Tuesday, October 03, 2006


The Changing Face of Nursing
By Vicki Salemi

Forget the stereotypical nurses dressed in white, catering to the doctor's every request. Today's nurses are health-care leaders, technology gurus, and patient-care managers, thanks to new academic programs--and the desire to continue learning--that prepare them for professional success.

Medical professionals and faculty claim the Licensed Practical Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (LPN to BSN) academic degree program, a one-year educational route for licensed nurses to earn a bachelor's degree, has dramatically improved the nursing field. Karen Daley, RN, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in Danbury, argues that programs in medical surgical nursing, nursing practicums, as well as a focus on leadership and management have all resulted in a significant improvement in curriculum.

"We moved away from teaching a medical model [memorizing diseases and treatments]. Now, we emphasize conceptual nursing so students can problem-solve and think critically in any situation," she says. "We encourage independent thinking, assertive communication, and professionalism."

And rightfully so: As the largest single component of hospital staff and as the primary providers of hospital patient care, nurses deliver most of the nation's long-term care. It's no surprise then that these intellectual nurses make up more than half of all health professionals.

Debra Lajoie, Master of Science Nursing (MSN), assistant professor of nursing at WCSU, notes that today's nurses assume an increasingly professional role, and by doing so, become the "glue that holds the health-care system together." She emphasizes that in addition to having strong assessment skills and a strong theoretical base, nurses need to be experts in technology, informatics (clinical information), and evidence-based practice (the ability to apply research to hands-on care with a patient). "Nurses look at the patient holistically and manage interdisciplinary care."

Endless options
Along with diverse responsibilities come myriad career opportunities for those in the fast-growing field of health care, says registered nurse Maureen "Mickey" Mullin, a career specialist at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. In addition to having a bachelor's degree in the field, Mullin is currently pursuing her master's degree in nursing. Although she's an oncology-certified nurse, her main goal at Fox is to implement short- and long-term strategies related to nursing recruitment and retention; accordingly, she's cognizant of the many opportunities that exist within the profession.

"Nursing has expanded beyond the traditional roles to include forensic, informatics, legal, and research nursing," says Mullin. "Traditional roles are expanding right along with technology." Case in point: the growing number of bedside nurses that now use computers to document care provided to patients on a daily basis, as well as innovations such as the da Vinci Surgical System, state-of-the art technology used by operating room nurses to assist surgeons performing complex prostate cancer surgeries in a precise, minimally invasive way.

A career to care about
While being well versed in textbook theory and having top-notch hands-on training is important, so is recognizing one's interest in making a positive contribution to society. For Stephanie Gunderson, a registered nurse and coworker of Mullin's, pursuing a nursing degree meant making a difference.

"I love being a nurse," says the Harvard graduate, who pursued her bachelor's in nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning a dual undergraduate degree in biology and psychology from Harvard and briefly working as an assistant hedge-fund trader and management consultant, she realized something was missing. "It just wasn't me," she explains. While she took the first two positions in the corporate world mainly to pay off her college loans, she soon thereafter experienced a revelation. "What made me sad was thinking about what my life would be like in five or ten years.... my life was my work."

After some internal soul searching, Gunderson recalled the valuable time she spent during college and on weekends after graduation working as a unit coordinator for acute psychiatric services at Massachusetts General Hospital. During her downtime in the psychiatric emergency room, she talked to various nurses to learn about their responsibilities. "I knew I'd be happy and challenged as a nurse," she explains. The realization led her to the accelerated BSN program.

Gunderson's nursing education was as demanding as it was fulfilling, she says; however, it exposed her to a variety of new interests, which she welcomed. "I worked everywhere from a locked psych unit to a labor and delivery floor in a suburban hospital," she says. Through her coursework and clinicals--where students apply classroom lessons and techniques practiced during labs with real patients--she was exposed to countless areas of study.

"I never thought I would want to go into adult oncology," says Gunderson. "But when I found out I could take a course in it, I signed up. I ended up falling in love with the field."

Beyond gratifying career opportunities and cutting-edge classes, the common thread among these dedicated, motivated nurses--today's nurses--is compassion.

"It is such a privilege to be there at a person's most vulnerable moments and make a difference," explains Daley. "We touch people's lives and hearts every day. It truly is the most amazing and hardest job you'll ever love."

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