1. Schwarz, Thom RN

Article Content

I remember the precise moment when my career path shifted from newspaper journalist to ED nurse. I was stopped at a red light on a steamy New Jersey August afternoon on my way to my office at the Morris County Daily Record. A block ahead, I saw a car run a red light and crash into the side of another car, which spewed glass, chrome, and teenagers like a ghastly pinata. I knew I would be writing about this awful sight, that it would be the lead story in the next day's paper, but I was growing weary of telling bad news to the world and not being able to help ease the suffering that so often marked people's lives. I knew that I had to be something more than a mere purveyor of sad stories.

FIGURE. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. No caption available.

It's a lot easier to see where we were going once we have arrived. An adrenaline junkie who was raised in a family in which service to others was paramount, I now understand why I eventually became an ED nurse. But if you'd asked me on that hot afternoon 35 years ago what my future would hold, I would have gazed into a pretty hazy crystal ball. Few of us know from an early age what career path we will follow, and those who think they know are sometimes surprised at the results. It shouldn't have surprised me, therefore, that when I asked a handful of nurse colleagues to describe their goals and aspirations, most wrote about the past rather than the future. With the exception of those whose paths are marked by sheer luck or some controlling obsession, most of us look to the patterns of our past steps to get a fix on our future course.


I believe the same is true for nursing as a profession. While education and entry into practice, staffing ratios, clinical specialization, and a new extreme in the long, cyclical history of nursing shortages are all being addressed aggressively worldwide, these issues are not unique to the present generation. For instance, looking back to the '70s, I recall that the instructors in my diploma program urged us at graduation to pursue a bachelor's degree in nursing as well as specialty certification in the clinical area of our choosing. They were ahead of their time-over the subsequent decades, my fellow baby boom nurses and I watched diploma programs dwindle in number and applauded as our colleagues earned advanced degrees and fought successfully for recognition as nurse practitioners and clinical specialists. In retrospect, it all seems sensible and predictable.


And as each nurse in the generation before ours reaches retirement age, we not so secretly envy her. So if our ultimate goal has been to move nursing forward-by improving patient care as well as our own standing within the health care community-the next generation of nurses will inherit a profession filled with momentum. What specifically does that portend for new graduates?


The 2006 Career Guide contains several articles that describe the goals, career trajectories, and aspirations of nurses in several settings. Tina Marrelli describes the state of the profession in our annual career guide overview. Elizabeth Zibell recalls her hopscotch career with affection, while Andrea Kayyali weighs the immediate rewards (and stresses) of the bedside against the relative calm of office life. And AJN 's clinical editor, Karen Roush, provides a poetic list of aspirations that makes me proud to be part of a profession that has always attracted people like her.