researchers.

There are multiple paths to a career in nursing, for those who are beginning their professional lives as well as for those who are seeking a fresh start in a second career. Half of all registered nurses in the U.S. have a bachelor's degree from a university school of nursing, while 36% have an associate degree and 14% have a nursing school diploma. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine released a landmark report, The Future of Nursing, a comprehensive assessment of the nursing workforce that called for enhancing nursing education in order to meet the evolving needs of the healthcare industry. The report made a strong case for increasing the number of BSN-prepared nurses; research shows that improved outcomes are associated with having BSN nurses on the staff. Many scholarship programs and accelerated nursing degree programs, for college graduates, have been developed to help achieve this vision.

Job prospects for registered nurses are excellent. There are currently three million nurses in the U. S., and while that may sound like a lot, it isn't enough to meet burgeoning demands as the numbers of elderly, chronically ill and disabled citizens grow in the coming decades. In addition, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will add millions to the ranks of the insured, bringing them into the healthcare system. As many as 495,000 new nurses will be needed by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Jane Montgomery, BSN, MBA, vice-president for Clinical Services and Quality for the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania, says that although there is no nursing shortage right now, that could change. "Because of economic conditions, experienced nurses had the opportunity to expand their hours; thus, there currently is no nursing shortage. However, as the economy improves, nurses may again reduce their hours, creating an increased need. In addition, the aging of the population is creating greater demand for nurses in our region. As the need for nurses increases, the need for nurse educators also increases."

One nurse whose career path illustrates the myriad opportunities and satisfactions of nursing is Cynthia Walters, DNP, RN, assistant professor at Duquesne University School of Nursing. She began her career as a nurse's aide, and then became a licensed practical nurse. She attended a two-year associate degree program and became a registered nurse, working in adult intensive care and medical-surgical nursing. She says that her next step, getting her BSN, opened up a new world for her. "The BSN program emphasized science over the technical; that was a new view of nursing for me. It gave me an incentive to keep learning. In 2004, I got my master's degree in forensic nursing and in 2012, I completed the doctor of nursing practice program. Years ago, I could not have imagined myself with a doctorate.

"Nursing can take you to so many places. A nurse has to be smart but also has to have a passion for helping people. It's not easy; nursing students work hard and nursing involves some personal sacrifice. But if you are considering a health care career, absolutely become a nurse! There's nothing like the sense of personal satisfaction that nurses get from helping people in meaningful ways, or from the constant learning that is part of being a nurse. "

Nursing is the largest healthcare profession, and is the key to significantly improving America's health care system, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. High quality care and reduced medical errors are dependent upon a well-educated nursing workforce. Greater numbers of nurses, caring for patients and sharing their expertise in countless other ways, will be needed to meet future demand.

For more information about Duquesne University's nursing programs, visit the website www.duq.edu/academics/schools/nursing. To contact Jane Montgomery, email her at montgomj@hcwp.org.

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