Jim Kobs worked in management in the printing industry for more than 15 years. Then, one day, two and a half weeks before his youngest daughter graduated high school, economic stresses forced the company to lay off some employees. Jim happened to be one of them.
"I was in the process of putting together a small business at the time," says Jim Kobs. "Still, I wasn't sure what to do - there weren't any jobs available with my skill set at the time."
Around the same time, Jim's wife Celina, who worked for the state licensing board, knew she was ready for a different career. At times she was leaning toward going to law school, but her experiences working for the board of nursing, pulled her in another direction.
"It was a conversation that sealed the deal," says Celina Kobs. "Jim and I were talking at church and decided if we became nurses we could move where we wanted to and not start at the bottom of our careers each time. So three days later we enrolled in nursing school."
Jim knew it was a decision that would test his commitment and resiliency. There was a wait-list to get into nursing school which meant he and his wife could only take pre-requisite courses at first. All-in-all it would be four years of schooling for his wife at ½ to ¾ time and about five years for Jim. Thankfully, his mother who also is a nurse, was there to help him through the journey.
"My first day in CNA class working on a floor they gave me a patient in the dementia ward," says Jim. "That lady scratched the daylights out of my hand. And for the final act they asked me to put a patient to bed and he had a bowel movement all over the bed. I called my mom and asked if it's like this every day? Fortunately, she said no."
Since that day, both Jim and Celina have come a long way. Celina applied to St. Mary's Hospital after learning about its nurse training. She said she wanted to find a place that committed to developing its employees and in return, she would commit to that employer. She became a St. Mary's nurse in 2007, her husband followed a year later.
"I swear, I've never worked harder than in nursing," says Celina. "I've had lots of jobs where I did more than expected, but I never knew what it was to work hard until I worked in nursing."
So why choose nursing as a career? It's like no other, says Joan Beglinger, the Vice President for Patient Care Services at St. Mary's Hospital.
"It is intellectually and emotionally challenging and provides an opportunity every day to make a real difference in people's lives," she says. "It involves making human connections in a manner that is uncommon in most professions. We have the privilege of being with people as they take their first breath and their last."
And it's a profession that's growing rapidly. Nationwide, there are 2.7 million nurses. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to see more jobs created in nursing than any other through at least 2012. In fact, by 2020, 808,416 RN positions are expected to go unfilled.
"As our population ages, and experiences the effects of the chronic health problems that plague our culture such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, it is projected that the number of nurses will not keep pace with demand," says Beglinger. "Nursing is a profession with a positive future with respect to employment options."
Specialization also can make nursing attractive says Beglinger. Within a hospital nurses can specialize in emergency care, surgical services, critical care, pediatrics or obstetrics to name just a few. And it's not just hospitals where these services are needed; nurses can also practice in clinics, home settings, schools and community settings focusing on everything from preventive services to acute care. That's one of the reasons the profession can be so attractive as a second career. And, second career nurses are also attractive to the hospital.
"The critical thinking, maturity, poise and interpersonal competence that often develop with life experience can be tremendous assets to the nursing profession," says Beglinger. "I am often struck by the depth of the individuals who join our nursing organization after pursuing a second career as a nurse. They come with diverse backgrounds and life experience that enhance their ability to practice. We have hired nurses with first degrees in fields such as social work or nutrition, which are closely related to nursing and some from fields having nothing to do with nursing such as printing."
People who've made the switch say they're glad they did. Portability, the wide range of specializations and the opportunity for growth are just some of the reasons cited. For others, it's walking out of work at the end of the day knowing you made a difference in someone else's life.
"I just thought I could help people, and I am," says Jim.
"It is a different sense of satisfaction," adds Celina. "There's something about the idea that you have eight hours to do all you can to help someone and when it's done you go home and recuperate and come back to do it all over again."
Nursing By the Numbers
- 1 year - the training time to become a licensed practical nurse
- 2-4 years - the time it takes to become a registered nurse
- 2.9 million - the number of RNs in the U.S. in 2004
- 32.7% - number of nurses holding bachelor's degrees in 2000
- 43.3 - the average age of working RNs in 2000
- 46.8 - the average age of working RNs in 2004
- $63,720 - average RN salary in 2007
- $42,970 - average RN salary in 2000
- 808,416 - projected nurse vacancies by the year 2020
Did you Know?
The Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN) is a nurse's ticket to even more opportunity. In 1980, just 22% of nurses held bachelor's degrees. As of 2000, the number rose to 32.7%. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing and other nursing organizations say the BSN degree is quickly becoming the minimum educational requirement for professional nursing practice, especially for those nurses interested eventually in supervisory positions.