Nurses are the unsung heroes of the healthcare team. They’re leaders, drivers of change, public health advocates and an ally for patients and their families in difficult times. For many healthcare organizations today, nurses are the key to delivering quality, culturally competent care and meeting the needs of a diverse and growing patient population.
Let's take a look behind the scenes at the real life and career of a nurse, from front-line care to management and education.
Who is a nurse?
Nurses are trained to treat the whole patient, not just the immediate illness or symptom. They lead with compassion, strive for understanding, and work tirelessly to ensure that patients receive the care and education they need to live healthier and fuller lives.
It’s no surprise, then, that nursing has ranked as the most honest and ethical profession for 17 consecutive years. These are just some of the roles and responsibilities of a nurse:
1. Nurses are leaders
In order to be successful, healthcare organizations must cultivate effective nurse leaders at every level. Nurses are taught to think critically and examine all sides of a problem, and thus are valuable assets to an organization that must navigate an increasingly complex healthcare landscape.
Nurse managers, for example, empower others to succeed by ensuring that new and experienced nurses are up to speed on best patient care practices and techniques. A staff nurse might go above and beyond in identifying the underlying cause behind a patient’s symptoms, therefore playing a critical role in ensuring he gets the appropriate treatment.
With an advanced degree, experienced nurses can also move beyond the frontlines of patient care to management and executive positions within an organization. In the C-suite, nurses can be instrumental in helping organizations understand changes in technology, community care, healthcare reform and legislation.
2. Nurses are educators
The nationwide shortage of qualified nurse educators exists in hospitals as well as universities. As more individuals join the nursing workforce, hospitals rely on nurse educators to extend teaching beyond the classroom and mentor new nurses on the job. Valerie Grant, an MSN Nurse Educator graduate from Herzing University, works to create inclusive orientation programs for nurses of a variety of experience levels and disciplines.
“From my perspective, which is recruitment and retention of our nurses, the initial orientation – creating a sense of belonging, interaction and integration into the department – is vital,” she says.
In an academic setting, nurse educators design and implement education programs for nursing students and practicing nurses. Many nursing faculty are predicted to retire in the coming years, increasing opportunities for today’s nursing professionals to move into advanced roles in academic education.
3. Nurses are allies
Nurses also play a vital role in ensuring the health of future generations outside of the hospital. With a greater focus on public health and disease prevention, nurses are taking on greater responsibility as advocates in the community.
For example, Herzing University graduate Nabeela Rehan works as a registered nurse and also volunteers as a head nurse at a Wisconsin summer camp for children who have suffered abuse or neglect.
Rehan says that working with the children has taught her the importance of communication, listening and empathy in nursing, and helped her become the nurse she is today. She is just one example of how today’s nurses are redefining healthcare, leading community-wide initiatives to promote both physical and emotional health for patients young and old.
What do nurses do?
From the operating room to the board room, nurses can wear many different hats. Here’s a look at a few of the different types of nurses:
- Registered nurses (RNs) play a central role in helping healthcare organizations deliver excellent care. RNs can also pursue a variety of different nursing specialties, such as pediatrics, oncology, surgery and more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that RN positions will grow by as much as 15 percent through 2026, adding more than 400,000 new jobs. Currently, there are more than 4 million registered nurses in the workforce.
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPNs) are trained to provide basic nursing care and often work alongside RNs and physicians. As the U.S. population ages, there is a growing need for LPNs in long-term care facilities, such as rehabilitation centers, residential treatment centers and hospice. Employment for LPNs is expected to increase by as much as 12 percent through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists, have a high-level of specialized nursing training. They are often more autonomous in their roles and can even serve as primary care providers, responsible for many of the same activities as general practice physicians. Most APRNs hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. This career path is ideal for those who want to influence patient care at a higher level.
Where are nurses needed most?
There continues to be a high demand for nurses in both clinical and academic environments. For those who are interested in making a difference, there’s never been a better time to begin or advance your nursing career.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected the need for 1.1 million new registered nurses to join the workforce by 2022 in order avoid a nursing shortage. As more new nurses join the workforce, experienced nurses also have an opportunity to advance into leadership and management positions.
APRNs for example, are projected to see 31 percent increase in employment through 2026, or as many as 64,200 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Growth is due to a variety of factors, including a larger emphasis on preventative care.
A nurse is not “just a nurse.” Nurses truly are superheroes in scrubs, making a difference in the lives of their patients as well as the community.
No matter what type of nursing career you want to pursue, finding the right nursing degree program that fits your life and career goals is an important factor in your success.