Having spent three-plus decades as a registered nurse (RN) working in acute care, home care, and long-term care environments, I like to say— and I think I’ve earned the right—nurses are the oxygen that keep our health care system running. And like the human body, without enough oxygen, the system fails.
The problems within the industry are well known. The stress of the pandemic accelerated the existing nursing shortage that began several years ago—especially among older, experienced nurses who are choosing early retirement. This, in turn, has increased the burden on those who remain.
No doubt there’s reason to be concerned, and a lot that needs fixing in health care. But my objective here is neither to criticize nor reform— it’s to advocate for the profession. How do we turn the tide and build the nursing workforce back up?
My employer, FedPoint, is helping to lower barriers for new nursing students. Each year starting in 2023, FedPoint will offer $5,000 scholarships to four individuals who are accepted to accredited nursing programs and currently reside in either New Hampshire, Maine, or Massachusetts.
Such financial incentives are great. Also important, I think, is raising awareness that, despite the challenges and stress, nursing careers offer enormous benefits, material and otherwise. And with health care delivery models changing as we speak, now may be an ideal time to enter the field. Here are my top four reasons to consider a nursing career:
1. Empowerment. In today’s health care environment, nurses enjoy autonomy, respect, responsibility, and status. Front and center in our health care system, nurses are the front-line team providing care to those in need. Their knowledge runs the gamut of patient care, from knowing what medications a patient might be allergic to, to knowing what kind of procedure is needed in case of an emergency. RNs carry out various medical (clinical) procedures and play a critical role in emergency situations, including assisting with IV insertions and intubations. Many pursue additional training to become nurse practitioners, who can write prescriptions, make referrals, and diagnose patients. In essence, nurses act as proxies for doctors, who rely on us to monitor patients day-to-day in their absence and report changes or issues—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 to you more than accumulating wealth, nursing may be your calling. During stressful times for patients and families, we provide both care and comfort, as well as guidance and information to help navigate the notoriously complex health care system. No wonder Gallup polls have indicated nursing as the most trusted profession for 20 years in a row. Bottom line: Nurses don’t always get enough credit for the work they do, but they are rock stars.
3. Job security, mobility, and transferability. A career in nursing typically offers a solid salary and benefits. Better still, in the next few decades, you’ll never want for work. Additionally, because care is needed 24/7, not 9 to 5, nurses’ hours are flexible. Enjoy travel? In the current gig economy, nurses willing to bounce around can make excellent money (to the tune of $10K-plus per month) by accepting three- to six-month stints wherever they’re most needed, often receiving room and board in the bargain. In short, for those who are game, opportunities abound— now and for the foreseeable future.
4. Choice of worksite. Nursing skills can be employed across settings and venues, from operating rooms and emergency rooms, to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehab clinics, and, especially these days, home health care settings. Further, though some care will always need to be delivered in person, COVID-19 proved many appointments and consultations can be done virtually, leading to a sharp increase in remote nursing positions. Nurses can also work in nonclinical settings, of course. The 30-plus RNs I manage, for example, provide care coordination services and support to enrollees in the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program.
Hopefully, the above list will inspire some young readers (and mid-career workers seeking a change) to consider the nursing field. With 25 percent of Americans projected to be 65-plus by 2030 (thanks to the Baby Boomers), we’re going to need all the help we can get—and the sooner the better.
Marilyn Staff, RN, is the director of care coordination at FedPoint, a Portsmouth-based federal benefits administrator. For more information about the FedPoint nursing scholarship, visit fedpointusa.com.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Commentary: Nursing remains a highly rewarding career