Given the current world’s health situation, frontline healthcare workers are truly in the spotlight. Nurses, in particular, are receiving much-deserved praise and recognition for the work they’re doing to care for patients and prevent the further spread of this pandemic. Young students and mid-life career changers might even see these aptly-named healthcare heroes and feel inspired to pursue a career in nursing.
It’s true that nurses play a large and important role in public health, and the work they do makes a tangible and positive difference in people’s lives. However, it’s not the right path for everyone.
Before you invest time and money into a nursing degree program, it’s critical to understand what a nursing career might entail. Here’s what you need to know about what it’s like to work in the nursing industry.
1. Nursing is the largest healthcare profession in the U.S.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), there are more than 3.8 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide. These RNs comprise one of the largest segments of the overall American workforce and are the primary providers of patient care in hospitals and long-term care facilities. There are also more than 290,000 licensed nurse practitioners (NPs) in the U.S.
2. The industry is struggling to keep up with the rising demand for nurses
Even prior to the recent pandemic, the demand and job growth for nurses has been steadily rising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an increase between now and 2028 for many common nursing occupations, including nursing assistants and orderlies (9%), RNs (12%), and nurse anesthetists, midwives, and practitioners (26%).
The BLS cites multiple reasons for this growing demand, including increased emphasis on preventive care, rising rates of chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity, and greater need for healthcare among the aging baby boomer population. However, there is also a corresponding shortage of qualified nurses as many RNs currently in the field are nearing retirement age. AACN reports that while nursing degree program enrollment is up, the increase is not sufficient to meet the projected demand.
3. Nurses don’t just work in hospitals and doctor’s offices
If the idea of making hospital rounds and caring for critically-ill patients isn’t quite your speed, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a fulfilling nursing career. Although hospitals and physician’s offices are among the most common nursing employers, nurses can also work in a variety of settings, including schools, offices, pharmacies, home health care settings, long-term care facilities, and outpatient clinics.
4. There are numerous nursing specialties and certifications to choose from
One you’ve completed a nursing degree program, you can advance your career with a variety of certifications in specialized areas of healthcare. Not every nursing student goes directly into the field after earning their registered nurse licensure; some become critical care nurses, ER nurses, pediatric nurses, nurse practitioners, nurse educators, nurse managers, and travel nurses, for example. Each specialty has its own education and certification requirements, with some requiring master’s or doctorate-level degrees.
5. The majority of nurses are women, but more men are joining the field
Nursing is often thought of as a traditionally female-dominated profession. It’s true that nearly 90% of RNs and NPs are women, according to 2019 BLS data — but a rising number of men are pursuing nursing careers. This rewarding career field appeals to a wide range of caring, empathetic individuals, regardless of gender, so if you’re a man who’s interested in nursing, don’t let outdated career stereotypes deter you.
6. You don’t need an advanced degree to become a registered nurse (but it helps)
The minimum required education to become a registered nurse is an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). Most ADN students complete their degree program and clinicals in about two years, at which point they can take the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) and find their first nursing job. However, a four-year bachelor program (BSN) or even a master’s degree (MSN) can put you at a distinct career advantage. A survey by AACN found that 82.1% of nursing employers have a “strong preference” for BSN candidates, and 43.2% of hospitals and other healthcare settings require a bachelor’s degree for nursing jobs.
7. Physical, mental, and emotional burnout is common among nurses
Nursing is an incredibly demanding job in every sense. Twelve-hour shifts are common among nurses, which can easily become much longer if an urgent patient case pops up or another nurse calls out at the end of a scheduled shift. Combine these long hours of working on your feet with the difficulty of dealing with acutely-ill patients, deaths, and grieving families, and it’s no wonder the job takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll.
Nurses working shifts of 10 or more hours were 2.5 times more likely to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction than nurses who work shorter shifts. Additionally, about 35% of nurses overall experienced burnout symptoms, and just over 30% exhibited symptoms of depression. As such, those who pursue a nursing career should know that they’ll need to pay extra attention to their own health and self-care if they hope to stay in the industry long-term.
8. It may be easier than you think to find a flexible job in the nursing field
While full-time hospital nurses may work long or erratic hours, this isn’t the case for every nursing job. In fact, there are numerous healthcare facilities and organizations that need qualified temporary and per-diem nurses to pick up shifts when their full-time staff members are unavailable.
At Clipboard Health, our goal is to connect in-demand nurses and allied health professionals with our facility partners that need them. There are no minimum number of shifts or hours required when you start working, and you can set your availability and shift preferences to achieve your ideal work-life balance. We make it easy to host your documents and licenses to speed up the onboarding process at new facilities, and offer personalized support to help you succeed in your nursing career.
Visit our Professionals page for more details on how to get started.