Career-of-the-Month: Nurse

Nurses take care of people who are sick, injured, convalescent, or disabled. Many nurses work in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Nurses help doctors examine and treat patients. They ask patients about their symptoms and keep detailed records. They treat wounds, administer medicine, monitor medical equipment, and perform routine medical tests. They also help keep patients comfortable, and provide emotional support for patients and their families. Besides working in health care facilities, nurses can work for public health agencies, schools, camps, prisons, industry, the military, and in other venues.

Nurses can focus on treating one type of patient such as babies, children, or women. They can also specialize in a particular type of problem such as cardiac care, oncology, or mental health. Operating room nurses assist doctors during surgery. Other nurses work in emergency rooms or intensive care units. Some nurses run clinics and immunization centers. Home health nurses visit people’s homes to help them. Many nurses work in nursing homes and care for the elderly. Some nurses have special training and can do more advanced work. Nurse midwives help with the birth of babies. Flight nurses fly in helicopters to reach sick or injured people in emergencies. Experienced nurses can become head nurses or directors of nursing.

Non-bedside nurses teach people how to take care of themselves and their families. They inform people about diet and exercise, how to prevent disease, and how to follow doctors’ instructions. Telephone nurses answer phones and triage patients for health insurance companies and doctor’s offices. Some nurses do lab work, and others do office work. Clinical research nurses perform research and analyze data. Legal nurses work with attorneys to review medical documents and determine if medical negligence occurred. Nursing informatics is a relatively new field that combines nursing knowledge with computers and information technology.

There are multiple entry levels into nursing. Some nurses start by completing a state-approved one-year training program. It takes two years of college to attain an associate degree in nursing. A hospital-based nursing diploma program usually takes about three years. It takes four years to finish a bachelor degree in nursing. There are online nursing degree programs, as well as Master of Science in Nursing degrees and Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees. Nurses that study at a post-graduate level are called Advanced Practice Nurses. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who have obtained their masters degree and can prescribe medications. Nurses at the Ph.D. level are most likely to move into education and research positions.

All nurses study anatomy, biology, chemistry, nutrition, pathology, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, and nursing theory. Prerequisites include basic math and English. Nursing education includes classroom lectures and hands-on learning with experienced nurses in hospitals and other places. This is called clinical training. Even online students are required to complete applied learning projects in a healthcare setting. Nursing students must complete rigorous assessments (tests, papers, assignments) to demonstrate competence in each subject area. After graduating, nurses need to pass an exam to get a nursing license. Then they have to take continuing education classes to keep their skills current.

A registered nurse (RN) is a nurse who has graduated from a 2- or 4-year nursing program at a college or university and has passed a national licensing exam. Many nurses first start out as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). LPNs are considered, by most state boards of nursing, to be basic care nurses who work under the direction of registered nurses and physicians. RNs are considered, by most state boards of nursing, to be professional nurses. But the scope of practice of RNs and LPNs, including what tasks they may or may not perform, is regulated by each state. Also, different facilities can have varying job descriptions and roles. Some LPNs may supervise nursing assistants and aides. Many doctor’s offices hire LVNs, while many hospitals prefer RNs.

Nurses must be patient and kind when dealing with sick people and uncooperative patients. They need to be good at recognizing problems and remembering details. Nurses may have to help many patients at once, and the job can be stressful especially when managing medical emergencies. Hospital nurses may be required to work nights, weekends, and holidays. They spend a lot of time walking, standing, and bending over patients. Nurses with specialized training or experience are often in high demand. If you are a compassionate, caring person with good communication skills and like to help people, nursing may be the right career for you.

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