May/Jun
2016

Careers for Women and Men In Nursing: Attracting Talent to the Career Ladder

Written by Sarah Oslund Photo by Fagan Studios
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In a city coined as “Destination Medical Center” and “America’s City for Health,” it seems there would be an abundant number of people working in healthcare; however, there is a nursing shortage in the Med City. Rochester offers unique opportunities to explore multiple disciplines within healthcare to find the perfect fit and great promise for career placement upon graduation.

With more than three million nurses in America today, this population comprises one of the largest segments of the U.S. workforce as a whole. It is also one of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S., and yet, the demand for nurses continues to grow faster than new workers are entering the healthcare field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be more than one million vacancies for registered nurses alone between 2014 and 2022. The demand for healthcare workers in southeastern Minnesota echoes the needs of the nation as a whole.

Ruth Borsheim is a career counselor with Rochester’s Workforce Development, Inc. “The lack of healthcare professionals is most definitely being felt in our region,” Ruth says. She and others are making efforts to bring more attention to this important and rewarding occupation.

EXPLORING AND ENTERING THE FIELD

Nurses have a unique scope of practice. They can collaborate with a team, or they can operate independently. They can work in a clinical setting, or they can work in a home. They can provide care to the same patients day-after-day, or they can meet a patient for only a few moments before moving on to the next. From an entry-level Personal Care Assistant (PCA) to a doctoral-level researcher, there are hundreds of opportunities to engage in a meaningful career in nursing and hundreds of career paths to take you there.

Many, though certainly not all, nurses get their first experience working in healthcare by becoming a PCA. PCAs provide support to persons with disabilities, helping them to live independently in the community. No formal training is required, so it’s a great opportunity to determine whether healthcare is a good option without extensive time or financial commitment. 

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), provide care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, personal care homes, and similar settings. It is preferred that CNAs hold a high school diploma or GED, and they must attend a state-approved nursing assistant training program.

Richard Holland, a CNA with the Madonna Living Community, has worked in healthcare for 20 years and takes pride in serving Madonna’s elderly population. “I get to serve the ‘greatest generation,’” he says. “They are the people who built this country and community.” 

But the job is not without some challenges. “Healthcare work is an ever-changing environment,” Richard explains. “Some days can be both physically and emotionally demanding.” But the reward comes from the gratitude he gets in return. “When a patient thanks me for the work I do, I take great satisfaction in that.”

CNAs provide patient care under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). To work as an LPN in Minnesota, you must pass the state’s Board of Nursing exam, which typically follows one to two years of education in a practical nursing program. LPNs provide a wide range of healthcare services and is the sector in which perhaps the greatest shortage of nurses in Rochester occurs. RNs typically hold an associate degree, if not a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES NEED LPNS

Sheila Erickson is a nursing assistant coordinator at Samaritan Bethany. She explains that, years ago, there was a push in the healthcare industry encouraging organizations to hire RNs rather than LPNs. “Training institutions followed suit, and education available for LPNs became rather limited,” she says. “Unfortunately, long-term care types of facilities need LPN-level nurses to operate efficiently and affordably and are now finding themselves short-staffed.”

“In a community rich with healthcare workers, people often refer to nurses and think only of RNs,” says Kathy Richie, program director for Allied Health Continuing Education at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) and the primary curriculum developer and monitor for the online nursing courses.  “There are a lot of rungs on the nursing career ladder, like PCAs and LPNs, that should not be overlooked as viable options,” she says. 

The Nursing Shortage Solutions taskforce of employers and educators from 10 counties has been created to address the shortage of LPNs, PCAs and CNAs in southeastern Minnesota. According to Ruth, the taskforce functions as a collaboration “to attract talent to the career ladder for the benefit of all.”

