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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 2, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Career Opportunities In the Nursing Profession
Here’s a possible match. Thousands of technology, human
resources, and telecom professionals in New Jersey are out of work.
Many have a background in the sciences, while others have expertise
in communications and team building. A good number realize their old
jobs are gone forever as their industries shrink and/or do business
At the same time, says
for Nursing and Health Careers of the New Jersey Hospital Association
(NJHA), there is a critical shortage of nurses in the state. Downsized
professionals with intelligence and dedication might look into switching
to nursing. Along with the chance to make a real difference every
day, nursing offers a number of unusual advantages, including flexibility
unheard of in the corporate world. Three-day work week with full pay
Tofani has organized a Nursing Job, Career, and Education Fair designed
to spread the word on nursing opportunities in New Jersey to nurses
and nursing students. But it will also offer an excellent opportunity
for career switchers to learn more about the profession. The fair
takes place on Monday, October 7, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the NJHA
Conference Center at 760 Alexander Road. The fair is free, but registration
is encouraged. Call 609-275-4113.
NJHA’s Center for Nursing and Health Careers is not quite one year
old. It was formed, says Tofani, after the association, the largest
health care trade organization in the state, asked hospital administrators
what issue kept them up at night.
"Workforce issues were number one," she reports. "We have
a 13 percent vacancy rate just in hospitals." More nursing slots
remain empty at nursing homes, extended care facilities, in home care,
and in any number of other medical settings. "By 2020," says
Tofani, "the vacancy rate will be 30 percent."
A nurse herself, Tofani says she has seen the effects of the nursing
shortage growing more serious over the past two years. Before signing
on to head up NJHA’s new Nursing Career Center, Tofani was an advanced
practice nurse in oncology at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New
Brunswick. A graduate of Villanova (1981), where she received a B.S.R.N.,
Tofani earned a master’s of science in nursing from Gwynedd Mercy
College in oncology clinical nursing.
Early in her career, she was especially touched by two of her patients,
and her experience with them led to her choice of oncology, an unusually
demanding specialty. One of these patients was a young woman who initially
had been misdiagnosed. By the time her cancer was diagnosed, she was
pregnant, and had to delay treatment. "She wasn’t much older than
me," Tofani recalls. In working with her, Tofani saw how a diagnosis
of cancer affects a whole family.
"Sometimes," she says, "the patient is the least needy
person. If parents are still alive, they are devastated. For the spouse
there is so much more responsibility." Children, of course, are
grief-stricken. In the case of the young mother, Tofani says, "even
if she lived five years, she was going to leave a very young child."
The second patient to affect Tofani, and clarify her career direction,
was one of her former teachers. "I had known her 15 years before,"
she says. "When I saw her again, our roles had reversed. It was
the turning point of my life. I realized I had become a true care
Tofani hastens to clarify that cancer is far from a death sentence,
but that the very word still has the power to terrify, and that, beyond
giving medical care, nurses educate patients and their families and
When they have time. Nursing shortages mean it is often not possible
to provide this support. This is especially true because the staffing
shortfall comes just as technology and managed cares are adding significantly
to a nurse’s duties.
"In the early 1980s, when I was starting out," recounts Tofani,
"we didn’t have nearly as many drugs and treatment options."
Now patients are routinely sent for MRIs, CAT scans, and PET scans.
Nurses explain the tests, get the patients ready to be transported
to them, and log them back in. Some patients are on literally dozens
of medications. Every test, every treatment, every dose of a drug
requires documentation. "There is a huge, huge documentation responsibility,"
says Tofani. "You don’t have enough time to do other things."
Nurses, Tofani says, know what they want to do, but can’t do it. "Every
day," she says, "nurses walk out the door saying `there’s
more I should have done.’"
The frustration contributes to nurse attrition in hospitals, sending
some nurses to pharmaceuticals, into nursing school, or to any number
of other industries eager to have them. Pay is a problem too. For
while starting salaries in hospitals — about $40,000 to $45,000
— are competitive, there is "salary compression," says
Tofani. A nurse with 20 years experience may make only a dollar or
two an hour more than a nurse straight out of school.
Still, nursing is a profession with a strong positive image. Every
single day brings any number of opportunities to make a tremendous
difference in people’s lives at the time when they are the most afraid
and vulnerable. It is also a profession with an unusually large number
of branches, each offering unique opportunities.
Tofani spends a great deal of time educating children and young adults
about the many facets of her profession. (Yes, she’s now an administrator,
but she is still foremost a nurse. "Once you’re a nurse,"
she says with feeling, "that’s your identity. You’re always a
nurse.") Nursing needs to cultivate enthusiasm among the "best
and brightest" students, she says, but is also wide open to career
tailored for college graduates who want to become nurses. Tofani mentions
those at Fairleigh Dickinson, Rutgers New Brunswick and Rutgers Newark,
and U.M.D.N.J. Generally, these programs take two years, but that
time can be cut substantially for those who have taken basic science
There are also nursing programs at hospitals and at community colleges.
For the most part, they do not require a bachelor’s degree.
so many doors. Pharmaceuticals badly need nurses in several areas,
including clinical tests. Law firms hire nurses to decipher documents
in medical malpractice cases. Nurses assist in operations, offer genetic
counseling, provide in-home care, teach, deliver babies, operate complex
medical devices, run hospitals and other health care institutions,
and much more.
Hospitals routinely pay for advanced training, giving nurses the opportunity
to go as far as ambition takes them.
pretty much write their own tickets, at least as far as their schedules
are concerned. "It’s a 24-hour environment," Tofani says.
Coupled with shortages, that means that "hospitals are offering
2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12-hour shifts." It is possible to work only on
weekends, three days a week, four days a week, or the traditional
five days a week.
Some nurses beef up their paychecks with overtime, but a new New Jersey
law, set to go into effect in January, ensures that they will not
be forced to work overtime, as is now sometimes the case.
night television jokesters. Media types have been the objects of barbs
forever. Elected officials no longer enjoy a presumption of innocence.
But who can find anything negative to say about nurses?
Well, there was Meet the Parents, a the popular Robert DeNiro-Ben
Stiller comedy that used the male protagonist’s choice of nursing
as a running joke. Women in nursing are perceived as noble, and generally
smart and caring too. But nursing is sometimes seen as not too cool
Tofani says, however, that there are nearly twice as many male nurses
in New Jersey as in the country as a whole — 10 percent versus
5 percent. In her talks at schools around the state, she is working
to change the profession’s women-only image. Surveys, she says, show
that men are interested in technology and in career advancement. She
points out that nurses now use incredibly sophisticated technology
and that they can rise all the way to the top in health care, to top
How about a name change? Drop `nurse’ for something with more of a
unisex sound? "I hear that once in a while," Tofani says.
"People point out that `stewardess’ was changed to `flight attendant’
and now 50 percent of flight attendants are men." It won’t happen
with nursing, though. "Nurses wouldn’t let it," says Tofani.
other industries, it has another plus. "Nursing is recession proof,"
says Tofani. Yes, there have been peaks and valleys of demand in the
past, but aging Baby Boomers should swell patient ranks to a level
that will ensure lots of nursing jobs for foreseeable future.
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