Launching your Career as a Nurse

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Becoming a nurse may be a very attractive prospect for people making a career change right now, with new jobs in the profession expected to skyrocket in the next decade. One key factor to consider in looking toward a nursing career is the education you will need and where that education can take you. As the Dean of the School of Nursing at Kaplan University, Sheila Burke has extensive knowledge about the future of nursing education and major changes in the field that will affect both new nurses and those continuing in the field in the next few years. In this blog, Burke talks about trends in the nursing profession, her passion for the field, and the job opportunities a nursing degree can open for you.

BlogHer: How have your educational experiences led to where you are today?

Sheila Burke: As a high school student I loved science but was not sure where I wanted to go in terms of a career. I was never a candystriper or a nurse’s aide, though I did work as a receptionist in a community hospital. My parents are immigrants and I’m the only child in our family to have earned a college degree. I started in a community college and earned an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) in 1980. There was a nursing shortage and I was hired at a major medical center. It was immediately apparent to me that I’d need to have a higher degree to get opportunities to influence the quality of patient care. I began  in the bachelor’s degree completion program and earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) while working full-time  in an  acute care unit in a large medical center. It was intense, but I was aware that, even though the ADN program I had attended provided me a strong foundation,  the BSN program was unlocking  new areas for me and expanding my professional capacity.

While I wanted to move onto graduate school and get my master’s degree, my life circumstances and the programs that were available were not a good match. In other words, I had to work full-time and at the time the majority of Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs required attending daytime classes. So, while I saw the master’s degree as valuable, it was 15 years before I enrolled in an MSN program. The program I attended was designed for working adults and I started in a campus-based program After the third course my job situation changed and required that I travel frequently. This required that I transfer to the  online Masters program. It was fantastic. The online library, the discussion boards that introduced me to other nurses from across the country, and the 24/7 access to resources were far beyond what I had expected.

In 3 ½ years I earned my MSN and MBA.. It was tough, and there were times I fell asleep on the laptop, but each quarter I was amazed how much I had learned  and how  nearly all of it was relevant to my work. Shortly after graduation  I entered training to become an online instructor. Within a year I was teaching online as well as  blended courses that met at several campus sites.  The experiences in the power of online learning, the quality of the resources, and the collaboration that was available using the online approach opened my eyes to a new way of contributing to the nursing profession. I had always been drawn to teach, and now had a way to teach and develop education programs that could more effectively influence nursing practice.

What are some of the key trends in nursing today?

The major trend is the emphasis on reshaping the nursing profession and ensuring that professional nursing requires a high level of education for entry into practice.  In 2010 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published the Future of Nursing Report. This report laid out clear guidance for the nursing profession and recommends that, by 2020, 80% of U.S. nurses should have acquired at least a BSN degree and that the number of doctorally prepared nurses be double of what it was in 2010. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and multiple other national nursing professional organizations supported the IOM recommendations. This builds on the guidance that comes from the Carnegie Report on the Nursing Profession, which challenged the way in which nurses have been educated and emphasized innovative education as essential to the future of nursing. Nurses will also be expected to have more education to be at the table in terms of healthcare changes that are part of the U.S. Healthcare Reform Act. A number of states are considering legislation that will require that nurses that wish to continue as licensed registered nurses will be required to earn their BSN.

The major concern about this educational need is that the average age of nurse educators and nurse administrators has been mid-40s and older. There is an expectation that there will be a major shortage when these large numbers of senior nurse leaders and educators retire. The need for increasing the number of qualified nursing faculty has been a national issue and some schools of nursing have had to limit their enrollments due to the shortage of faculty. 

What are some of the hot careers in nursing today?

Nursing is one of the fields that has the most opportunities emerging between now and 2020. However, the key to those considering the profession is to realize that going forward nurses will be expected to have more education than in the past. The key opportunities for nurses who want to have careers with growth potential and financial rewards or other benefits, such as flexibility, include becoming an advanced nurse practitioner, a nursing educator, a nurse researcher, or an expert consultant. While nursing faculty positions are in high demand, the compensation may be generally lower than in the clinical practice positions. However, nurse educators often have higher degrees of flexibility and may be able to work as consultants or have other benefits that are appealing.

What motivates you? What makes you passionate about your job?

When I entered nursing in 1980 I was deeply affected by the ability of a nurse to be with people in life-changing situations and to provide support and education that made a major difference for the patients and often their families as well. I loved being able to teach people so that they were empowered to take more control over their health, or to assist them in learning how to cope with serious illness and still have quality of life. I have spent years caring for the terminally ill and teaching people how to cope with the changes in their life without losing hope and still finding meaning. I have guided newly diagnosed diabetics and those facing life without a limb.

As I began teaching new nurses and nursing students I realized how vitally important it is for nurses to have exceptional education. Nurses have a role to play in people’s lives from before their babies are born until and during the time of their death. The nursing profession has tremendous responsibility to prepare nurses who have outstanding skills and are compassionate, creative, and talented at helping others find solutions regardless of the health issues that are occurring.

Today the United States is facing a new era of healthcare, one in which patients will have an ever-increasing role in defining what types of care they will have – and I want to play a part in preparing nurses to be valuable educators and advocates for all patients. The “aging of America” is affecting all of us, and people who are elderly and without caregivers need more resources and solutions as their health changes. Nurses can change the path for people. I’m committed to helping prepare nurses who will change lives for the better.

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Kaplan University provides a practical, student-centered education that prepares individuals for careers in some of the fastest-growing industries. The University, which has its main campus in Davenport, Iowa, and its headquarters in Chicago, is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (www.ncahlc.org). It serves more than 53,000 online and campus-based students. The University has 11 campuses in Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland and Maine, and Kaplan University Learning Centers in Maryland, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri and Florida.

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