PATIENCE IN PUBLIC HEALTH

Marty Aleman works as a nurse for Olmsted County Public Health. Born into a family of healthcare workers, Marty has always wanted to help others. “I’ve always wanted to improve the lives of larger groups of people, not just one person at a time, but it seems like there is never enough time or resources to get everything done,” she says. Patience is truly a virtue where public health efforts are concerned. “Our work isn’t measured in eight- or 12-hour shifts,” Marty explains, “but rather in months and years.”

And while resources can be scarce in government work, receiving recognition for your work is often even sparser. “We work in public health to prevent problems from occurring,” Marty says, adding jokingly, “and it isn’t very dramatic to talk about what didn’t happen.”

PATIENCE FOR PATIENTS 

Jana McNeil, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) with Olmsted Medical Center, greets her patients upon arrival and remains with them until they are discharged, usually a window of 30 minutes to four hours. Jana always knew she wanted to be an advanced-practice nurse, but she wasn’t sure what area she wanted to specialize in. Then, during a summer internship at Mayo Clinic during college, Jana had a chance to shadow a CRNA in action. “I was hooked,” she recalls. “The CRNA was able to remain completely focused on the patient during the whole process.”

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nurses comprise the largest single component of hospital staff. They are the primary providers of hospital patient care, and they deliver most of the nation's long-term care. For some, like Jana, doing hands-on direct patient care is what they love most about their job. For others, like Julie Modjeski and Kimberly Such, the joy of being a nurse comes from the work done behind-the-scenes. 

BEYOND THE BEDSIDE 

Julie Modjeski is an RN with Coram CVS Specialty Infusion Services, which helps to provide patients who require IV antibiotics, tube feedings and other specialty infusions with a more seamless transition from the hospital back to the home. 

Having spent more than 28 years in nursing, Julie has worked in cardiology, public health, pharmaceutical sales and case management. When she joined Coram, she was looking forward to her new role as an account manager. 

“Working outside of direct care has provided me with a deeper understanding of the patient process,” Julie says. “There are so many opportunities as a nurse, from the business side to direct care to research.” 

Kimberly Such, owner of Nursing Analysis & Review, L.L.C., also explored several areas of clinical patient care before becoming a legal nurse consultant and patient advocate. “I wanted more autonomy,” Kimberly explains. “I have an entrepreneurial spirit that I was able to tap into that.” In her current role as a patient advocate, Kimberly runs her own business and spends each day helping patients in a less hands-on way. “I can help decrease the stress of the journey that the patient is going through,” she says, “and help them become stronger advocates for themselves while overcoming whatever injury they’ve had.”

HOMETOWN EDUCATION SERVING HOMETOWN NEEDS

Due to the growing population of baby boomers and expansion of healthcare coverage in the U.S. under the Affordable Care Act, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nursing careers will grow significantly faster than most other professions in the coming years. Whether you want to invest the time it takes to become a CRNA or you’d rather train for only a few months before entering the healthcare work force, you can get your education right here in Rochester. 

Susan Jansen, the interim associate dean of nursing at RCTC, is proud of the educational opportunities available locally. “You can start with your CNA coursework at RCTC,” says Susan, “then move on to get a hospital CNA certificate.” RCTC also offers diploma and associate degree programs in nursing. “We work with other higher education institutions in the area to help those who wish to continue their education,” she says. “You can get a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree—all right here in Rochester.”

“If you know you want to be a nurse,” Jana says, “shadow as many fields as you can.” With a path in mind, she recommends formulating a plan and understanding that becoming an advanced-practice nurse doesn’t happen overnight. “It’s a long process,” she says, “but your time and effort will be worth it in the end. I’ve never met an anesthetist who didn’t love their job.”

Sheila agrees and enjoys working every day to educate students about her passion for healthcare. “I love teaching and having my students call me to say ‘If it wasn’t for you, I would have never been able to do this-or-that,’” she explains. “Making a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s patients or students, is incredibly rewarding.”

Sarah Oslund is owner of Inspire Writing & Consulting, inspiremn.net.