So, you’re thinking about becoming a nurse?
Congratulations! Nursing is a fantastic career choice. Nurses generally receive great pay, excellent benefits, respect in their communities, and, perhaps best of all, they get to truly impact people’s lives for the better.
What’s more, nursing is one of the most stable and most secure jobs available. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the healthcare industry is predicted to add over 3.5 million jobs by the year 2020, about a third of which will be made up by nurses.
[color-box]The healthcare industry is predicted to add over 3.5 million jobs by the year 2020, about a third of which will be made up by nurses.[/color-box]
Whatever your reasons for wanting to become a nurse, nursing is one of the most dynamic and fulfilling careers in today’s job market.
What exactly do nurses do?
Nurses come in a wide (emphasis on wide) variety of specialties, from critical care to home health, from pediatric to geriatric. Perhaps the most common designations are registered nurses (RNs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs), and licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses (LPNs and LVNs, respectively). Regardless of their particular niches, however, nurses generally perform the same kind of duties, such as:
- Performing physical exams
- Checking patients’ medical histories
- Providing health counseling and education
- Administering medications and treatments
- Interpreting patient information to make critical decisions
- Coordinating and collaborating with doctors and other healthcare professionals
- Directing and supervising other healthcare personnel, such as aides and technicians
- Conducting research to improve health practices and patient outcomes
What are nursing shifts like?
Depending on how you look at it, nursing shifts can have both benefits and drawbacks. If you work in a typical hospital setting, you could work days, evenings, or nights. Your schedule may stay the same, or you could rotate shifts from one week to the next. Working for eight, ten, or twelve hours at a time is common, though it’s not unheard of to work even longer shifts when patient demands exceed available staff.
As a nurse, you’ll also be expected to periodically work weekends and to work some, but not all, holidays. On the upside, if you do end up working nights, weekends, or holidays, most healthcare facilities will offer you greater compensation—up to double or even triple time! May nurses even receive extra pay for traveling to and from different cities or states.
Where do nurses work?
If you become a nurse, there’s a good chance you’ll spend at least part of your career working in a hospital setting. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses made up the single largest healthcare occupation in 2010, about 2.7 million strong. Out of these:
- 48% were employed in private hospitals.
- 8% worked in physicians’ offices
- 6% were employed in state or community hospitals
- 5% worked in home health services organizations
- 5% served in nursing care facilities
The remainder worked primarily in government agencies, administrative and support services, and educational services.
What kind of salary does a nurse earn?
Many factors come into play when determining how much nurses make (for example, experience, location, specialty, amount of education, etc.). The BLS reports that in 2010, the national median income of RNs was $64,690. The lowest ten percent earned less than $44, 190, and the top ten percent made over $95,130. LPNs and LVNs earned a median of $40,380. Not too bad, considering that many nurses have two years or less post-high-school education.
[color-box]Nurses Salary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Reports
– Entry RN Income: $44,190
– Median RN Income: $64,690
– Top 10% RN Income: $95,130[/color-box]
Hospitals generally hire nurses with a two-year associate’s degree and pay them first-year salaries slightly below $44,000. Due to shortages of nurses in certain areas, many healthcare and medical centers incentivize new nurses to work for them by offering $1,000 to $10,000 sign-on bonuses.
Job outlook and hiring trends for nurses
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to become a nurse in today’s economy is that jobs for nurses are growing—fast. In 2010, there were over 2.7 million RNs and over 700,000 LPNs/LVNs working in the U.S. Projections show that by the year 2020, almost 712,000 additional RN jobs will be created, as well as 168,500 new LPN/LVN jobs. That’s a growth rate of 26% and 22%, respectively—both of which are significantly higher than the national average.
This growth will largely be due to advancements in technology, an increased emphasis on preventative care, and the increased life expectancy of the aging Baby Boomer population. As hospitals look for more ways to cut costs, more elderly patients will be admitted into long-term care facilities and home health organizations, creating greater demands for trained nurses.
What training or education do I need to become a nurse?
The amount of training you’ll need to become a nurse will vary depending on what area, if any, you want to specialize in, and how much responsibility you want to have in your position.
LPNs and LVNs generally need a professional license from an accredited program, which takes about one year to earn. CNAs require only a postsecondary certificate.
If you want to become a registered nurse, however, there are several options available to you. Many nurses start out with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). This is typically an adequate starting place to find entry-level opportunities in most healthcare facilities. Nurses who earn their ADN may opt for additional specialty education later to increase their credentials and earning potential.
Other RNs choose to go on to their bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN degree. While this path usually takes about twice as long to complete, it may help you get a higher starting offer for your first nursing job.
In both of these degree programs, you’ll be expected to pass courses in such subjects as anatomy and physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, and other social and behavioral sciences.
Once they gain some experience, many RNs take advantage of company tuition reimbursement benefits to earn master’s and even doctorate degrees in nursing education or administration.
Should I become a nurse?
Before you enroll in a nursing program, you should probably ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I have the drive and determination to become a nurse? Many nursing programs across the nation are highly competitive to get into and very intense once you do. You’ll be spending a large portion of your extra time every day attending clinical labs and doing homework.
- Do I have the compassion necessary to be a nurse? Many people become nurses because they have an interest in helping others. You don’t necessarily have to love all your patients, but you need to have at least enough concern and patience to effectively deal with and serve those in your charge.
- Do I have the physical, mental, and emotional stability I need to be a nurse? Nurses have to cope with high-stress situations on a daily or near-daily basis. You may face the simultaneous challenges of working long shifts, juggling multiple demands from doctors and patients, and witnessing illness and trauma in all forms. You need to have the capacity to reasonably perform the functions of your job without sacrificing your own well-being.
So, why do you want to become a nurse, and how far do you want to advance your career? If you have what it takes, nursing is an excellent employment choice. This career path offers a great ratio of pay to degree of education, rock-solid job stability in a recovering economy, and bright prospects for the foreseeable future. Perhaps most importantly, nursing will give you the opportunity to help others in need and really make a difference in their lives.
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Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Registered Nurses, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm (visited May 31, 2013).
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm (visited June 03, 2013).
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