National Nurses Week began Saturday, which means it’s time to celebrate and learn more about this in-demand field. Between taking care of patients, educating the public about health conditions and providing emotional support to family members, a nurse’s job affects a very large community.
We spoke with Diane Mancino, the executive director at the National Student Nurses Association, to find out more about this widely respected and highly valued profession:
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What does a nurse do?
In its most simplified form, “the nurse’s role is to keep patients healthy, bring them back to health, and provide them comfort when they cannot be brought back to health, by allowing them to have a comfortable passing,” says Mancino.
Throughout the day, nurses stay in close contact with patients, assessing their progress, their physical and mental needs, and providing the necessary treatment. That can range anywhere from making sure they’re taking their medications to coordinating care from other services such as physical therapy or social work.
“Nurses look at patients holistically,” says Mancino. “They’re not just looking at a specific body system — they’re looking at all of the needs of a patient.”
What schooling do you need?
“Nursing, unlike other health professions, has several entry points,” says Mancino. Students can either get a bachelor of science degree in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program.
After that, they need to take the National Council Licensure Examination so they can become either a registered or practical nurse.
What’s the typical salary?
The median annual salary for registered nurses was $68,450 in May 2016, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best-paid 10 percent in the profession made $102,990, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made $47,120.
Is it hard to find employment?
Between the large number of registered nurses who are retiring and the aging baby boomers, “we’re seeing an increase in demand for nurses,” says Mancino.
“And not only in acute-care settings, but also in the community,” she continues. “We have a lot of older people who have chronic illnesses — things like arthritis and diabetes — that need to be monitored at home to make sure they’re taking their medications correctly and getting the services and supplies that they need.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also expects the profession to grow 16 percent by 2024, during which an estimated 439,300 jobs will open up.
One of the best parts of the job is the fact that there are so many different areas to work in.
You can become a nurse educator and teach nursing, work as a nurse researcher, or even go into advanced practice nursing where you’re doing primary care in different settings, Mancino explains. “If you get bored in one place doing one thing, you can always switch it up.”
There’s also the respect that comes with the profession, says Mancino. “We have high ethical standards, are recognized for being honest and, I think probably more than anything else, we’re there for patients around the clock.”
Students right out of nursing school tend to wind up on the night shift, says Mancino.
“And while some people with children might like it because they can be home during the day when their kids need them, for most people, working nights isn’t very pleasurable.”
Plus, “with the
shortage that’s beginning to show up and the inadequate staffing, some nurses might have to do more than the normal work load and take on extra patients,” she continues.
The job can be emotionally challenging.
“Nurses have to learn to cope with and understand the emotions families and patients have to go through when they’re experiencing pain, or being told that they have a diagnosis of cancer,” says Mancino.
“It’s part of the job. You have to be able to do that.”