Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Nursing Profession: Full Employment Anytime, Anywhere?

I’m amazed at how many times I hear news stories or read articles about nursing.

Just the other morning, I heard a piece on NPR about how nursing is one field of employment that is expanding. The story also stated that the average annual salary for nurses working full time is about $62,000. That seemed a bit high, taking into account the different type of nursing jobs and standards of living in different areas of the county. But if those numbers are true, an education in nursing is truly a good investment.

The problem is, of course, that the waiting lists to get into nursing schools are horrendous in most areas. In my neighborhood, the average wait to get into a two-year, associate degree program is three years. Thankfully, one of the local community colleges is starting a four-year, bachelor degree program soon. That will help some, but certainly won’t erase the problem of long lines to enter nursing school.

Nursing degree programs aren’t as easy to establish as some other degree programs. Educating and training nurses requires a lot more resources than just classrooms, and the resources are expensive and labor intensive. There is an acute shortage of nurse teachers and clinical instructors because the pay just doesn’t come close to that of hospital clinicians, nurse practitioners or administrators. Many nurse instructors are part-time and say they do it for the love of the profession, but that makes it hard to build a solid base of experts.

A challenging economy has caused some hospitals to close entire wings and lay off staff nurses and nurse administrators. The weak economy also has kept nurses who would otherwise retire on the job, thus eliminating slots for new grads and nurses who are returning to work after years off the job. Some hospitals aren’t as interested in new grads because they necessitate an investment of time and training, something they can’t currently afford in this recession.

All of this said, I’d still encourage anyone who wants to be a nurse to pursue that goal. The scope of practice for nurses is ever-expanding, and the variety of nursing jobs is growing. Forty years ago, a new graduate could work in a hospital, a physician’s office or perhaps teach. Today, the possibilities are endless, including eventually establishing his/her own practice.

What do you think the future of nursing holds?

Are you satisfied with your chosen field or are you looking for a change?

Have nursing jobs in your area been affected?

Tell us about it.

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