It might seem too early to think about how you will fill your days after high school or college--you still have tests, football games, weekend dates and other high school priorities to consider. Stephanie Clemente, 15 and a sophomore at Immaculata High School in Somerville, thinks about all that fun stuff, while also dreaming about her career, because she already knows just what she wants to do with her life. "I want to be a registered nurse (RN)," she says. "I've put a lot of thought into it, and this is my first choice." Being an RN means taking on a lot of responsibility. First there's the education, which involves completing a two-, three- or four-year college program. Once she's in the field, Stephanie will be asked to provide hands-on daily care to patients, and will also be responsible for monitoring and educating them about their conditions. She'll also manage and supervise other nurses and assistants and be responsible for coordinating health care teams and developing policy. She will constantly be challenged to make critical, clinical decisions. Finally, as an RN she'll be a vital partner with physicians and other health care practitioners. Of course, she'll also be well-paid, with a starting salary of $40,000 a year or more, with excellent benefits and the chance to move up to the $60,000 range after just a few years of experience. The demand for nurses keeps growing as the population ages.
Stephanie has a few reasons for her career decision. Most importantly, she says nursing is a hands-on way to help people. This summer, she got some of her first hands-on nursing experience. "I've always been interested in working with people, and helping them, and last year I really started seriously thinking about a career in nursing," she explains. So she did some research and found out that Somerset Medical Center in Somerville runs a week-long nurse camp each summer. "I worked there this summer, shadowing nurses in a variety of departments over a five-day period," says Stephanie. "It was exciting, but it was also hard work." And not exactly for the faint-hearted. For example, Stephanie worked side-by-side with medical professionals in the oncology department, where she saw a bone-marrow procedure up close. In it, a nurse inserts a long needle into the hipbone of a cancer patient, and removes a sample that will be tested to help determine a course of treatment. But front-line work like this doesn't bother her. Maybe it helps that Stephanie's dad, a former CEO of a hospital in southern New Jersey, is currently a health care consultant for insurance companies. Also, Stephanie's an outgoing person who carries a full honors load and maintains a 3.7 grade point average, but still has time for activities like basketball, softball and soccer.
"As a nurse, you can make a big difference in a patient's attitude," she says. "Your patients are dependent on you for many things, so you talk to them, find out what they need, and try to help. That means a lot to them, seeing that someone else is interested. And being able to make a difference means a lot to me."