There’s a myth out there that most nurses work in hospitals. While it’s true that more than half of all nurses are employed by hospitals, nurses also provide healthcare in some unexpected locations, from homeless shelters and prisons to football arenas and camps. Often described as both an art and a science, nursing is a profession that reflects the varied passions and interests of its dedicated workers. As the largest component of the healthcare professions, nurses serve with a strong commitment to patient safety even as they work in roles that range from airlift nurse to professor, from telemetry specialist to hospice supervisor.
“Nursing is in our genes,” explain mother-daughter nurses Terry Fulmer and her daughter Holly, 26, a Boston College graduate student who is studying to be an adult nurse practitioner. The special bond that exists between these two nurses is part of “the intimacy and privilege of the professional role,” says Terry, “and can only be understood by those who are nurses.”
While Terry, 59, is dean of Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University, she continues to be inspired by her daughter, who works 12-hour shifts on a gynecology-oncology floor, where many of her patients are devastatingly ill. “She loves her patients, and they love her. She makes me proud to be her mother every day,” says Terry.
Holly is grateful that her mother understands the intense devotion that nursing requires. “Nursing is sometimes very emotional. Certainly, nurses can have tough days taking care of individuals who are very sick and whose prognosis is dim. You want to make a difference, even when that is the case. Nurses have the opportunity to be there, to comfort and communicate with patients,” says Holly, who plans to be an adult gerontology nurse practitioner with a focus in palliative care.
Numerous studies have shown that patients fare worse when there is inadequate nurse staffing on a care unit. Problems can include more complications, poorer health outcomes, less satisfaction, and greater chance of death. A recent study on nurse staffing links inadequate personnel with increased patient mortality.
Even though more job growth is projected in nursing than in any other occupation through 2018, the gap between the supply of nurses and the rising demand for healthcare services continues to widen. A growing number of hospitals are competing for a small pool of skilled critical care nurses as an aging population of nurses leaves the workforce. Recruiters are enticing candidates with signing bonuses, tuition reimbursement, scholarships, student-loan repayments, and even finder’s fees to employees who bring in new nurses.
Erin Tansey, a senior nurse recruiter at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that the nursing profession has adapted to become more worker-friendly, encouraging career growth and adjusting hours to fit lifestyles. “This flexibility of full-time, part-time, or per diem hours gives RNs the opportunity to attend school, raise a family, or pursue other interests while working,” says Tansey.
Many nurses have used the flexibility that the nursing profession offers to explore their own interests and evolve their career as life needs change. Deb Gately, 65, started working at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital intensive care unit after she graduated from Boston City Hospital nursing school in 1968. A few years later, Gately felt she wanted a broader view of the world and returned to college, earning a bachelor’s in political science at Wellesley College. Gately continued to work full time while trying to break into healthcare politics. She then switched to part-time after having her first child, working a day-night rotation because it allowed her to be at home in the evening with her daughter. The rotating took its toll, and she left bedside nursing to work with her husband who had a law practice.
A few years later, Gately switched gears again, taking a new role with United HealthCare and later Boston Medical Center, solving billing and payment issues. Today, she is a nurse case manager for Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s bone marrow transplant unit, working with patients on obtaining drug authorizations and discharge planning. “Having worked in so many different but challenging environments has allowed me to practice nursing back and forth among the worlds of healthcare, law, and business,” says Gately, who added that the education and the skills she developed as a nurse served her well in all of these spheres. “Knowledge that nurses acquire translates well in many different environments. I have spent a lifetime living that belief,” she says. Continued...