When the nation's unemployment rate in October hit double digits for the first time in decades, it was an ominous sign of the economic slowdown's depth. Yet even in those dark days, the healthcare sector remained something of a bright spot — growing jobs even as most other industries contracted. Many of those new healthcare jobs went to nurses, experts say, and the trend is expected to continue as the population ages and treatment capabilities expand.
For several years now, the U.S. healthcare system has been struggling with a shortage of nurses, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. A recent fact sheet from the nursing group notes that while the recession has eased the shortage in some respects, the gap between supply and demand still is expected to grow to 260,000 registered nurses by 2025. The implication for job seekers is obvious: Nurses will be in demand.
"We always have a strong need for good nurses," says Rose Kearney-Nunnery, former dean of South University's College of Nursing. "There is clearly still a steady trend that shows job security in health care. However, our mission remains to graduate nurses who have not only the skill set, but a genuine desire to be nurses."
The majority of South University's students seeking a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) already have credentials as registered nurses. Many registered nurses seek a bachelor's degree to increase their marketability and career options. When students with an RN receive a BSN degree, they are most often working to move on to a better job or to move up in their present position or on to healthcare administration.
Other students haven't yet tried a career in nursing, and they find the profession attractive in part because it offers a relatively good chance of finding employment. Even so, it's not a career path for everyone.
"We do have students come and fall in love with a profession they never thought they'd fall in love with, and I've also seen the opposite happen," Kearney-Nunnery explains. "Some come to school and find out it's not their cup of tea. Those students weed themselves out of the program fortunately before they are faced with patient care."
Being a nurse requires commitment not only of the heart and head, but also a financial investment.
"You have to want it, and you also have to meet the demands to make it through a program financially as well as scholastically," says René Pick, a 32-year-old wife and mother who just graduated with her bachelor's degree in Nursing from South University in Tampa, Florida.
Prior to entering nursing school, Pick owned a real estate company. But after the peaks and valleys in the housing market this decade, Pick admits that health care looked attractive in part because of its stability.
Pick started out as a certified surgical technician, and the experience helped confirm her desire to become a nurse. But personal circumstances also drove the decision.
"Truthfully, I decided to become a nurse after I was diagnosed with breast cancer," Pick recalls. "I was working as a surgical tech while I was undergoing treatment, and I was consistently amazed and inspired by the nurses who cared for me during this period of my life. These men and women helped me survive one of the most difficult challenges in my life, and so I decided that nursing was the place I, too, needed to be."
In 2010, Pick will begin a graduate degree program in nursing to become an adult nurse practitioner. As she studies, Pick will continue to work full-time in the emergency room at her local VA hospital.
"I want a master's (degree) in nursing to advance my general education, to go further into primary health care, and eventually to own my own practice," Pick says.
South University's campus in Tampa and West Palm Beach, Florida, have the largest number of nursing students while the campus in Columbia, South Carolina, began offering degrees in nursing in April 2009.
Nurses enjoy their work because it gives them what they want professionally — proximity to people, taking care of patients, and aiding in the healing process, says Dan Coble, president of South University's Tampa, Florida, campus and a registered nurse himself.
"Likewise, the nursing profession allows people to pursue a multitude of paths that can be the most gratifying and fulfilling of any profession at all," Coble says.
"I personally enjoy seeing nurses come out of our program on a very clear career path because there are a whole lot of directions to go in nursing," says Coble. "Whether our graduates want to stay by the bedside and help patients regain their health, or become an administrator to make hospitals function better, or work as a nurse practitioner in a clinic, or teach at a hospital or university, options are wide open for the right person with the right skills."
Written by freelance talent for South Source.