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Careers in Nursing
Making a Difference in the Nation's Health

Do these experiences sound appealing? If so, you might want to consider a career in nursing. The 2.6 million men and women who are registered nurses in this country have these kinds of experiences and countless others everyday.

Do you have what it takes to be a nurse?

To be admitted to a nursing program, you'll need a solid background in college prep courses, such as English, math, biology and chemistry, the social sciences, and computer technology. Colleges and universities typically require either the SAT or ACT as admission tests. Once admitted to college, you'll need determination and good study habits to succeed in what will be a challenging program. Nursing requires working well with other members of the health team, keeping patient information private, good judgment, and a sincere desire to help others. Nurses must be unbiased toward those of different ages, races, social status, sexual orientation, and religion and be willing to treat patients and families with warmth and caring.

What is a typical course of study?

The first half of most nursing programs involves course work in English, Anatomy and Physiology, Chemistry, Microbiology, Social Sciences (such as Psychology and Sociology), and humanities (such as Literature, Art Appreciation, and Speech). A separate, often competitive, admission process is required to enter actual nursing courses; most programs require high grades in college courses for entry.

Nursing students study in classrooms, gain practice technical skills in a laboratory with simulated patients, and have faculty-guided hands-on experiences (clinicals) in health care settings with real patients. These clinical experiences include working in hospitals and other health care settings with patients from all age and cultural groups. Students learn to blend a scientific mind, technical know-how, compassion, and a desire to help others into a practice style that focuses on prevention and management of illness and promotion of health. Course work generally includes classes related to the foundations of nursing, adult health, mental health, women's health, child and adolescent health, and critical care/emergency nursing. Some programs also require community health, nursing research, leadership/management, and rehabilitation nursing.

How do I find and choose a good nursing school?

There are more than 1500 nursing programs in this country that prepare individuals to become registered nurses (RNs). Three types of programs exist. Associate degree nursing (ADN) programs are 2 years in length and may be found in community or junior colleges and some technical schools. These programs prepare students to provide direct patient care in a variety of traditional health care settings like hospitals and nursing homes. Baccalaureate (BSN) nursing programs, which are part of colleges or universities, are 4 years in length. These programs prepare graduates for all kinds of nursing roles, including leadership and management jobs in both traditional health care settings and the community. Diploma nursing programs, 3 years long, are affiliated with large hospitals; students in these programs take non-nursing courses at a local college or university.

The costs of a nursing education depend on whether the program is public or private; public schools are generally less expensive. Scholarships and grants are often available. Some hospitals and nursing homes help students pay college costs if they will work there after graduation. Check out possible colleges or universities online. You should then telephone or write/e-mail to ask about admission requirements, availability of financial aid, and  accessibility to student support services such as tutoring, counseling, and health services. Ask if the nursing program is state approved and nationally accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Ask questions about the percentage of students who complete the program and pass the state board licensure exam (NCLEX-RN) on the first attempt. (This exam, taken after graduation from nursing school, determines whether one becomes an RN). Ask for written information and seek advice from counselors, teachers, or nurses you know in the community. Check out the website of the National Student Nurses Association which discusses many aspects of nursing education and career possibilities in detail (www.nsna.org).

What kinds of career opportunities exist in nursing?

There are growing demands for male and female nurses, which are expected to continue for years. Most new nurses start with a minimum salary of $35,000 or higher and excellent fringe benefits. Working different shifts or in  some specialty areas pays higher rates. Job security is high. Flexible schedules allow one to have a family or social life outside work. For example, many hospitals allow nurses to work three 12-hour shifts per week with 4 days off. Advancement opportunities abound. Nurses work virtually everywhere people are ill or trying to stay well—places like hospitals, extended care, public health, clinics and private offices, schools, industries, prisons, surgical centers, military settings, governmental offices, and home health. Travel nurses may work short-term assignments around the world.

With a master's degree in nursing, nurses may move into positions as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, researchers, clinical nurse specialists, top management positions, and nursing faculty. These positions pay upwards of $60,000 annually.

Yes, career opportunities abound for the RN with competitive salaries, job security, and opportunities for growth. For most nurses, an additional reward of the profession is knowing that they are making a difference in the healthcare of the nation, one patient at a time. What could be better than that for a preferred future?

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