National Nurses Week is celebrated each year May 6-12. This week is celebrated annually to recognize the contributions that nurses and nursing make to the community. Often nursing is described as an art and a science. Nursing is a profession that embraces many different dedicated people because of the many opportunities the profession offers. Nurses can work in hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing and hospice facilities, just to name a few. Nurses have many roles from staff nurse to educator to nurse leaders and nurse practitioners. Nurses serve in all these roles with a strong commitment to serve patients and to make a difference.
What do nurses do?
Registered nurses - RNs - may treat patients, educate patients and the community about various medical conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients' family members. They document patients' medical histories and symptoms, help perform diagnostic tests and analyze results, operate medical equipment and devices, administer medications and assist patients with transitions across the continuum of care settings and their homes.
When caring for patients, registered nurses establish a plan of care or contribute to an existing plan. Plans may include numerous activities such as administering medication, assessing patient responses, starting and maintaining intravenous lines - IVs - (for medication, fluid or blood), assessing patients' status and communicating with physicians and other members of the health care team. Nurses are responsible for patient outcomes such as preventing skin breakdown and patient falls. They also calm fears, alleviate grief, listen and inspire others.
What opportunities exist in nursing?
Nursing is a rewarding career with a multitude of opportunities. Nurses can specialize in various areas of patient care. They may choose a particular work setting such as nurses who work in operating rooms and assist surgeons. Some nurses may choose to work with specific age groups such as children, the elderly or new mothers and infants. While others may choose a specific disease or health condition such as working with cancer patients, patients who have heart conditions, or diabetes.
Another opportunity is to work in specific areas or departments within hospitals and nursing facilities, which operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These facilities offer a great deal of scheduling flexibility that allows nurses to work the shift that best fits their life situation. Critical care nurses provide care to patients with serious, complex and acute illnesses or injuries that require close monitoring and extensive medication protocols and therapies. Emergency department nurses care for patients with life-threatening conditions. Nurses on medical or surgical units prepare patients for surgery, assist patients in their recovery from an acute or chronic illness and assist them to recuperate after surgery. Home care nurses provide at-home nursing care services to assist patients to stay in their own homes. While hospice nurses provide care and support, symptom control and assessment of patients with life-limiting illnesses.
Nurse educators plan and develop curriculum for the professional development of current nurses and for those who are becoming nurses. Some of these educators educate in a classroom setting as well as serve as a clinical instructor supervising and demonstrating nursing skills to new staff and student nurses. Nurse managers and administrators supervise nursing staff, establish schedules, budgets, maintain supply inventories and manage resources to ensure high-quality care.
Employment opportunities in the future
Nurses make up the largest health care occupation. Hospitals employ the majority of registered nurses. Overall, job opportunities for registered nurses are expected to be excellent in the future. Employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 23 percent from 2006-2016. Growth will be driven by technological advances in patient care, which permit a greater number of problems to be treated, increased emphasis on preventive care and the growth of the aging population. Growth in nursing will occur in a variety of settings particularly in offices, home care, outpatient centers, nursing facilities and hospitals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses top the list of the 10 occupations with the largest projected growth. This growth coupled with the trend of nurses retiring and fewer new nurses could lead to a shortage of nurses. The nation's registered nurse work force is aging and demand is predicted to be greater than the supply. In recent years, schools of nursing have been forced to reject qualified applicants due to a shortage of nurse educators; thus, making the demand for nurse educators even higher.
Education for nurses
Students interested in nursing must intrinsically want to serve people. Nurses must be able to communicate effectively. Having the ability to analyze and think through problems while always advocating for the patients is important, as well. Nursing students will take courses in the classroom and have hands-on supervised clinical experiences. The students must pass a state board examination to become licensed as a nurse. There are several educational pathways to become a registered nurse.
Bachelor of science in nursing - BSN: This is a four-year program that is offered at many colleges and universities. BSN graduates are prepared over a four-year period with more emphasis on leadership and management.
Associate degree in nursing - ADN: This is a two-year program (after pre-nursing courses are completed) offered at community colleges like Iowa Central Community College.
Nurses may choose to complete a two-year program and begin to work as a registered nurse while completing another two-year program to obtain their BSN. There are also master's and doctorate degrees in nursing, which prepare nurses for advanced roles in administration, education, research and/or advanced practice such as nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists.
As we celebrate National Nurses Week, it is important to recognize and thank our caregivers and nurses. It is also important for nurses to celebrate their profession - one that allows us to serve people and make a difference.
As a nurse, there is no greater reward than to know you have assisted someone and made a difference in someone's life when they were vulnerable and in need. It is a privilege to serve and do the work of nursing.
Deb Shriver, MSN, RN, is chief nursing executive at Trinity Regional Medical Center.