What defines nursing and sets it apart from other health care professions, particularly medicine with which it has long been considered part and parcel? It is nurses’ focus – in theory and practice – on the response of the individual and the family to actual or potential health problems. Nurses are educated to be attuned to the whole person, not just the unique presenting health problem. While a medical diagnosis of an illness may be fairly circumscribed, the human response to a health problem may be much more fluid and variable and may have a great effect on the individual’s ability to overcome the initial medical problem. It is often said that physicians cure, and nurses care. In what some describe as a blend of physiology and psychology, nurses build on their understanding of the disease and illness process to promote the restoration and maintenance of health in their clients.
Nurses’ broad-based education and holistic focus positions them as the logical network of providers on which to build a true health care system for the future. An acknowledged realization that individuals have considerable responsibility for their personal health has driven an increasing recognition that there is a professional group, whose focus is education and practice, that can facilitate individuals efforts to reach their fullest health potential. This profession is that of registered nurses.
Washington University students who want to pursue nursing can complete a non-nursing degree and then attend an Accelerated (or Second Degree) Program, which leads to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 12-16 months. For more information on pursuing an Accelerated Program and working as a nurse, see the PreHealth Handbook.
There are dozens of specialized fields of nursing. Some of the most popular include nurse anesthetist, family nurse practitioner, nurse educator, nurse researcher, forensic, pediatric, critical (or acute care), neonatal, and home healthcare nurse. All require critical thinking, problem solving, interpersonal skills, flexibility and a strong background in mathematics and science.