Knowledge and care

Nurses combine high-level skills with compassion

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2006

Providing quality patient care, maintaining accurate records and effectively communicating with patients and their loved ones are all in a day's work for a registered nurse. Though the job of an RN is never done and rarely do they get the time off they deserve, the work can be as fulfilling as it is stimulating.

Thanks to an aging population and several other reasons, positions in this profession are expected to see a 27 percent increase by 2010. According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the United States currently has a deficit of nearly 150,000 registered nurses and will have a shortage of more than 800,000 by 2020.

For some, nursing is not only a fulfilling career, but also a way to attract top compensation for your work, regardless of your gender.

"It was always a viable option, but the perception at one point was that it was a female-dominated profession," explains Paul Giordano, vice president of human resources for South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y. "Over the years, as the role has changed, it's become more known. The growing popularity of nursing and the benefits that it offers, both monetarily and the health benefits, are comparable or exceed most other types of professions that you can have."

Shifting roles

Giordano adds that the job of a nurse has changed. What was formally considered "bedside" care is now area-specific. For example, almost every area of a given hospital employs nurses whose expertise is in that particular area. From the emergency room to intensive care units to the pharmacy and beyond, the ever-changing profession of nursing requires workers who are just as adaptable.

"You constantly have to upgrade your knowledge of technology," says Giordano. "It's constantly changing. The population is living longer, and by living longer, you have different needs for the population that comes through the door, whether it's a hospital or a nursing home, a doctor's office or home care nursing."

Requiring at least an associate degree and the proper state certification, registered nurses are among the top fastest-growing professions in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And despite the demand, deciding on a career in nursing doesn't have to pigeonhole you into one specific field.

"A lot of nurses who have nursing degrees today can make a living using that nursing degree without actually being a bedside nurse," says Mark Cohen, spokesman for Vitas, a national hospice care provider based in Southern Florida. "They are taking jobs like case managers for managed care companies, for example, or working as research assistants for pharmaceutical companies."

Prime time

While the number of nursing school graduates entering the work force is bringing down the average age of today's working nurse, the majority of employees have been on the job for a decade or more, according to the U.S. Department of labor. That means that the nursing workforce today is also an aging workforce - the national median age for nurses is 43.3.

That's why hospitals continue to take several steps to attract and keep qualified nurses. Some offer on-site licensed practical nurse programs, which allow students the convenience of studying and performing their clinical practice requirements in the same place. Others offer scholarship programs through local schools, which require scholarship recipients to make a commitment to working for the hospital after they graduate.

Patient comes first

Even with a stellar resume and solid knowledge of medicine, registered nurses - whether they are male or female - need to have outstanding customer service skills, Giordano says.

"Someone who can sit there and listen and talk to and have excellent communication skills, besides being medically skilled, and someone who is able to handle a variety of situations [makes a good candidate]," he adds. "We look at all of that - how you handle difficult situations; you have to be able to think on your feet and handle families and doctors."

Patients and their families rely on nurses to simplify frequently complicated diagnoses or procedures. An employee with a caring and friendly personality is always a plus, particularly if he or she handles sensitive situations. Nurses in hospitals, doctor's offices, nursing homes or residential care nurses all need to be receptive to a patient's needs and respond accordingly, since they are often viewed as an intermediary between patient, doctor and family.

"[The patients] see the doctor once, maybe two times a day, but depending on what your shift is, they're going to see you multiple times during the day," says Giordano. "You're the face on their health care. Informing the patient and family of what's going on all falls on the shoulders of the nursing staff."

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