How young nurses are invigorating the profession

( Take a look around the halls of today’s hospitals and other health care facilities and you’ll find fresh faces.

Young people are choosing the nursing profession in record numbers. Between 2002 and 2009, there was a 62 percent increase in the number of nurses ages 23 to 26 entering the field, according to a December 2011 Health Affairs report. Most college nursing schools boast waiting lists of qualified and eager applicants.

There are several reasons for this surge of young nurses. Aggressive nurse recruitment campaigns have marketed the positives of the profession. Colleges and universities have ramped up their nursing education programs. Federal support for nursing work force development has been increased.

And then there’s the economy. Nursing has consistently been ranked among the professions with the highest amount of projected job growth in the next 20 years.

These factors have help stem the tide of a projected nursing shortage. That’s good news for the health care sector and for America’s aging population.

A new generation of nurses is bringing fresh skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to their jobs. We talked to three rising stars and asked them what it’s like to be a young nurse today.

Stacey Sado, Atlanta Medical Center

When she was in high school, Stacey Sado worked as an athletic trainer for the football team and loved taping ankles and wrists. She took health science courses and knew that she wanted to be a nurse.

Sado, 25, a staff nurse in the elective surgery unit at Atlanta Medical Center, was accepted into Georgia State University’s nursing program during her second semester.

“It was a lot harder than I thought. Nursing covers so much information,” she said. “There’s so much memorization and so much critical thinking. It takes a special person to be a nurse.

“On our [nursing] boards, there are questions that say check all that apply. If you miss one, you miss the whole question. Now that I’m working, I understand why they do that.”

Sado graduated into a tough job market in 2009, and it took her a year to get hired into the post-trauma, medical/surgical floor at Atlanta Medical.

“It was one of the busiest floors. I don’t think I really knew what busy meant until I started nursing, but I loved it,” she said. “I’m a visual and hands-on learner, so learning on site with a supportive team has made a huge difference for me.”

When Sado was four months out of orientation, her charge nurse asked to speak with her. The rookie nurse thought she was in trouble.

“Instead, she told me what a great job I was doing and that she could see I had entered nursing for the right reasons,” Sado said. “She said I was organized and a quick learner.

“When she asked me to be part of a new unit that was aiming to give five-star quality care, I cried. It was so comforting to know that others noticed how hard I was trying to make good decisions.”

Sado, who served as president of the International Student Council in college, is a board member of the Philippine Nurses Association of Georgia.

She’s studying to become orthopedic nursing certified and is on a waiting list to work in the intensive care unit. Ultimately, Sado hopes to become a certified nurse anesthetist.

“In nursing, there is always a future goal because there are so many paths you can take. Every day you learn something new, so your eyes are always wide open,” she said.

With the baby boomers aging and living longer, nurses will face the challenge of serving more patients with quality, cost-effective care. Sado believes that nurses today have the education, skills, compassion and commitment to meet any challenge.

“I do enjoy taking care of patients,” she said. “It’s a calling.”

Lizzie Mullen, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

“Working in the pediatric emergency department at CHOA is my dream come true,” said Lizzie Mullen, 26, a staff nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

Nursing was a second career choice for the University of Virginia graduate. As a business consultant for McKinsey & Co. right out of college, Mullen saw the administrative side of health care for two years. On a trip to Tanzania, she toured hospitals dealing with the AIDs epidemic and was inspired by the impact the nurses were making there.

“I knew I wanted to be a part of that,” Mullen said.

She enrolled in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University and graduated in May 2011.

“I was chosen for an externship at Egleston Hospital the summer between my junior and senior years,” she said. “Before I started, I thought I wanted to work in pediatric emergency care. By the end of the summer they practically had to drag me out of the ED.”

Mullen continued to work as a technician before she graduated and was hired as a nurse in July 2011.

“CHOA has such a great new grad program and gives new nurses lots of training,” Mullen said.

She entered a year-long residency program, worked under a preceptor for her first four months and then went through a six-week emergency department boot camp to learn emergency and assessment skills.

“The people in my department have bent over backwards to help me,” she said.

Mullen likes the excitement of being an ER nurse.

“I love the fast-paced environment where every day is different,” she said. “No patient ever wants to be in an emergency room, but being with them in their time of crisis is an incredible honor. Besides, it’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re surrounded by kids.”

The learning curve is steep. “I’ve learned more in my last few months than in all of nursing school,” she said.

One of Mullen’s most difficult lessons was learning that child abuse kills more children than car accidents. That know-ledge has sharpened her assessment skills.

“My first day calling DFACS [Department of Family and Children’s Services] was sobering but I knew I made a difference, and that’s why I wanted to be a nurse,” she said.

Mullen, who serves on the customer service and patient advocacy committee in her department, believes nurses have gained more respect in recent years because of their research and leadership skills. With advancing technology and nursing best practices based on scientific evidence, nurses are treating sicker patients and saving more lives.

Mullen has applied for training to become a trauma clinician — the point person for patient care in the emergency department.

“I believe nurses will play a bigger role in health care in the future,” she said. “I just feel incredibly lucky to be here.”

Shermekia Allen, WellStar Health System

Shermekia Allen’s introduction to nursing came at age 16, when her great-grandfather was injured in a car accident and spent time in an intensive care unit.

“Seeing the care he got and the difference it made in his progress inspired me to become a nurse,” said Allen, 23, a staff nurse in the long-term acute care unit at WellStar Windy Hill Hospital in Marietta.

Allen’s love of learning and ability to rise to challenges got her through Georgia State University’s Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions. She graduated in December 2010 and was hired into the new graduate program at WellStar Health System.

During her first six months, a preceptor helped Allen apply book knowledge to real-life applications.

“I’ve been working a year, and it’s been one of the hardest of my life, but I know I’m where I’m supposed to be,” Allen said. “I participated in evidence-based practice research in school and I’m using those skills every day. My senior practicum at Emory Wesley Wood’s long-term acute care facility made me feel comfortable about coming here.”

Allen’s patients come to the long-term acute care unit from ICUs. Some have had multiple system failures and not all of them are conscious.

“Our patients are here for a long time and we see just about everything,” she said. “What I love best is developing a relationship with the patients and their families. When I see a little progress, I get excited and there are just no words to describe how it feels when I see a patient walk out of the hospital.”

Allen serves on WellStar Windy Hill’s falls reduction committee that tracks hospital patient falls and finds ways to prevent them.

“I volunteered for the committee and it has been a great opportunity to meet other nurses who work here,” she said. “Everyone has given me nothing but support and positive feedback.”

She’s also considering joining the shared governance nursing team.

Allen recently earned her ACLS (advanced cardiac life support) certification and plans to take the exam this year for her CCRN (critical care nursing) credential.

“I consider nursing my lifelong profession, so I’ll be going back to school to get a master’s degree in some kind of nursing management or leadership,” she said. “I can’t see myself doing anything but nursing. The satisfactions I get from helping patients will keep me on the job.”