Nursing is annually ranked among the top five most trusted professions in an annual Gallup poll on honesty and ethical standards. It is also in high demand for the foreseeable future, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects continued strong growth in this employment field for years to come.
“The demand for nurses increases as the shift in the population changes.” said Beth Culross, an assistant professor and the director of the Learning Resource Center for the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Nursing. “Increasing numbers of older adults with multiple health conditions is a major contributing factor. Nurses are also members of the Baby Boomer generation, so retirements are occurring at a faster rate than new nurses entering the profession in some areas.”
Teri Bruening, the vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer for Methodist Hospital and Methodist Women’s Hospital, sees these and additional factors on the hospital side affecting the labor pool for nurses.
“There are also more opportunities for nurses outside of the four walls of a hospital,” Bruening said. Some of these settings include doctor’s offices, schools, nursing homes, rehab facilities, and in-home care. Nurses may also find employment in sectors that support medical operations, from pharmaceutical sales to medical billing and coding.
While the skills ensure a variety of opportunities available to these professionals, it also means they are great employees due to their vast knowledge.
“Nurses are advocates, teachers, innovators, and problem-solvers. Whether a patient is being cared for at home, in the intensive care unit, or at the end of life, nurses provide a majority of the direct care that patients receive,” she said. “Many people don’t realize how many roles nurses have besides being at the bedside. Nurses are case managers, researcher scientists, educators, community health providers, leaders, and advanced practice providers in the nurse practitioner role.”
They also see a variety of opportunities outside their chosen profession. Fundamental skills such as leadership, communication, and time management learned in nursing translate well to other careers. They also sometimes have additional education that appeals to potential employers.
“Many of our nurses are also coming to us with a second degree and a skill set of business or technology,” Culross said. “Some get their nursing license without ever planning to practice at bedside, like nursing informatics in the business sector.”
Nursing schools are working to increase enrollment to keep up with demand.
“Nursing schools are recruiting more faculty to work towards increasing enrollments, but this is another challenge,” Culross said. According to National League for Nursing research, other obstacles to expanding program capacity include lack of classroom space and lack of clinical placements.
This isn’t the only profession with this problem. Teaching also sees more demand for employees than available workers.
Sarah Edwards, chair of teacher education for the University of Nebraska College of Education, said that one way to address a labor shortage is to recruit from other sectors. To ensure adequate numbers of teachers can be sustained, institutions, including UNO, welcome and facilitate students transitioning from other career fields.
“Many people have enjoyed successful careers but have also thought about becoming a teacher. UNO has fast-track programs available for those who hold their bachelor’s degree and want to share their work and world experience with students,” she said, adding that working as an educator is inherently satisfying. “The teaching profession offers intelligent people a career focused on improving society, as well as the quality of life for individuals. Education is a fundamental part of our society and the health of our economy is dependent on well-educated citizens…There will always be a need for great teachers.”
Though teaching often serves a younger population than nursing, the market faces a similar problem of demand often exceeding availability, especially in specialty areas.
“Teaching positions are sometimes unfilled or more often filled by teachers with temporary certifications. These provisional or emergency certificates mean the teacher does not meet the education, experience, or certification requirements needed to be a highly qualified teacher,” she said. “Nebraska had about 20 shortage areas last year and language arts, math, science, special education, speech language pathology, and world language have been designated as shortage areas for each of the last 15 years. This is important as the most common subject areas with underqualified teachers are also high-demand career fields, such as math, science, and early childhood.”
Other opportunities may beckon even after graduation. The nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future said nearly half of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years.
The traditional channel for alleviating the labor shortage is education, and local institutions are working hard to rise to the challenge, Edwards said.
“UNO works with 16 area high schools to offer an Intro to Teaching dual enrollment course to help those in high school consider the profession. We also work with Metro [Metropolitan Community College] and other community colleges to create pathways into the profession. Our intentional partnering has diversified our teacher candidate field and helps us prepare teachers who reflect the diversity in area classrooms,” Edwards said. “We have been able to offer scholarships through the generous support of national grants and community support, such as the Teacher Scholars Academy, to offset the costs of earning a degree while also offering leadership, research, and global experiences that strengthen the skill set of a teacher.”
No matter what career they wind up in, nurses and teachers make great employees. That means good news for employers…whether they are communications firms, medical billing firms, schools, or hospitals.
This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.