The decision to become a nurse is not one made lightly. One might imagine that it is easy to get carried away with thoughts of saving lives and helping sick children get well and helping deliver babies, but the reality of nursing is much harder. In fact, one of the articles consulted for this paper described the profession – in the article’s actual title – as “the pure hard slog that nursing is”. The title says it all about the profession: it is hard work. Sometimes it is done without thanks, without appreciation, without the satisfaction of a job well done, especially when a patient takes a turn for the worse. Individuals outside of healthcare professions often admit that they couldn’t do the job because it seems so hard to do.
But another reality of the profession is that it does come with rewards. Many individuals pursue nursing because it is perceived as a virtuous career, meaning that these individuals may value these virtues or wish to be associated with them. Nursing allows them a means of engaging in those virtues through work. But at its heart, there are other rewards that an individual can obtain as a nurse. There are many rewards which could be explored and explained in detail, but this paper will examine three rewards in particular that a nurse acquires as being a member of the profession. But as noted earlier, everything is not roses and sunshine; nursing as a profession faces several challenges which must be faced and overcome. This paper will also examine one of those challenges and propose several solutions for addressing that issue. In focusing on the positive aspects, acknowledging the difficult ones, and offering solutions to problems, the profession as a whole can be strengthened.
Rewards can be described as being “among the most important organizational resources” that can be used to establish and maintain an organization’s success. This implies that some of the rewards that can be achieved in the workplace are extrinsic to the individual, which is true. But the intrinsic rewards cannot be forgotten either, and organizations rarely have any control over those rewards. Among the rewards associated with organizational resources are “respect, job promotion, development, salary as well as job security”. Several of the rewards in that list can be characterized as material rewards – job promotion, professional development, salary, and job security. They might also be characterized together as prestige – that is, they enhance one’s reputation as a professional. Having prestige, or a very positive reputation as a professional, is a very significant reward. It is not only acknowledgement of one’s skill and talents but it also reflects a sense that one has a great deal of integrity. Prestige might also be thought of as a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards – the respect of one’s colleagues (extrinsic) and the satisfaction of having that respect (intrinsic). Prestige can be a significant factor in one’s job satisfaction and one’s intention to remain in a position or even the career. When these elements are missing in a nurse’s experience, they are more likely to leave a particular position, though some individuals will leave the profession as well. This underlines the importance of this particular reward within the profession.
Another reward can be described as the ability “to make a meaningful contribution and ‘tangible difference’”. That is to say, the nurse is able to see immediate and “direct results” of their efforts – whether that’s saving a life in the emergency room, improving the quality of life for a patient, or supporting the loved ones of their patients. A nurse can take action which produces visible and meaningful results for their patients – this tangible difference could be likened to a kind of benevolent instant gratification. This type of reward has been cited by many millennial nurses in particular for joining the profession, but it is the kind of rationale many nurses have professed as their motivation well before that crop of nurses. This reward could, like prestige, be categorized as both extrinsic and intrinsic: the nurse can receive gratitude and appreciation from the patient and their families (extrinsic) and the satisfaction of a job well done (intrinsic). This suggests that when a reward can appeal to both extrinsic and intrinsic aspects, it is far more meaningful for the nurse.
A third reward that nurses can derive from nursing also has both extrinsic and intrinsic aspects; this reward is the ability to contribute to the profession in some way. Becoming a nurse allows an individual to contribute to society in a really significant way. But becoming a nurse also gives an individual the opportunity to enhance or improve the profession. This is significant in two ways: one, this allows the profession to become more effective, efficient, and productive which in turn allows it to be more useful to society in myriad ways. There are a variety of ways in which a nurse can give back to the profession. They can become nursing faculty and teach the next ‘generation’ of nurses. They can become scholars and researchers, conducting crucial research that adds to the profession’s understanding of itself and its practices, theories, and principles. They can engage in mentorship which allows them – much like the faculty – to encourage and foster the skills of their colleagues. They can become leaders in their field and guide other nurses in their daily activities. They can become trainers and foster the professional development of their colleagues. Participating in the development and/or modification of healthcare policy also allows nurses to “give back” to their profession as well.
These are just a few of the many benefits a nurse can experience from the profession. Rewards can be intrinsic, extrinsic, or both. They represent ways of engaging in compassionate care and enhancing the quality of life as well as ways of giving back to the profession and to society. Despite the positive aspects of the profession and the rewards that can be reaped from those aspects, there are still some negative aspects of the profession. Some of these negative points have already been highlighted – if the conditions which produce the rewards aren’t present, this can lead to a decline in job satisfaction, career satisfaction, and potentially driving individuals out of the profession.
These negative aspects – in addition to several others – contribute to larger problems within the profession and represent significant challenges or obstacles for the profession. Some of the most high-profile problems which plague the profession are burnout and a shortage of nurses. One contributes to the other: as nurses burn out and leave the profession, a shortage is created which is further exacerbated by a limited supply of new nurses entering the profession. Both of these problems deserve attention; the literature is full of research on both of these topics, not to mention the interrelations between them and other factors. For the purposes of this paper, the challenge which will be chosen to identify solutions for is the shortage. There is a certain measure of burn out which is deeply and immediately personal and falls outside the realm of the profession’s purview to address, such as family concerns or the larger economic stressors that currently impact the country. The shortage, however, is an issue which can be practically addressed by the profession in several ways.
One solution to the shortage is active recruitment. This can be done by highlighting the benefits of the profession when conducting outreach and recruitment efforts for nursing programs at academic institutions. By using recruitment techniques which highlight the benefits of being a nurse, the profession can potentially attract more individuals who would be drawn to altruistic vocations which offer the opportunity to make a difference.
The first solution focuses on bringing in new blood, as it were. The second solution focuses on keeping the good blood within the profession. This means addressing issues salary issues and workloads – all easier said than done but worth the effort in order to preserve the existing talent in the field. This can also potentially be mitigated through mentorship and professional development which fosters talent, though it is worth mentioning that mentorship should not be undertaken lightly as it can contribute to problems.
The third solution is to focus more research on identifying effective programs and tools to combat such issues. Just as nursing focuses on evidence-based practice, this same sensibility should likewise be applied to solving the problems which plague the profession. That is not to say that research which focuses on safety, efficiency, and other elements of daily practice aren’t important; after all, research which finds more efficient ways to handle daily practices has the potential to ease workload. However, research which focuses as much on identifying solutions to these problems is needed.
There are many great elements to be experienced when one becomes a nurse – but there are also some downsides. It is important to understand both sides of the profession to have a realistic and well-rounded view of the profession. Focusing on the positives only ignores the problems and prevents the identification of solutions which are needed in order to preserve the positives and foster growth within the profession. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge both sides of the profession and to explore them with a focus on using the information gleaned from that examination to enhance and strengthen the profession.