Nursing is a job of service to others when they are most in need.
"Nursing is one of the most challenging and rewarding professions. The avenues for practice are endless, and the opportunities for connections with the community and individuals are limitless. It has been my honor to share the most treasured, difficult, and meaningful moments with my students, patients, and their families. Nursing has been, and always will be, an essential aspect of my life and, in many ways, has defined how I choose to live my life—with ethics, compassion, and connections at the forefront."
—Jessica Gordon, associate dean of undergraduate nursing programs, Purdue Global
Every career has joys and frustrations. But nursing gets high ratings for job satisfaction, even in the age of COVID-19—81% of respondents in the AMN Healthcare 2021 Survey of Registered Nurses either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they were satisfied with their choice of nursing as a career. Interestingly, nonwhite nurses were 10% more satisfied with their career and 12% more likely to encourage others to become a nurse than white nurses. Non-heterosexual nurses also have slightly higher rates of career and job satisfaction and were more likely to encourage others to become nurses. To be clear, COVID-19 remains a challenge. In the survey, 65% of nurses said working during the pandemic raised their stress level a lot or a great deal, while 60% said their work-life balance was similarly affected. Approximately 23% of nurses said it was somewhat likely or extremely likely they would leave nursing because of the pandemic.
Despite the challenges, there are many opportunities for nurses. If you’re thinking about becoming a nurse, here are five things to consider.
1. Nurses Work Varying Shifts
The length of nursing shifts varies depending on the work environment. A nurse in a doctor’s private practice or in a residential care facility might work five shifts of 8 hours each for a 40-hour workweek. A hospital nurse, on the other hand, might work three shifts of 12 hours each for a 36-hour workweek.
Why the difference? Hospitals are staffed 24/7, and 12-hour shifts provide better continuity because patients are under the care of a different nurse only twice a day. Hospitals generally consider 36 hours a full-time week. Part-time nurses work anywhere from 10 to 30 hours a week.
In the 2017 AMN nurses’ survey, the highest number of respondents, 62%, said they worked between 30 and 40 hours per week. The next highest number, 29%, said they worked more than 40 hours per week. And only 9% said they worked fewer than 30 hours per week.
Why Is There a Nursing Shortage?
Many nurses work more than their shifts due to a nursing shortage rooted in both demographic and economic issues:
- The aging of the baby boomers: This generation, born between the years of 1946 and 1964, began turning 65 in 2011 at the rate of 10,000 a day and will continue to do so until 2029. The ongoing retirement of the baby boomers is constantly affecting the number of employed nurses. Beginning in 2016, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that health care was one of the few industries with more job openings than hires. Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS expects registered nursing jobs to grow by 9%, or 276,800.*
- Nursing education needs reform: As noted in a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), titled “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” there is a need to transform nursing education in this country. “Nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression,” the report recommends. The number of nursing students, while growing, is not keeping up with the number of open nursing positions. A shortage of nursing faculty is one of the causes. According to an American Association of Colleges of Nursing survey, thousands of qualified applicants were being turned away due to insufficient number of faculty, along with lack of clinical sites, classroom space, and clinical preceptors, as well as budget constraints.
- The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded the role of nursing: Among other effects, the ACA expanded the roles of many nurses in health care overall. Since its passage in 2010, 31 million Americans have gained access to health coverage through the ACA, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Many of those newly insured patients were affected by chronic illnesses that had gone untreated, so they required more care. The ACA also emphasized effective care and outcomes. This led to an increased demand on the role of nurse practitioners and other nurses with advanced education.
>> Learn More: A Guide to Nursing Programs, Degrees, & Career Paths
2. Nurses Love Their Work—But It’s Not Without Challenges
The high satisfaction ratings reported in the survey discussed earlier are not unusual; the survey is done every 2 years, and respondents consistently report high levels of job satisfaction, even with challenges such as COVID-19. Connecting with patients, making a difference, contributing to better health, the variety of duties and work environments—these are just a few of the reasons nurses are satisfied with their work.
As in any career, however, there are things that affect job satisfaction. Nursing is a demanding profession, both physically and psychologically. Some nurses worry that the demands of the job are affecting their health; others say they don’t have the time they need to spend with their patients, and still others say they don’t feel their leaders support them in their career development.
