Understanding the nursing shortage

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I need some insight from someone familiar with careers in healthcare. I recently graduated from college with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and now I’m considering my next career move.

My original plan was to begin working immediately because of the widespread need for nurses in the US, but now I’m wondering if I’d really enjoy general nursing. My little sister suggested medical school but that wouldn’t help the nursing situation.

I’d also feel guilty about spending another few years focused on school instead of contributing somehow. More and more people need help these days. That’s why I need guidance. Are there options that might let me balance the two?

America certainly has a shortage of nurses, but worse still might be having nurses who aren’t truly devoted to their practice. The same could likely be said of most professions. It’s also important to realize that the shortage is on the verge of another escalation. Rebecca Grant at The Atlantic explained, in 2016, how the aging population of Baby Boomers will only exacerbate the nursing shortage. That’s going to have major implications for patient care, especially those seeking emergency attention.

Roni Jacobson at Scientific American shared her thoughts about the looming crisis while touting California as the only state that currently regulates the nurse-to-patient ratio. While that could definitely yield improvements to the situation, it doesn’t address the crux of the shortage. Most hospitals, clinics, and urgent care centers need larger pools of qualified applicants. Believe it or not, that doesn’t always necessarily mean general registered nurses (RNs). Quite the contrary, in fact.

Specialization is a natural approach to all highly-complex professions. The nursing path is no different from the physician’s path in that perspective. Staff writers at Nurse Journal have done you the favor of highlighting more than twenty nursing specialties to consider. Several examples are likely to be obscure while others you’ve most definitely encountered before. Nurse Practitioners (NP) and Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CNRAs) are especially prestigious specializations and are both in high demand, too. They do require significant upfront time and financial investments, but the latter can be easily recouped within a few years of practice after graduation.

Fortunately, you don’t have to focus exclusively on graduate school, especially if you feel so obligated to contribute back to society. You wouldn’t be the first graduate student to balance work and study while pursuing an advanced degree. Joan Axelrod-Contrada at CollegeXpress published a salient article with ten tips for those trying to juggle family, work, and graduate school. That might add some clarity to your thought process. For instance, she suggests clarifying your goals and finding flexible programs.

Deciding which specialization might be right for you is going to be the biggest barrier. Aside from that, however, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find viable graduate programs. You could explore online nursing programs in Houston or traditional ones in San Francisco. Some are even considered hybrid programs. In other words, the classroom experience is delivered virtually but the clinical component remains physical. The most important part is understanding the requirements for the specialization in question.

You might choose to become a nurse practitioner (NP), for instance. That track has a very specific series of prerequisites. Staff writers at Nurse Journal released a short overview explaining what you need to know to become one. They discuss passing the NCLEX-RN, completing a recognized graduate program, and then obtaining new licensure/certification. The process is clearly extensive. Another key takeaway is investigating program accreditation. Programs should be accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Other specializations are likely to have equally extensive requirements, which is why it’s so important to choose wisely. You should consider getting as much career exposure as possible. Seek a veteran who might be willing to serve as a mentor. Navigating your career path alone isn’t always the most productive approach.

“The trained nurse has become one of the great blessings of humanity, taking a place beside the physician and the priest.”  — William Osler

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