• Midyear Checkup: Four Vital Signs to Watch in Your Nursing Career

    By Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom, contributor

    Annual checkups and preventive care are important for your overall health and well-being, so why not apply the same concept to your nursing career? By taking a look at progress toward goals, job satisfaction and potential for the future, nurses can keep their careers healthy and headed in the right direction.

    Education and advancement potential

    Andrea Higham, director of the Campaign for Nursing’s Future at Johnson & Johnson, said education is one of the hottest topics in nursing right now, with the need for advanced practice nurses and educators fueling the conversation.

    Although advanced practice means more work and a greater investment in advanced education, the payoff may be well worth it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, referred to as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), earned a median annual salary of $90,930 in 2012, while registered nurses (RNs) earned an average of $65,470 per year.  Clinical nurse specialists, also considered APRNs, are currently included in the BLS’s RN data.

    “There are some specialties in which there is a huge demand right now, and that would include any kind of advance practice nursing,” Higham said. She notes that many experts in the nursing community feel strongly that nurse practitioners are going to be primarily responsible for administering primary care in this country as we move forward into the future. 

    “As we get baby boomers aging and having more chronic conditions, and more people are added into the health care system, there will be a greater need for advanced practice nurses,” she explained.

    Many employers and nursing organizations now offer scholarships and other reimbursements for nurses looking to continue their education. If pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree is not in your five-year plan, consider expanding your scope by taking online continuing education classes or getting certified in your specialty.

    Supply and demand

    Has the demand for nurses diminished? What will the future bring?

    While there are no short answers to these questions, Higham believes that the need for nurses with diversified skills is only going to continue to grow as the health care environment becomes more and more complex. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the United States will face a shortage of 800,000 nurses by 2020.

    “What I have been able to glean from the nursing community is that there is still a desperate need for nurses—in some areas more so than others,” she said. “If you are talking about direct patient nursing or acute care nursing, the need is more visible in more of the rural areas and in parts of the Midwest and South.”

    Experienced staff nurses who are looking for a change may want to consider
    travel nursing. Taking your nursing career on the road lets you decide when and where you want to work, and you can put your skills to use where they are needed most.  Benefits include travel reimbursements, free or supplemented housing, excellent pay and professional opportunities in top facilities around the country.

    New skills gained from travel assignments can also position you for bigger and better things later in your nursing career, and recruiters report that travel nurses are currently in high demand.

    Work–life balance

    Taking care of yourself so you can care for others should be a pillar of the nursing profession, but oftentimes self-care takes a back seat in today’s 24/7 environment.

    “Nursing is a very, very stressful job. You are dealing with patients at a very critical time in their lives where they need you. Whether they are having a baby and it is a happy time, or they are going into surgery, the patients need nurses. They need your skills, education and compassion,” she said. “Nurses need to realize the impact they are making in other people’s lives.”

     

    Getting involved in mentorship programs can help alleviate stress on the job, Higham explained.  Adequate sleep, nutrition and exercise are all keys to maintaining a healthy work–life balance. By nurturing your personal life, you are sure to see gains in your professional life.

    Beyond the bedside: New opportunities for RNs

    It’s not uncommon for nurses to suffer from “bedside burnout” and switching practice settings or specialties can be a good way to get some relief. In fact, Higham encourages nurses who are itching for a change to consider areas they may not have originally thought to pursue in their nursing careers.

    “There’s also a greater need for nurses in areas such as school nursing, visiting nurses, home health care and more,” she said.

    Technology-focused nursing careers, including science and informatics, are also poised for even more growth. The 2014 HIMSS Nursing Workforce Survey found that the informatics field is experiencing tremendous growth. Seventy percent of the survey respondents have titles that specify an informatics position, which is double the percentage from the previous survey conducted in 2011.

    “It's reassuring to see an increased interest in the nursing profession,” Higham concluded. “It’s such an invaluable role and we desperately need nurses. They really are the backbone of health care and without them the health care system would be crippled.”

     

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