- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 8, 2004

he new face of nursing is a 25-year-old former high school math and science teacher who is a former PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP employee and a devotee of rock climbing.

Sound improbable? A lot of people might think so. But not if they encountered Keith Roussil. He’s a fourth-generation Washingtonian who, in January, joined a class of 32 candidates in Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies’ 16-month program for a registered-nurse degree.

His commitment and enthusiasm are typical of what Tricia Lawlor Jorden, Georgetown’s director of admissions and outreach, sees as “a new type of clinician” entering the marketplace. Outwardly unassuming and low key, Mr. Roussil has a high propensity for excitement and low threshold for boredom — tendencies, he says, that explain why many men in the nursing field are drawn to the emergency-room and acute-care departments.

After graduation in May, he plans to work in a hospital emergency room in Colorado. He will also be able to practice his outdoor skills.

Shortages of trained nurses just about everywhere ensure that such graduates can write their own ticket. At the same time, many of those in so-called accelerated programs focus on further education and possible administrative jobs, according to Patricia Grady, director of the National Institutes of Health Institute of Nursing Research, which supports scientific studies of patient-oriented health care.

A graduate of the Georgetown R.N. program and holder of a doctorate in physiology from the University of Maryland’s School of Nursing, Ms. Grady calls herself a “hybrid” — and foresees more such graduates going into research and specialization. The nursing field currently has some 200 clinical affiliations.

Mr. Roussil says he is one of the few students in his class not going directly into a specialty when he graduates, but he doesn’t discount such a move later on.

A graduate of Gonzaga College High School who holds a degree in information systems from

from Drexel University in Philadelphia, he decided during a three-month stint teaching at his old high school that he wanted more one-on-one contact with people than working with computers and lecturing to adolescents provided.

Nor was he drawn to the idea of becoming a physician, most of whom he says “look at only one part of the body for the most part. … A doctor says put this technical monitor on the patient; it’s the nurse that monitors the patient 24/7.”

He calls the distinction “the difference between an architect and engineer” — between the one who dreams up a building and one who makes the building work. Being able to “shadow” nursing professionals under the direction of Georgetown assistant professor Colleen Norton convinced him to quit his job and apply to Georgetown.

Accelerated programs for second-career students — those who have a degree in another field — are offered at a number of nursing schools, each with a slightly different approach, although most run concurrently with traditional four-year degree programs.

Applicants’ backgrounds vary greatly, and the number of men enrolling in the fast-track programs is increasing. (Men make up anywhere from zero to 20 percent per fast-track class, for an average of 11 percent.)

“I went into nursing because I want to marry a doctor,” is how Mr. Roussil laughs off those who question why he wants to enter a career typically, and stereotypically, considered “women’s work.”

Ages vary widely, too. A 62-year-old grandmother who graduated from Georgetown in 2002 now works at Providence Hospital. Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, which began a fast-track program more than 10 years ago, annually enrolls a large number of returning Peace Corps volunteers. Applicants who already hold Ph.D.s, master’s degrees and M.D.s are not unknown at both schools.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 133 of the country’s 682 nursing schools have an accelerated program for students with a bachelor’s degree in another field.

The shortage of nurses has become critical in the past five years, Ms. Norton says. As nurse retirement numbers grew, she says, hospitals tried using ancillary personnel instead of trained nurses to fill staff jobs, “and it didn’t work.”

She also credits renewed interest in a caring profession arising from the September 11 terrorist attacks, after which people were inclined to question the meaning of their lives.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 1 million new and replacement nurses will be needed by 2012, and, according to the Department of Labor, registered nursing will be the top occupation in terms of job growth through that same year.

Nursing becomes attractive in an economic downturn, notes Sandra Angell, associate dean at Johns Hopkins, who attributes the attractiveness, in part, to good publicity of late about the field’s career advantages.

“In the age of technology, there is so much more that we are doing for patients,” she says. “A lot of people chose nursing because they had had some exposure to health care in their lifetime, or have been in an employment situation where they didn’t feel a lot of personal satisfaction.”

The latter reason speaks to the case of Angeline Tu, 30, of Rockville, who quit her job with a pharmaceutical company late last year to enter Georgetown.

“As a graphics and Web person, I sat with a computer all day and hardly talked with colleagues,” she recalls.

For a few months, she juggled full-time work with taking the science courses at Montgomery College required for Georgetown’s accelerated program. Unlike many students who rely on loans and scholarships, she will invest as much as $50,000 to get the second degree.

“Nursing hasn’t had a good reputation [in the past],” says Ms. Tu, a graduate of Smith College in Northampton, Mass., where her main field of study was English. Her interest in nursing was piqued by chance meetings with nurses at medical conferences.

The latest nursing shortage came about the same time that changes in health care were putting more demands on nurses, says Ms. Norton, who works in critical care and the emergency room at Prince George’s Hospital one day a week on top of teaching and administration duties.

“[Students] are learning more how to access information and doing more critical thinking than memorizing,” says Anne Belcher, Johns Hopkins’ senior associate dean for academic affairs. Top performance “requires more skill and energy” than ever, she notes.

“This is a high-demand, high-stakes, high-fulfillment field,” says Bette Keltner, dean of Georgetown’s School of Nursing and Health Studies. “The graduates of our program will be poised to shape an entirely different industry.”

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