The nursing shortage only serves to exacerbate these situations. Most nurses enjoy the profession, but it’s not without its tolls. Expect some stress and pressure.
3. Nursing Offers Numerous Career Opportunities and Paths
The career paths you can choose as a nurse are plentiful.† Here are some general nursing categories:
- Primary patient care: Nurses who work hands-on with patients are needed in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and residential care homes, and for in-home nursing care. Specialties can include neuro-trauma, neonatal, oncology, labor/delivery, anesthesia, geriatrics, acute care, and orthopedics, to name a few.
- School nurses: School nurses specialize in all matters affecting children from preschool through grade 12. In addition to taking care of students who get sick or injured at school, they help disabled students and those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, allergies, or asthma with their medical needs. They have an active role in promoting hygiene, nutrition, exercise, and wellness, and they need to be familiar with the signs of substance abuse, physical and emotional abuse, and mental illness.
- Nurses in private practice: Nurses in private practice enjoy an opportunity to practice independently. Of course, the type of nursing will be defined by the specialty of the doctor. Is the doctor an eye surgeon? A gynecologist? A general practitioner? The nursing care will follow suit.
- Hospice care nurses: Hospice nurses care for patients at the end of life and help them live as comfortably as possible. These nurses specialize in palliative care and need extremely good communication skills to help patients and their families.
- Nurse educators: Nurse educators are found in hospitals and nursing schools. In hospitals, they work with student nurses to teach patient care or alongside medical researchers. In nursing colleges, nurse educators are similar to any instructor; they create lesson plans, teach online and/or in the classroom, and evaluate students.
- Leadership and administration: There are multiple levels of nursing leadership in a hospital. Charge nurses are responsible for supervising nurses and patient care during a given shift. Nurse administrators wear two hats: They manage the nursing department as well as facilities and the budget.
- Nurse practitioners (NPs): Nurse practitioners are common in doctors’ offices as part of the front line against illness and injury. Although they work under the oversight of a doctor, nurse practitioners can examine patients, make diagnoses, and prescribe medications. Nurse practitioners must earn advanced degrees in nursing, pass a licensing exam, and work for several years in the field to earn official credentials from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
- Certified nurse midwives: Certified nurse midwives are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), so they must earn an advanced degree and a certification and gain extra experience in order to practice. They monitor pregnant women throughout pregnancy and deliver their babies. In the case of complications that need a higher level of medical care, they take their patient to a hospital.
>> Read Choosing a Nursing Specialty: Guidance for New and Experienced Nurses
4. Nurses Combine Science and Service
If you’ve likely always liked science and helping people, you may have the ideal mix of left brain/right brain, along with the hard and soft skills that are needed to be a nurse. But what does that mean?
Nursing is, of course, based in science. But nursing is also an art, based on the intuition and moral compass of the nurse at hand.
Put another way, a nurse needs both hard skills—education, technique, experience—and soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, intuition, empathy, and professionalism. According to American Nurse Today, the Journal of the American Nursing Association, “It is vital that nursing leaders mentor and create work environments that encourage nurses to develop soft skills, which will enhance the use of both teamwork and collaboration and lead to the ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes.” If you want to become a nurse, you’ll need to practice excellent soft skills.
>> Read More: 10 Top Non-Hospital Nursing Jobs for Nurses
5. Nursing Requires Continuing Education
Just as medicine advances, nursing care is ever-evolving, and continuing education has become a cornerstone of the profession. Requirements vary, but most states (and many hospitals) require nurses to complete a certain level of continuing education every 2 to 5 years to keep their license valid. Topics might include clinical management, controlled substances, HIV/AIDS training, pain management, bioterrorism, recognizing child or domestic abuse, ethics, and veterans’ health conditions.
Learn More About How to Become a Nurse
If you think you’d be a good fit for a nursing career, it’s time to take the next step. Learn more about the online nursing programs offered by Purdue Global, a nonprofit, online public university for working adults. Purdue Global’s nursing degree programs include associate’s degrees (for students in Iowa and Maine), bachelor’s degrees, and multiple advanced nursing degrees. Request more information today.