Nursing: Ready to Take the Lead

East of the River Students Can Find Opportunity in Nursing

Copyright Roger Tully. Used with permission of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Blendia Moore, Banneker High School junior, is already thinking about what comes after graduation. Whatever option Blendia chooses, whether it’s joining the Air Force or going straight to college, her sights are set on nursing as a career. She’s been volunteering at Howard University Hospital, helping in the oncology and ophthalmology departments.

Blendia can explain why she favors nursing over other careers she once considered. “If I go into nursing I can make a difference every day and see it,” she explains. A recent report’s projections suggest she is making a wise choice.

Nursing Today and Tomorrow

Last year Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (GUCEW) issued a report, “Healthcare,” on the anticipated increase in healthcare professionals during this decade. GUCEW’s revised estimates predict DC will have over 16,000 job openings in healthcare, from 2010 to 2020, and one-third will be for nurses. One-quarter of Maryland’s anticipated 83,000 job openings will be for nurses. Nursing positions should comprise over one-quarter of Virginia’s 104,000 openings in healthcare.

That’s a potential 55,000 jobs in nursing created over this decade in DC and neighboring Maryland and Virginia. The report forecasts an additional 1.6 million new and replacement nursing positions nationwide could be created over the decade. 

New Challenges

“There was a time when nurses stood up when a doctor entered the room and even did more non-clinical housekeeping,” says Barbara Baskerville, a retired nursing educator who serves on the Scholarship Committee of the Black Nurses Association of Greater Washington (BNAGW). Now, she says, nurses can have their own independent practices, even run clinics and write prescriptions. 

Increasingly, proclaims Susan Hassmiller, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, which promotes nursing, “Nurses are taking on more leadership roles. Because they form the front line of health care, nurses are in a position to make a unique contribution to our health care system.”

“The Future of Nursing,” a 2010 report issued by the Institute of Medicine and the RWJF elaborates: “By virtue of its numbers and adaptive capacity, the nursing profession has the potential to effect wide-reaching changes in the health care system. Nurses’ regular, close proximity to patients and scientific understanding of care processes across the continuum of care give them a unique ability to act as partners with other health professionals and to lead in the improvement and redesign of the health care system.” 

That moves Dr. Pier Broadnax, director of the nursing program at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), to assert that nurses see their role as more “collaborative” with physicians. “It is the goal we are moving toward,” stresses Dr. Broadnax. 

Nursing Chooses You

Two current UDC nursing program students, both mid-career professionals, personify the changes the current trends in nursing. Sitting at the Big Chair Cafe, Southeast DC residents Dawna Gadson and Katrina Clark discuss their own career paths in nursing and the profession’s importance.

Gadson, a DC native, traces her desire to become a nurse to the rudeness experienced by her grandmother and aunt when ill. “They were not treated with the compassion nursing is known for,” Gadson explains. In an earlier conversation Gadson said of nursing,“It chose me. I enjoy helping people.” 

Clark, also raised in Southeast, credits the influence of her grandmother, a maid who performed nursing duties for the family employing her when illness occurred. “She was very responsible and accountable and never shrank from any task no matter how difficult,” says Clark, who credits her grandmother’s work ethic and “professional pride” for being “instrumental” in helping her to become “the nurse I am today.”  

Both women started out as licensed practical nurses studying at the now closed Margaret Murray Washington Nursing School. They worked at the now closed DC government-run DC Village nursing home and DC General Hospital. Both started studying at UDC to earn associate’s degrees in registered nursing while working at DC General. Later they worked for Children’s National Medical Center’s Community School Services in the DC public schools. 

Gadson recalls the satisfaction she felt when implementing an exercise program at Randle Highlands Elementary School. One student, dogged by health problems, had started to slim down but transferred to another school. Yet the child kept losing weight, and the mother thanked Gadson for her help. 

Realizing that the profession has a great contribution to make in thwarting chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity that contribute to all kinds of serious health problems, particularly among African Americans, Clark and Gadson are now enhancing their professional nursing careers as students in UDC’s bachelor of science in nursing program. The curriculum includes not just a care-related curriculum but also courses in leadership skills, research, and legal and ethical issues. Clark says nursing is stable employment. She has “never been concerned about unemployment” as a nurse. 

Both women volunteer at the Senior Wellness Center on Alabama Avenue SE and NBC 4’s annual health fair. Both want to continue in community nursing, promoting the preventive medicine that can help people to lead healthier lives. Both see working in community clinics as leading to developing continuing relationships with their patients. 

Opportunities in Nursing

Diana Wharton, president of the local black nurses chapter, and UDC’s Broadnax emphasize that students with ability in science and math should consider nursing. There’s more though. “You have to have compassion for people. It’s a quality that can’t be underestimated, says Broadnax, also DC’s co-lead for the “Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action.” So is skill at collaboration, which is increasingly important as nurses work in team environments. 

Efforts are being put forth in DC to interest students in nursing. The BNAGW chapter has a “Choose Nursing Project.” Members visit middle schools and career fairs to acquaint young people with the profession. Scholarships are also offered. “We’d like more students to apply for our scholarships,” Wharton insists.

The District of Columbia Nurses Association undertakes similar efforts to attract people to nursing. DC students who are entering high school and who have an interest in  nursing should consider applying for admission to Eastern High School’s Health and Science Academy, where students participate in health related projects, can obtain advanced CPR certification, receive mentoring from healthcare professionals, and participate in internships.

Lifelong Learners

Today’s successful nurses need to be lifelong learners. The “Future of Nursing” report stresses the importance of having at least a BS degree in nursing but urges nurses to obtain master’s and doctoral degrees. “Advanced Practice Registered Nurses” will have the training to do more, not just in caring for individual patients but in addressing problems in health care through research and developing policy. Nurses should even acquire the entrepreneurship skills to operate their own businesses. 

Baskerville and Wharton see many opportunities for nurses in the DC region, noting its many colleges and universities with nursing programs, leading hospitals, and medical research centers. Baskerville says those students and mid-career professionals living in DC who possess an interest in having a career in nursing are “blessed” to have so many opportunities for education and interesting work. 

Stephen Lilienthal is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC.