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Nursing Jobs: Hands-on, Front-Line — and Critical

TROY's nursing program takes a comprehensive approach to equipping future nursing professionals with the skills to lead change in the medical field.

TROY's nursing program takes a comprehensive approach to equipping future nursing professionals with the skills to lead change in the medical field.

Ask Dr. Wade Forehand, Ph.D., Director and Professor of the Troy University School of Nursing if nursing is a critical job, and he’ll give you a very direct answer. “Nursing is virtually the backbone of the medical profession,” he says. And when it comes to providing care, he believes nurses are front and center day in and day out.

Dr. Wade Forehand
Dr. Wade Forehand

“While individuals from many disciplines are involved in treating patients, a nurse sits at the bedside, sees patients in their homes, spends the most time with patients,” says Dr. Forehand. “The nurse sees them at their best and their worst, leaving a lasting impact on their lives.”

The TROY School of Nursing prepares students for nursing jobs and the hands-on, front-line, critical care roles nurses play every day in their profession.

How To Become a Nurse

Students interested in health care often ask Dr. Forehand how to become a nurse, and he offers advice on where to start.

“Someone still in high school should get plugged into the local network they have access to,” says Dr. Forehand. “Maybe it’s a high school counselor and the school has some type of HOSA-Future Health Professionals organization or maybe they know local health care experts. Dig into those available resources.”

Dr. Forehand also encourages interested students to visit the nursing school. “TROY welcomes prospective students with an open-door policy,” he says. “A student interested in nursing whose parents would also like to visit can bring the entire family. They’re welcome to come and tour the campus. Our faculty is happy to talk with them and give them basic information about what nursing is and what it takes to become a nurse.”

Qualities of an Excellent Nurse

To be a good nurse takes more than intelligence. “Compassion, understanding, the ability to talk to and work with people are just as important as how book smart someone is,” says Dr. Forehand. “TROY’s nursing program can take students who may not be strong academically and give them knowledge, but prospective nurses need inherent qualities that TROY faculty can’t teach.”

Some qualities of excellent nursing, says Dr. Forehand, are innate. “What can’t be taught is a heart for compassionate service,” explains Dr. Forehand. “Our faculty will work very hard to help students develop, but those who become the best nurses come in understanding and wanting to help others. They’re also go-getters who are motivated and willing to take self-direction. The best nurses put extra time and effort into strengthening areas they’re weak in — for their own good and not just because a teacher or colleague has suggested it.”

How To Prepare for Nursing School

When preparing to attend nursing school, it’s a good idea to find out what being a nurse really involves. “Nursing includes wonderful experiences, but it also involves challenges,” says Dr. Forehand. “When someone’s thinking that nursing is a calling, I encourage them to establish a relationship with someone already in the field.”

Learning by observing is a great way to assess the potential for a nursing career. “Shadow someone at a local hospital or another health care facility,” he explains. “Plug in somewhere to get feedback from those already on the career path. Learn not only the great things about nursing jobs but also the less favorable, then make an informed decision.”

What Do You Learn in Nursing School?

The TROY nursing program takes a comprehensive approach to educating future nursing professionals. “TROY’s goal is to expose students to a variety of situations where they care for people of all ages in all communities suffering all kinds of ailments,” says Dr. Forehand. “Students have coursework that’s focused on adult patients, pediatric patients, newborns, new mothers, and so on. The courses expose students to every situation possible, so they come out with an entry-level awareness.”

Leadership skills are important in the nursing profession and the TROY program places emphasis on developing these skills. “Just some of the things that we teach include critical thinking, innovation, embracing differences, conflict management/resolution, observation, open-mindedness, problem-solving, mentoring, giving and accepting feedback, planning, listening, evaluating, assessing, following through, prioritization, perseverance, professionalism, collaboration, and a strong work ethic,” says Dr. Forehand. “A nurse is a health care leader and must develop the skill set needed during a nursing program and continue to hone those skills through his or her entire career.”

Leadership skills are taught and developed in a variety of ways. “It may be through coursework like assignments, exams, demonstration, and group work. We have components surrounding leadership and similar topics spread across many courses so that students get a variety of opportunities to see leadership, to test different leadership skill sets, and to see examples of leadership through interactions in the program,” says Dr. Forehand.

Clinical experiences offer additional opportunities for students to learn and interact in the health care environment to further develop their unique leadership potential. “Not all students learn and develop the same strengths. We try to help students recognize their strong skills and to work to develop those skills that may be weaker,” he says.

The program also digs deeper into how the need for health care affects people across populations. “We also have assignments that look at how diseases affect different cultures and groups, those who may be disadvantaged versus those who aren’t,” explains Dr. Forehand. “Students get a full array of experiences to prepare them to practice in the busy, chaotic world where they’ll experience all walks of life.”

Elizabeth Swailes, BSN, RN, RN-BC, and a 2018 graduate of TROY, is now a 1st Lieutenant and Charge Nurse with the United States Air Force, 96th Medical Group, Multiservice Inpatient Unit. She applauds the way her experience at TROY prepared her for her nursing career. “I would 100% recommend TROY’s program because of the accreditation, thorough preparation and family atmosphere for professional development,” says Swailes. “TROY nurses walk across the graduation stage with all the tools they need to crush the national exam and be superb nurses from day one.”

TROY Trains Patient Advocates

TROY’s degrees for nursing help students understand their role as health care professionals, what’s expected of them, and how to speak up for those in their care.

Swailes knows firsthand the weight of responsibility nurses carry for the patients they serve. At TROY, the faculty emphasizes responsibility for patient advocacy from the start.

Swailes says, “TROY goes beyond just teaching you the basics of nursing and gives a deeper understanding to equip nurses to provide the best care and understand what a huge responsibility it is to be a nurse.”

Dr. Forehand explains that the emphasis on patient advocacy extends through every stage of the nursing program. “Whether students are in the first semester or graduating, TROY stresses the importance of being a patient advocate. When they oversee someone’s care, nurses have to be a resource and advocate when something doesn’t look right,” says Dr. Forehand. “They have to be able to step up and tell the doctor, ‘Something’s going on. I don’t like the way this patient’s looking today. I think something needs to change.’”

Swailes is excited about the opportunities she’s had to advocate for her patients, and she credits TROY’s nursing program for preparing her well. “The family atmosphere of the teachers, the mentorship, and a team effort provided the best education. Caring for people on their worst days is a huge responsibility, honor and privilege. It’s not something to take lightly.”

Degrees for Nursing: the Options at TROY

TROY School of Nursing offers many degree opportunities ranging from an Associate of Science in Nursing to a bachelor’s program and a Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Dr. Forehand explains what makes the TROY programs unique. “Earning initial licensure is the first step for nurses, so the associate and bachelor’s degrees prepare someone who has little to no experience, offering the training and nursing skills needed to enter the workforce,” says Dr. Forehand.

TROY’s nursing programs focus on building a strong foundation for the profession. “The Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are fundamental in shaping the nursing workforce,” explains Dr. Forehand. “Whether or not individuals have some knowledge of health care, TROY’s degrees for nursing take students from the ground level and instill the foundational knowledge — the sciences,  math, and different social sciences — they need to go into nursing.”

The academic work is just one part of developing a nursing professional. “Once they get that foundation, they come over into the nursing department and TROY faculty works with them — hands-on — to make sure they’re comfortable with the nursing skills required in the field,” Dr. Forehands adds. “The goal is making sure they’ve got the knowledge to develop attitudes and perceptions to care for others, doing the best job possible.”

After students have completed the program, they can sit for the NCLEX, the national nurse licensing exam. “When they pass the NCLEX, they’ve officially earned the title of registered nurse,” says Dr. Forehand.

TROY offers additional programs for those wanting to continue to advance their nursing education, including master of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs.

Does TROY School of Nursing Offer Internships?

When it comes to nursing education, you could say that the entire nursing program is an internship. “In nursing, the word internship isn’t used the same way as in other career fields,” says Dr. Forehand. “In a nursing program, students will be in a clinical environment from day one. With clinical rotations, nursing students circle through different settings, so there’s no semester when they’re not involved in a clinical environment in some capacity.”

As they progress through the program, nursing students are offered more in-depth, hands-on training tailored to their goals. “At the end of TROY’s program, students also participate in a preceptorship, an apprenticeship-type program where students are paired with a nurse in a clinical facility. The goal is to match students’ requests, so if they want to work in a certain area or specific location, they get to do that,” says Dr. Forehand.

The preceptorship provides an intense real-world experience of the nursing profession. “Students spend 180 hours working with the nurse they’re assigned to,” he adds. “They become fully involved in the nursing role, so they understand what nursing’s like out on the floor — reporting the data, doing three twelve-hour shifts a week, working the schedule a nurse works, whether it’s 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or night shifts.”

It’s an experience that brings to life the nursing profession and allows students to use all the skills and knowledge they are acquiring during the program. “Student nurses follow the nurse, provide care and fully embrace the role,” says Dr. Forehand. “It bridges all that students have learned, letting them see what it’ll be like when they’re fully in the role throughout their careers in nursing. The preceptorship is mandatory at the senior level.”

The preceptorship is also an excellent way to transition from the program to career opportunities. “If students haven’t committed to a job at that time, the preceptorship allows them to make career connections, too,” says Dr. Forehand. “Most of the time, TROY students are offered jobs where they’re placed, even if they don’t choose to stay. TROY has 100% job placement — there’s no chance that a student leaves the program and isn’t employable.”

What Can You Do with a Nursing Degree?

“Nursing jobs are more numerous than you can ever imagine,” says Dr. Forehand. “One of the benefits to the nursing profession is it’s so wide open. No one’s constrained to sitting at a desk, eight to five, Monday through Friday with no flexibility. Nursing isn’t that. It’s flexible and open to men, women and all ethnicities. We want a culturally diverse workforce because we’re taking care of diverse people, so we want our profession to embody the public we serve.”

Getting a foot in the door is the first step for nursing jobs. “Once someone gets into the field, they’ll have a variety of experiences,” explains Dr. Forehand. “They’ll be trained to work with adults, children, infants, those expecting children, those who have mental health issues. They will see how to use technology to take care of patients. They’ll see public health up close and what it’s like to care for communities of people.”

At the same time, the program is helping future nursing professionals to focus their own career goals. “In the program, they’ll get a multifaceted glimpse of all areas while in nursing school so hopefully, once they graduate, they’ll have a good idea of what they enjoy,” says Dr. Forehand. “Then, even if they start a career path in a hospital and find out five or six years later they’re tired of that, nursing jobs are so flexible that they have options.”

Nursing is a profession with many options for establishing a multi-faceted experience throughout a career. In fact, even new kinds of nursing jobs are being created as technology advances. “There are also jobs for nurses in technology where they have to build the computer systems that the charting systems use every day,” Dr. Forehand adds. “And advancing educational opportunities provide possibilities. Graduates can choose from an endless supply of positions. It’s up to individuals to decide what’s important to them; just because they get into one area at first doesn’t mean they’re confined to that.”

What Are Some Challenges in Nursing Jobs?

Like any career field, the health care community has its unique challenges. Supply and demand along with changes in population demographics lie at the heart of many of those challenges.

“Shortages of health care providers. An aging population. Baby boomers maturing to where they’ll need more care,” says Dr. Forehand. “Over the next 10-15 years, we’ll see a growing population in need of significant care and a workforce struggling to keep up.”

“You can pull up any hospital across the entire country right now and likely see half a dozen vacant positions,” explains Dr. Forehand. “So, while the demand for nurses is great, there’s also a shortage. When you’re working in the field, there’s no way to escape it. Our faculty hope to expose students to what that means while they’re in school, so they’re prepared for it.”

