Hospitals can be intimidating places. While they offer the promise of care, and hopefully healing, the very fact that you or a loved one has to go there in the first place means there's probably a health issue to be concerned with. Even when the event is celebratory -- such as the birth of a child -- there's often still stress associated with the visit.
That's where nurses make an enormous difference. Not the only difference, to be sure, but more often than not, nurses shoulder the responsibility of making a hospital stay (or emergency) more comfortable. Patricia Donohue, a registered nurse, once called nursing the oldest of arts and the youngest of professions [source: Donohue]. It's a calling that has stayed true to the very origins of the word "nurse."
"The profession of nursing, when you look back historically, evolved out of human need, in response to human need," says Diane Allen, vice president of operations and chief nursing officer at Concord Hospital in New Hampshire. "The word nurse comes from the Latin word 'nutrire,' which means to nourish.
Nurses make up the single largest segment of the health care industry, numbering in the millions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' employment projections, the registered nursing workforce is the top occupation in terms of job growth through 2020. It is expected that the number of employed nurses will grow from 2.74 million in 2010 to 3.45 million in 2020, an increase of 712,000, or 26 percent [source: AACN].
Part of the reason for that growth is that the nursing profession reaches far beyond hospitals. Nurses can be found in incredibly diverse settings, including schools, the military, academic institutions (as educators), management positions and patients' homes. Even within the hospital setting, there are myriad disciplines, including the emergency room, operating room, recovery and unit rooms, and anesthesia.
And should you find yourself at the hospital, it's often a nurse who helps establish the tone of your stay.