Having spent over three decades as a registered nurse (RN) working in acute care, home care and long-term care settings, I like to say – and think I have earned the right – that nurses are the oxygen that keeps our healthcare system functioning. And like the human body, without enough oxygen, the system fails.
The problems within the industry are well known. The stress of the pandemic has accelerated the existing shortage of nurses that began several years ago, particularly among older, experienced nurses who are choosing early retirement. This, in turn, has increased the burden on those left behind.
There are undoubtedly reasons for concern and a lot of things that need to be corrected in the field of health care. But my objective here is neither to criticize nor to reform, it is to defend the profession. How to reverse the trend and replenish the nursing workforce?
My employer, FedPoint, helps reduce barriers for new nursing students. Each year beginning in 2023, FedPoint will provide $5,000 scholarships to four individuals accepted into accredited nursing programs and currently residing in New Hampshire, Maine, or Massachusetts.
Such financial incentives are excellent. It is also important, I think, to raise awareness that, despite the challenges and stresses, careers in nursing offer tremendous benefits, material and otherwise. And with healthcare delivery models changing as we speak, now may be the perfect time to step into the field. Here are my top four reasons for considering a career in nursing:
1. Empowerment. In today’s health care environment, nurses enjoy autonomy, respect, responsibility and status. At the heart of our health care system, nurses are the frontline team providing care to those in need. Their knowledge covers the full spectrum of patient care, from knowing what medications a patient might be allergic to, to knowing what type of procedure is needed in an emergency. RNs perform a variety of medical (clinical) procedures and play a vital role in emergency situations, including assisting with intravenous insertions and intubations. Many take additional training to become nurse practitioners, who can write prescriptions, make referrals, and diagnose patients. Essentially, nurses act as proxies for physicians, who rely on us to monitor patients day-to-day in their absence and report any changes or problems – information that becomes the basis for new treatment orders.
2. Positive impact. Millennials and Gen Z’ers: If it’s true — as I’ve heard — that contributing to the greater good matters more to you than accumulating wealth, nursing can be your calling. During stressful times for patients and families, we provide both care and comfort, as well as advice and information to help navigate the notoriously complex healthcare system. No wonder Gallup polls have listed nursing as the most trusted profession for 20 straight years. Conclusion: Nurses are not always recognized enough for the work they do, but they are rock stars.
3. Job security, mobility and transferability. A career in nursing generally offers a solid salary and benefits. Even better, in the next few decades, you will never run out of work. Also, because care is needed 24/7, not 9 to 5, nurses’ schedules are flexible. You like to travel ? In today’s gig economy, nurses ready to bounce back can make big bucks (to the tune of $10,000+ per month) by accepting three- to six-month stints where they’re needed most, often receiving room and board in the bargain. In short, for those who play, opportunities abound, now and for the foreseeable future.
4. Choice of construction site. Nursing skills can be employed in all settings and locations, from operating theaters and emergency rooms to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation clinics and, especially nowadays, institutions. home care. Additionally, while some care will still need to be provided in person, COVID-19 has proven that many appointments and consultations can be done virtually, leading to a surge in remote nursing positions. Nurses can also work in non-clinical settings, of course. The more than 30 RNs I manage, for example, provide care coordination services and support to people enrolled in the federal long-term care insurance program.
Hopefully the above list will inspire some young readers (and mid-career workers looking for a change) to consider the field of nursing. With 25% of Americans expected to be over 65 by 2030 (thanks to baby boomers), we’re going to need all the help we can get, and the sooner the better.
Marilyn Staff, RN, is director of care coordination at FedPoint, a Portsmouth-based federal benefits administrator. For more information on the FedPoint Nursing Scholarship, visit fedpointusa.com.