As the nursing shortage drags on with no end in sight, opportunities abound for young and new nurses. The question is how do you build a successful and rewarding career?
"I think the first thing with any nurse that’s coming out of nursing school is there’s an endless opportunity in nursing," said experienced nurse Charlotte Starnes. Starnes is the nurse at the Craig Hospital-based practice of Dr. Scott Falci, a widely known specialist in spinal cord injury. "There’s nothing like nursing for anybody who likes it. There’s no career like it because there is an endless amount of opportunity. You can do anything you want to."
So how do you figure out what to do?
"I think it depends on what you really enjoy. I think it’s difficult in a very short period of educational time – whether you’re doing a two-year program or a four-year program – to get enough clinical experience in any one area to really know what you want to do to start with," Starnes said.
"I’ve done home health, I’ve done health department. I’ve done little hospitals, big hospitals. I’ve had a very rewarding career because I’ve had opportunities to do a lot of things. So I think you have to explore some to find your niche," she said. However, Starnes doesn’t think that means skipping around departments and facilities every three months.
"If you know you’re going to go to nursing school, I think you should – and you really want to be a nurse, it’s not because you think it looks like a good career – I think you should start as a nurse’s aide, then do at least a year in a good general background, and then I think there is endless opportunity to do what ever you want to do," she said.
Of course, the myriad opportunities present a challenge for those hard at work trying to find and retain good nurses. Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital’s Kathy Williams, assistant director of human resources, spends a lot of time studying what satisfies nurses on the job. Cash isn’t the biggest factor, either.
"Money is only a temporary satisfier," Williams said. "If we know anything in HR, we know that. It makes you happy for about that long [snaps fingers] and then you spend it and you start looking around for what’s going to make you happy next. There has to be a little bit more of a broader base, and we hope we’re providing that to our staff."
Recruiting younger nurses, during a shortage and as the average RN age rises, to come to a specialized rehab environment takes some effort.
"Rehabilitation nursing is very demanding physically. So, we have to make sure we’re taking care of who we have, but when we have a young nurse come in, we have to find creative ways to appeal," Williams said.
"What we look at is not high-tech, adrenaline rushes – I mean, we have to differentiate between an ER or critical care nurse and a rehab nurse. We try to appeal to those people who are looking at working in an interdisciplinary team setting, and who want to be able to spend extra time on education for both the patient and the family, and who are wanting to have a little more time to develop with the patient. To be able to see the continuum of care – that’s what appeals to our younger nurses that come in," she said.
So after you’ve found a nursing niche and landed an appealing job, how do you build a successful practice?
"How good a nurse you are at the end of the day depends a lot on your personality," said Ann Kelly, an RN since 1976 who currently serves as ADON at North Star Community, a long-term care facility in Denver.
"It has a lot to with the amount of pride you take in your work and how well you understand how big systems work. So whether you’re a nurse or whether you’re a kindergarten teacher, if your focus is only to be task oriented "I start at six, I finish at two, how much do I have to produce?’ – that’s the type of nurse you’ll be," Kelly said.
Kelly trained to be a nurse in Ireland. She said changing jobs is a natural part of being a nurse. The system is almost set-up to encourage movement, and the changes help prevent burnout, according to Kelly.
"If you like to care for people, you’re going to have access to high mobility. You’re going to always find 50 percent of nurses change their job every two to three years. That is not uncommon," she said.
Starnes recommends a nurse’s aide experience for those interested in the career. "Get that, and jump around – work in a float pool or something and really get some good experience that you can take back to nursing school," she said. After a diverse professional experience, she eventually found her home in spinal cord injury nursing.
"I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is what I really like," Starnes said. "I like these patients. I love their families. I love the relationships you build."