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Is Nursing Your Calling?

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With the aging of the baby boomers, better technology and an emphasis on preventative care bringing Americans to their doctors in droves, patients may soon start noticing they have fewer nurses caring for them. It's not their imagination. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association predicted that 40 percent of registered nurses (RNs) in the United States will top age 50 by 2010. The retirement of these nurses - combined with the aging general population - is expected produce a shortage of 434,000 nurses by 2020. Interested in filling the gap? Here's an overview of the industry, based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Nursing is the largest healthcare occupation today, with 2.3 million jobs. A passion for healthcare and a compassionate nature are crucial for this field. Registered nurses work to promote health, prevent disease and care for ill or injured patients. Many nurses work directly with patients, observing and recording symptoms, assisting physicians, administering medicine and assisting in rehabilitation. RNs also put together nursing care plans and instruct patients and their families in proper care.

Training and Education
All nursing students must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass a national licensing exam. Though diploma and two-year associate's degree programs exist for nurses, many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Sixty percent of the 2.3 million RNs in America work in hospitals, though opportunities for nursing are as diverse as the patients being treated. The following are just a sampling of the areas nurses serve: Hospitals - The largest group of RNs are hospital nurses, who provide bedside care and carry out medical regimens. Hospital nurses usually specialize in one department - pediatrics, surgery, etc. - though some nurses rotate departments. Offices/Clinics - These high-profile nurses serve in doctors' offices, clinics, emergency medical centers and ambulatory centers. Their duties include giving injections, dressing wounds, aiding examinations, assisting with minor surgery and maintaining records. Nursing Care Facilities - RNs in nursing care facilities monitor residents' health, supervise practical nurses/aids, perform invasive procedures (like administering IVs) and develop treatment plans. Some work in specialty departments, such as long-term rehabilitation centers for patients recovering from strokes. Home Care - Home health nurses work independently to provide care in patients' homes, assess the patients' home environments and provide instructions to patients and their families. Public Health - These nurses work in settings ranging from public clinics to schools. They help plan health programs, provide information and arrange for immunizations, testings and other health screenings. Nurse Practitioners - After undergoing additional training, nurse practitioners can diagnose, treat and prescribe medicine for common illnesses and injuries.

Pros and Cons of Nursing
The looming shortage of qualified nurses is expected to result in higher salaries for RNs. Some employers are already offering sign-on bonuses as high as $14,000 to entice qualified candidates. Nurses can also enjoy increased job security and less fear of layoffs. The 24-hour nature of many hospitals and residential care facilities lends itself to flexibility in scheduling and the ability to work part-time, and many employers offer childcare, educational benefits and bonuses. The scarcity of nurses, however, can lead to RNs being overworked and quickly becoming burned-out. Nurses must also be prepared to be on their feet most of the time, and take strict precautions against disease, radiation and accidental needle sticks.

Median earnings for nurses were $48,090 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $40,140 and $57,490. Nurses in employment services enjoyed the highest earnings, with a median f $55,980. General medical and surgical hospital nurses earned $49,190; home care nurses made $45,890 and physicians' office nurses earned $43,850.

Industry/Job Growth
Employment of registered nurses is expected to grow more than 27 percent -- faster than average for all occupations through 2012, with 623,000 new jobs added. Growth will be driven by technological advances in patient care, an increasing emphasis on preventative care and the aging of the baby boomer generation.

Last Updated: 16/11/2007 - 4:08 PM

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