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What does a Nurse do?

A nurse helps people take care of their health. Virginia Henderson, a famous nurse researcher, once said that "the unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or peaceful death) that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will or knowledge."

While doctors focus on curing disease, nurses deal with patients' responses to disease and illness. A doctor, for instance, will order tests and medicine to treat a patient with asthma. A nurse will make sure the patient understands how to take the medication and how to pace his daily activities to avoid asthma flare-ups.

Where nurses work

Nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, medical clinics, schools, government agencies, factories, prisons, churches and out in the community. While most nurses work for a healthcare agency or institution, some nurses are independent consultants or entrepreneurs.

Nurses can choose to specialize by disease or area of interest. Common nursing specialties include maternal-child nursing (the care of pregnant/birthing women and their babies), oncology nursing (the care of cancer patients) and geriatrics (the care of the elderly).

Becoming a nurse

There are many paths to a nursing career. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) typically attend one year of college, either at a vocational/technical school or community college. After graduation, they must pass the National Council Licensure Exam, NCLEX-PN, which is administered by state boards of nursing.

Registered nurses (RNs) typically attend two to four years of college. Associate degree programs in nursing (ADN) are offered by vo-tech schools or community colleges and feature lots of hands-on clinical and classroom work. An ADN program is a two-year program.

Bachelor degree programs, which lead to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), are four-year programs offered by colleges and universities. BSN programs include a foundation in the liberal arts and courses in management, conflict resolution, nursing theory and research. Both ADN and BSN grads must pass a licensing exam, the NCLEX-RN, to obtain their nursing license and begin work as a nurse.

Nurses in demand

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for nurses is expected to grow by about 20 percent. Because healthcare is shifting out of hospitals and into the community, most new nursing positions will be in physicians' offices, home care and nursing care facilities.

Nursing offers infinite opportunities for advancement. Nurses with an entry-level degree can work as staff nurses, nurse managers and patient educators. Advanced degrees open the door to additional opportunities, including nurse educator, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthesiologist and certified nurse midwife.

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