Despite the media’s consistently narrow lens with which it portrays nurses, the nursing profession continues to innovate, pivot, and grow beyond Florence Nightingale’s wildest imaginings. Nursing is bursting at the seams with opportunity, but very few people actually know (including many nurses).
In movies and television, nurses are often shown to be handmaidens to doctors who work in hospitals. The media doesn’t seem to recognize that Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) care for patients autonomously in approximately half the states in the U.S., and that nurses work in many milieus far beyond hospital halls. In fact, APRNs are filling the primary care gap in this country, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Nurses are legion, and although a relative majority work in hospitals, we do so much more than acute care nursing.
The narrow nurse lens
While “Nurse Jackie” was innovative in that it showed nurses acting with more autonomy than other programs or movies have done, the show also chose to have an addicted nurse at its core, with the nurses taking unrealistic risks, acting beyond their scope of practice, and otherwise engaging in rather untoward shenanigans. Jackie’s addiction and drug diversion was a wake-up call that such problems actually exist, but the show added nothing to the conversation that nurses can work anywhere beyond the hospital. In fact, when Jackie briefly held a non-hospital job, she was obviously bored and feeling like she wasn’t a real nurse.
In filmmaker Ken Burns’ documentary, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” the audience walks away from six hours of viewing with the idea that nurses aren’t involved in the slightest when it comes to cancer care.
And the list goes on.
There’s a narrow lens focused on nursing, and many nurses themselves can’t see the possibilities.
Pulling back the camera
If we pull back the camera, we see that the scope of nursing practice has exploded. As mentioned above, APRNs practice autonomously is more than half the country, and they’re moving deeply into anesthesiology, independent primary care, and a widening range of specialization. Meanwhile, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) designation is bringing APRNs up to par with MDs, physical therapists, and other professionals in terms of education and clinical acumen.
Nurses at all levels of education and experience are finding increasing opportunities in self-employment and entrepreneurship as nurse coaches, consultants, writers, healers, speakers, filmmakers, podcasters, and other novel roles.
Outside of self-employment or autonomous advanced practice, nurses work in schools, the corporate setting, physician or APRN offices, ambulatory care centers, home health, hospice, and all manner of clinical and non-clinical scenes.
There have never been more opportunities for nurses outside of the hospital; even the areas open to nurses within the hospital setting are much broader than in years past. Nurse autonomy has grown across the board; this is good for healthcare, patients, and nurses alike.
Build your own vision
Whether nurses seek further higher education, specialty certifications, or unique entrepreneurial opportunities, the field is widening and deepening. We nurses need to educate ourselves, the public, and the media about the possibilities, ignoring the narrow lens used by those who would put us in a neat little nursey box.
We nurses can build our own vision of what a nursing career looks like; the time has never been riper to seize the day, open our eyes, and looks towards the expansive horizon.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist for Nurse.com. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. He can be found at NurseKeith.com.
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