What does a typical day in the life of a nurse look like?

Not probably what you imagine. Nurses today wear a lot of hats. Not only do they provide the direct patient care they always have, but they are also IT specialists, regulatory analysts, professional development coaches, conflict resolution experts, and more. So how do they juggle it all? And how can the nurses of tomorrow best be prepared to lead the profession into the future?

To explore those questions, Capella University recently hosted a panel of nursing leaders who shared their thoughts on what a day in the life of a nurse today is really like. The panel included Jennifer Austin, MSN, RN, CCM, Clinical Manager for UnitedHealth Group; Meena Iyer, MN, BA, RN, Patient Care Unit Supervisor and Trauma Program Coordinator at Fairview Lakes Medical Center; and April Lenzmeier, MAOL, RN, Nurse Manager in the ICU for Fairview Health Services. Capella’s Senior Academic Director of Workforce Solutions Adele Webb, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN, led the discussion.

A lot of people have a stereotypical view of what a nurse does. How would you describe what a nurse really does?

Lenzmeier: What I often hear from our patients is, “You saved my life, but it’s how you did it and how you made me feel that I’ll remember.” The real power of nursing practice is how we deliver your ice chips, how we make your bed, how we wash your back, how we brush your teeth. It’s how we treat patients with empathy and compassion that matters.

Iyer: There is no such thing as a typical nurse. Nurses exist in every field. We have teachers, politicians, researchers, writers, and lobbyists. In the direct patient care world there are hospital, rural, and clinical nurses, we also have nurses abroad doing amazing things. The RN education lends a specific lens of holistic care and compassion to every realm in which we work.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your work?

Iyer: I’m all about educating my nurses and building them up. I love to empower them and help them find their potential and move up professionally. I find that very, very fulfilling. When people talk about getting exceptional care from my team, it really fills my bucket. I like walking around and giving high fives. It feels really good.

Lenzmeier: When patients come into our unit, what’s happening with them is usually a one-time event that they’ll never forget. So the most fulfilling part of my day is when I get out of my office and connect with our patients. It reminds me of the enormous impact nurses have. It makes feel so good about what we do.

What is important to think about when exploring a nursing degree?

Lenzmeier: Earning a degree – it’s a lot of studying. It’s a lot to invest. Many of us have families and full-time jobs. Those are the things you need to explore.

Austin: Flexibility is definitely key. I found FlexPath to be even more flexible than a typical online format.

How does having a degree influence your practice as a nurse and your career progression?

Lenzmeier: With each step in my educational journey I gained more confidence to continue to the next level of education.

Austin: When I completed my master’s degree, I knew I was on a path to leadership. It definitely gave me confidence to move in that direction. There are so many paths a nurse can take, and getting my degree gave me self-assurance and opened up doors that I would not have known nurses could follow.

Iyer: In terms of getting your BSN, you have to do it. Clinical outcomes are significantly better when the care team has bachelor’s degrees. Honestly few hospitals are hiring people without bachelor’s degrees. If you want to work for a hospital, it’s important to get a BSN.


What kind of advice do you give nurses when they ask about going back to school?

Lenzmeier: When my nurses come to me about which path they should take, there are so many options that I believe it is my job to help them find their passion. It can be difficult to decide which way to go, so they need someone to have that discussion and see where they are thriving.

Austin: I ask my nurses where they want to go in their career. That exploration is so important.

How do you help Millennial nurses succeed in their jobs?

Lenzmeier: They are ready, and they are change agents. It’s important to balance the generational needs and expectations. I want to empower those who want to strive to do more, but we need to meet each other where we are at.

Iyer: The Millennials are really pushing back at the perceived limitations of nursing. They tend to be more intrepid with an “I’m going to do it anyway” attitude. I believe this will help push nursing forward.

What do you see changing in health care and nursing in the next 5 years?

Austin: Technology is growing very fast. We already do a lot of tele-heath, which will only expand over this period.

Lenzmeier: We have a video monitoring device we are putting into rooms. It’s successful. It’s working. Nurses who are new to the field are really going to have to figure out how to care for their patients with all this technology while still being really present for them.

Learn more about the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Capella University.

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