Ask any passerby on the street about what nurses do for a living and the majority will likely respond that ‘nurses care for sick people in hospitals’.
While nurses are indeed part and parcel of hospital care, an increasing number of nursing professionals work far beyond the confines of the acute inpatient environment.
Believe it or not, there are nurses who never set foot in a hospital after graduation from nursing school; I indeed happen to be one of those nurses.
Upon completing school, I was absolutely certain that the hospital was not for me. I have pursued a career in home health, hospice, public health, ambulatory care, outpatient case management and nurse entrepreneurship.
Contrary to the dire warnings that I would never succeed as a nurse without initial acute care experience, I have carved a unique career path wherein I have been gainfully and happily employed for 21 years.
Nurses frequently limit themselves in their career journeys and we can, to a large extent, place the blame for those limitations on narrow-minded nursing instructors, old-fashioned brainwashing about what nurses are capable of, misconceptions about nursing on the part of the media and society at large, as well as nurses lacking exposure to the plethora of options available to them.
Some nurses regard their nursing careers using a tiny little lens that only allows them to see a fraction of what’s possible.
Imagine using a 1970s-era camera to ‘photograph’ your nursing career; on the contrary, imagine using a wide-angle lens to examine your career – you just might see more than you could before.
Another metaphor might be that nurses find themselves wearing blinders (also known as blinkers or winkers), when they really should be approaching their careers with eyes wide open.
So, why do we choose to wear blinders or examine our professional nursing trajectory with a lens that only shows us a small slice of our potential?
First, it may be fear; our professors and colleagues warned us to no end about how the hospital was the only place we could earn a good living, so we’ve been blinded to the possibilities that exist beyond the hospital walls.
Second, we may simply be too caught up in our lives to even think outside of the box we’ve placed ourselves in; in fact, we may not even notice that the box exists in the first place – we may just feel like there are no other choices to even consider.
The choices for nurses are expanding, and there’s no holding back the tide. While the rate of change may vary from country to country, the explosion of opportunity in the United States and elsewhere will no doubt empower nurses in other locales to rise up and seize control of their careers.
Nurse entrepreneurship, business ownership, opportunities for autonomous practice, the expanding role of nurse practitioners, telephonic case management, legal nurse consulting – these are only a few of the fields that are opening up before nurses’ very eyes. Granted, the rate of expansion varies, but the overall movement is undeniable.
Take a more expansive view of what it means to be a nurse; examine what is happening around the world in terms of the nursing profession, and use the legislative process, lobbying, business savvy, open-mindedness, and courage to leave the old paradigm behind as 21st-century nursing comes into its own.