National Nurses Week begins May 6 and ends on the birthday of the profession’s most famous member, Florence Nightingale, on May 12.

For anyone who has ever spent time in a health care setting from a physician’s office to a hospital to a nursing home, either for themselves or a loved one, the importance of the nursing staff is readily apparent. Nurses are the backbone of our health care delivery system, and not surprisingly, nurses play an oversized role in the patient’s perception of their health care experience.  They care not only for the patient, but are often the most trusted point of contact for the patient’s loved ones as well.

Traditional direct patient care nursing still makes up a considerable portion of the nursing population, and it is hard work with long hours that often go unappreciated. It is also an excellent career foundation, as much of a nurse’s skill set cannot been learned from a text book, nor taught in a classroom. Unfortunately, direct patient care nurses suffer a high rate of turnover. As someone who comes from a family of nurses, I can affirm this is a rather new phenomenon. My grandmother was an RN at the same facility for over 40 years. Today, it is not unusual for nurses to submit resumes who have worked at 10 different facilities during the past 15 years.

In Michigan and across the nation, there is a notable shortage of nurses. The shortages are both geographic and “field of expertise” in nature.  As our population ages, the health care industry consolidates, regulations get more complex, and health care technology advances, the role of nursing is changing.  That said, there has never been more opportunity for those interested in a career in nursing than there is today.

Nurses have infinitely more career paths to choose from other than working in a hospital, doctor’s office or home care setting. Now insurance carriers, medical device makers, and tele-medical providers are creating new opportunities for Nurses to be employed in non-traditional roles. These are positions weren’t available 10 or 15 years ago.

Nurse turnover is still a serious topic that needs to be studied and addressed. While full-time employment through a major hospital is certainly desirable for many nurses, there are many experienced nurses who prefer to work in nontraditional health care environments or temporary positions for the freedom and flexibility it affords their life. Travel and temporary work also makes it easier for a nurse to evaluate a new setting before committing to a full-time role.

As we commemorate National Nurses Week, let us remember the very critical need this profession plays in our society, and take time to thank our modern day Florence Nightingales as we do our armed services veterans on Memorial Day. A well trained population of passionate nurses are one of our national treasures.

Steven Cook is CEO of Care One, Inc., a Michigan-based temporary health care staffing solutions agency that has been in business for over 25 years.

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