In addition to the pressure from understaffed workplaces, nurses can face interpersonal behavior challenges that require them to rise above the situation. “They’ll have conflicts with people they take care of and struggle with why patients make certain decisions,” explains Dr. Forehand. “They may not understand their patients’ behavior always, but it is still up to the nursing professional to provide the best care possible.”

Another serious challenge is dealing with loss — a very real part of many health care-related professions. “As a nurse, you will also experience losing patients and you will grieve with those families. That’s just part of the role,” says Dr. Forehand. “Nurses may struggle with how to balance their nursing profession and home life. Nursing happens seven days a week, 365 days a year. So personal conflicts with scheduling, work commitment, family life, and balance can be challenging. Wanting Christmas off but being scheduled to work is a good example.”

And like any profession, there are also difficult workplace dynamics to contend with. “Another challenge is recognizing that you’re still walking into a system that was once heavily dependent on physicians,” explains Dr. Forehand. “Nurses see a wide variety of personalities when working with other care team members — physicians, physical therapists, pharmacists — and need to work collaboratively. But sometimes people aren’t collaborative, so as a nursing professional, you’ll have to figure out how to work with a group of people that may not want to collaborate.”

And, as a profession where change is inevitable, new technology, evolving health care practices, and the development of new medicines and treatments require a commitment to lifelong learning. “Nurses experience new developments daily, learn new evidence-based practices, and need new skill sets; so they’re constantly engaging in personal and professional development,” says Dr. Forehand.

TROY alumna Swailes loves that continuous learning aspect of the nursing profession despite the difficulties she may face. “Nursing comes with many challenges and at times sacrifices,” she says. “But it’s the most rewarding profession. It’ll continue to grow you as a person and offer you new knowledge well into your career.”

Nursing on the Front Lines of the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been perhaps one of the greatest challenges of modern nursing.

“Nursing is at the front line of the pandemic,” says Dr. Forehand. “We’ve definitely needed researchers and scientists to develop the vaccine, to mature our understanding of COVID. We’ve needed physicians to provide medical decisions. But it’s nurses that have been at bedsides for hours on end, helping patients through.”

During the pandemic, nurses heroically extended their caring roles even beyond their usual dedication to the patients they serve. “COVID has changed the ability of patients’ families to be involved in their care,” adds Dr. Forehand. “So nurses have served as caregivers and emotional support — as part of the family — to try to ease the burden as families have navigated COVID.”

“Nurses have been the faces patients have seen daily through extended hospital stays, and they’ve bridged the connections for families,” says Dr. Forehand. “Being on the front lines in the pandemic has weighed heavily on the nursing workforce, but they’ve embraced the front line. Embracing that role has always been a nurse’s job, and it’ll continue to be even when the pandemic has passed.”

How the Nursing Profession and Health Care are Evolving

Like other career fields, nursing is always changing, but the deep commitment to patient care at the heart of the profession has always been steadfast. The pandemic has just given it even more visibility. “COVID has had a great impact,” says Dr. Forehand. “It has shone a spotlight on health care and on the unsung heroes doing the job they’ve always done, now seen in a different light. When we get through COVID, nurses will continue to do what they did before COVID.”

“The nursing field continues to mature and has risen to a new level, with those in nursing jobs earning greater respect over the years. That trend will continue,” says Dr. Forehand.

And, says Dr. Forehand, as the field of medicine continues to change focus over time, so too will the nursing profession. “The perspective has become more of a patient focus, the promotion of health and wellness as a lifestyle. Health care professionals don’t want the hospital to be the first line; we want you to live healthy, make good decisions, exercise, eat well, and do things to help you live a long and healthy life.”

For TROY graduate, Swailes, the continuing evolution of the profession and the opportunities that creates is a big part of the appeal of nursing. “The fact is that it is something different every time I show up. And I know there are limitless ways I could shape my career path as a nurse,” she says. But in the end, for her, the biggest satisfaction comes from the care she provides. “The most rewarding part is seeing people eventually improve and get to go home to their families.”

To learn more about preparing for a career in nursing, visit the TROY School of Nursing page on our website.

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