In higher education these days, STEM is all the rage. Colleges and universities are eagerly recruiting students with an interest in pursuing careers in science-technology-engineering-mathematics, the basic STEM fields. Graduates who choose one of these “hot” majors are often first in line for well-paying entry-level jobs and fulfilling career tracks in government, public service, the military and private industry.

In fact, a number of federal agencies have recently expanded their lists of STEM-related degrees that fit their hiring criteria to include health care-oriented disciplines: biology, nutrition, biological and physical sciences, chemistry, biochemistry, medical microbiology and bacteriology, for example.

Need for nurses

Nursing is a STEM-field, with LPN and RN candidates across the academic spectrum required to master many of the key science, technology and mathematics curricula demanded for licensure.

All of which means that graduates of nursing programs, from certificate-granting hospitals to community colleges to four-year baccalaureate programs, are well-positioned to take advantage of opportunities in STEM-related work environments, like hospitals and health systems, community health centers and pharmaceutical companies.

There are currently more than three million nurses in the United States. But to help create a health system out of what is largely an illness system, we need more nurses. 

“To help create a health system out of what is largely an illness system, we need more nurses.”

Life-long learning

Schools of nursing are creating new programs to fill the nursing gap. For example, graduates with a degree in sociology or in psychology may complete an undergraduate nursing degree after about 18 months in a special accelerated program, following completion of all program prerequisites.

These programs will, it is hoped, attract more people with a wider range of academic experiences, while also educating more nurses.

But, I’ll go a step further: life-long learning must become a priority. Nurses must be encouraged to earn advanced degrees that prepare them to become nurse educators, scholars and nurse leaders. These are the professionals responsible for preparing the next generation of nurses to deliver top-flight, culturally sensitive patient care, responsive to the demands of today’s dynamic, technologically sophisticated health care environment.

Career ladders

The continuing shortage of nurse faculty who are educating future nursing professionals may be even more pressing than the shortage of nurses. Nursing degree programs have trouble accepting all qualified applicants because these programs don’t have enough professors of nursing.

Schools, therefore, must make it easier for nurses with an associate or bachelor’s degree to earn master’s degrees, required to teach. These career ladders, as we call them, provide a path for nurses to develop their academic and clinical careers.

Investigate the challenge of becoming a nurse educator. It is certain to deepen your background in the all-too-popular STEM fields and open a world of opportunity, both within and beyond health care.