You know those Career Days they have in high school, when you get a chance to talk to people from different professions and find out just what they do? Well, when Juan Class was a senior at Nottingham High School in Hamilton, he went to one, stopped by the nursing booth, and thought it might be a good match with what he calls his "internal drive to help people." Then he thought again, and just couldn't reconcile being a guy with being a nurse, so he moved on. That was in 1991. But eight years later, after stints as a medic in the Army and then the National Guard, he saw things differently. "I realized that you don't always have to put a woman's face on this job," he says. "You need a lot of skill and intelligence to do the job right, and no single gender has a corner on those skills."
Class' first job after the military was as an ER technician at the Capital Health System-Mercer Campus in Trenton. Soon after, he enrolled in a three-year registered nursing (RN) program at the Capital Health System School of Nursing (today, to meet the shortage of nurses, Capital and its partner Mercer County Community College have compressed the program to two years). He was impressed with the course work, and the price was right: tuition would be free if he worked at Capital for at least two years after graduating. "There's always a demand for nurses, and the salaries are very good," says Class, 30. "I'm able to support myself, make the mortgage payment on my condo and car, and still have something left over for savings."
Class, who today works in the emergency department at Capital's Fuld campus in Trenton, won't say just how much he earns. But industry data indicates that RNs start at about $40,000 a year--with excellent health and other benefits and can quickly rise to $60,000 a year or more. While the money's an attraction, Class points to other, less tangible benefits. "Nursing is a very responsible, fast-moving career," he says. "Here, each individual makes a big difference."
In an average month, Class may see around 180 patients. As they're brought into the ER, nurses evaluate (or triage) them to determine the level of their need, or acuity. Class may be responsible for up to six patients at a time, handling IV (intravenous) fluid therapy, drawing blood, or splinting a broken limb. He's also continually assessing patients' needs, and determining whether or not to summon a doctor, Stat! "Non-emergent conditions, like bumps or bruises, may not need immediate medical intervention," he explains. "But an emergent condition, like a heart attack, will need immediate care."
So let's see, nursing's an exciting job that pays well, and lets you play an important part in saving peoples' lives. Cool. Just one thing, though--as a guy, do you get hassled for being a nurse? "No," says Class. "Not at all. My family, including my dad (who's career military), and friends fully support me. And on the job, even though I'm usually the only male on the shift, there's no tension or awkwardness. I'm accepted as a member of a tightly knit team."
Class says he plans to stay with his career for the long term. "You're always being challenged here, a day never repeats itself," he reports. "And you never know everything, because you're always learning something new from patients as well as from the doctors."