In terms of employment opportunities, it’s never been a better time to be a nurse. America’s oldest baby boomers (those individuals born between 1946 and 1964) began to turn 65 on January 1, 2011. By 2030, when the entire cohort has turned 65, fully 18 percent of the nation’s population will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center population projections.
The aging of this large generation poses significant challenges to our nation’s healthcare system. As individuals live longer and require more care due to age-related illness in senior years, the already-existing shortage of nurses is expected to worsen. In The Journal of Global Health Care Systems, Karlene Alethia Richardson points to the continuing “critical shortage of hospital-based nurses in the U.S., the aging of the nursing workforce, and the global nature of this shortage” as contributing factors that compound this situation.
Low supply plus high demand equals great opportunity
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the projected change in employment for nurses from 2014 to 2024 will be 16 percent. This is much faster than average. The average growth rate for all occupations is only 7 percent.
The most recent median salary on record with the BLS for nurses is from 2015: $67,490 per year or $32.45 per hour. Expect to see this increase as the demand continues to rise.
Where do nurses most often work?
Registered nurses (RNs) held about 2.8 million jobs in 2014, according to the BLS, and one out of every six RNs worked part-time. Hospitals employed approximately 61 percent of these nurses, with the remainder fairly evenly split between:
- Nursing and residential care facilities – 7 percent
- Physicians offices – 7 percent
- Home health care services – 6 percent
- Government – 6 percent
Nurses who work in hospitals and nursing care facilities typically work in shifts to accommodate the round-the-clock care that patients require. Those employed in medical offices and schools usually enjoy regular business hours.
What do nurses do?
Most registered nurses provide and coordinate patient care while working as part of a collaborative healthcare team alongside physicians and other medical specialists. The specific duties and titles of an RN depend on where they work and the patients they work with.
Some RNs hold managerial roles that find them supervising the work of licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, and home health aides. Other functions that RNs typically perform on a daily basis include:
- Record patients’ medical histories and symptoms.
- Administer medicines and treatments.
- Create patient care plans.
- Operate and monitor medical equipment.
- Perform diagnostic tests and analyze results.
- Teach patients how to manage illnesses or injuries.
- Provide emotional support to patients and their family.
Areas of specialization for RNs
If you have a unique passion or aptitude for a branch of medicine, a specific population, or a particular age group, you can build your nursing career around your interest as a specialist. If you love to be with seniors, you will make a great geriatric nurse. If newborns make your heart sing, you’d probably love neonatal nursing. Here are some other options:
- Oncology nurses work with cancer patients.
- Pediatric oncology nurses work with children and teens that have cancer.
- Cardiovascular nurses care for patients with heart disease and those who have had heart surgery.
- Critical care nurses are found in intensive-care units in hospitals caring for patients with complex conditions that require close monitoring and ongoing treatment.
- Addiction, or substance abuse, nurses care for patients recovering from addictions to alcohol, drugs, and other substances.
If you prefer not to work directly with patients, there are other exciting ways to use your active RN license. Some of these positions include:
- Public policy advisor
- Hospital administrator
- Nurse educator
- Healthcare consultant
- Salesperson for pharmaceutical and medical supply companies
- Medical writer or editor
How do you become a nurse?
Most RNs enter the field after pursuing one of the following education paths:
- A Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN)
- An associate’s degree in nursing (ADN)
- A diploma from an approved nursing program
You must also be licensed to work as an RN. Although licensed graduates of any of the three education programs listed above usually quality for entry-level staff nurse positions, some employers, such as most hospitals, often require a bachelor’s degree.
Many registered nurses with an ADN or diploma choose to go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree through an RN-to-BSN program. This allows them to develop clinical reasoning, communication, and collaboration skills further while refining their leadership and decision-making skills.
Nursing programs prepare students to provide evidence-based, quality care using 21st-century nursing skills that meet the healthcare needs of a diverse and aging population. Students are qualified to practice in an increasingly complex health care system to improve the wellbeing of populations in local and global health care environments.