According to the U.S. Department of Labor and a survey of high school guidance counselors, nursing is among the most popular career choices in the Tri-State area for high school and college students.
While people can work in other areas of the health-care field that require less training - as nursing assistants or nurse technicians, for example - the career of registered nurse remains popular. Registered nurses are able to provide more direct patient care, Heck said.
"You are not just a nurse," Heck said. "You are an advocate and supporter for patients and their families."
According to the Labor Department, the training that registered nurses receive qualifies them to administer medication and fluids to patients. Registered nurses also plan and coordinate the treatment of patients, and make sure that physicians' orders are followed.
Registered nurses also oversee the activities of nursing assistants and nurse technicians working in their area of the hospital. This requires that registered nurses possess managerial skills and medical training, according to the Labor Department.
The Labor Department lists three main paths for becoming a registered nurse:
· A bachelor of science degree in nursing, which generally takes four years at a college or university.
· An associate's degree in nursing, which takes two or three years at a community or junior college.
· A three-year diploma program offered through hospitals.
Any of the three degrees can lead to certification as a registered nurse, but Heck said the choice may come down to the time and money an applicant has available.
Heck obtained her associate's degree from Shepherd University in four years, but said the type of degree does not change the duties of a registered nurse.
Heck said she chose an associate's degree because of time constraints. Because of working full time and raising a family, she said she did not have time to spend earning a bachelor's degree as a full-time student.
"If I were young and did not have a family, I would have gotten my bachelor's degree," she said.
Kathleen Gaberson, professor and chair of the Nursing Education Department at Shepherd University, said that while all three programs lead to registered nursing, the bachelor's degree is the most beneficial.
"Nurses with a bachelor of science degree have more career opportunities from the outset than those with an associate's degree or a diploma program," Gaberson said.
She said only nurses with bachelor's degrees can work in schools or other communal health facilities.
Some hospitals and all master's degree programs require registered nurses to have bachelor's degrees, Gaberson said.
"Bachelor of science degrees add value to the health-care system that is worth the time and money it takes to obtain," Gaberson said.
She said regardless of what level of training people choose, nursing is a career worth pursuing.
Heck works 36 hours or more a week in 12-hour shifts, but may be called in on her days off when a need arises. She said working in the field, as opposed to studying it, is the best learning experience.
"I learned more on the floor in two months than I did in school," Heck said.
Heck said those thinking about becoming nurses must be sure they are dedicated.
She recommended that students plan time for their education and make sure they develop their organizational skills as early as possible.
Being a nurse, Heck said "is in your heart," and the rest will come with time and devotion.
Next week: Teaching