Nursing in Rural Areas

If you are a nurse or are thinking about becoming one and would like to practice in a rural community, doing so could provide a unique nursing opportunity that is different from working in an urban or highly populated location. Because of the limited facilities and smaller staff, the specialization typical of larger hospitals is not possible, and nurses need to be prepared to greatly broaden their scope of practice. Rural nurses are also required to take on more responsibility than their urban counterparts, performing many medical tasks historically done by doctors or nurse practitioners. A typical rural nurse will likely gain some experience in critical care nursing, in trauma, in labor and delivery, as well as in typical nursing duties, like seeing patients who are sick or injured. While this may be intimidating at first, the community will appreciate their efforts, and it will greatly benefit you as well as you broaden your nursing skills. Another unique aspect of rural nursing is practicing nursing where you are also a member of the community. Your patients may be your neighbors, family members, close friends, and are generally people you are already familiar with. While this can have advantages, it’s imperative for the rural nurse to view their patients from a nurse’s perspective first, and to always be as entirely professional.

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The Rural Nurse Organization is one good professional organization to be aware of. They offer an online Journal of Rural Nursing and Health Care, as well as the opportunity to network, share information, attend conferences for rural nurses, and learn more about the role of nurses in rural environments. Many states also have geographical nursing societies that you can join to network with nurses working in other rural communities.

Becoming a nurse is the first step toward a rural nursing career, pursue an NLNAC or CCNE accredited nursing program that results in either an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). A bachelor’s degree is recommended as the minimum education needed to practice as a Registered Nurse, however an associate degree in nursing takes about two years and may be a faster way to becoming a nurse in your area. After completing your nursing education you will need to take and pass the NCLEX exam required for licensure as a Registered Nurse. If your are currently an RN or nearing the end of your nursing program, you may want to consider earning a master’s degree in nursing. A master’s degree in nursing allows you can take on even more nursing duties and responsibilities. Rural clinics and hospitals are frequently short on physicians and need all of the trained help they can get, which includes nurse practitioners, nurse managers, nurse educators and the like. Online distance learning is an option if you are already living in a rural area and cannot find the right nursing program in your region. Undergraduate nursing programs are not offered online, but RN to BSN, LVN or LPN to BSN programs, Master’s in Nursing, PhD and Doctorate programs are and can be quite convenient for those in rural nursing.

The outlook for rural nurses is just as good if not better than other nursing jobs. Healthcare is a fast-growing industry, trying to keep up with the nation’s growing elderly population and to make up for the number of nurses retiring or approaching retirement age. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects nursing to grow at a rate of 22% in the period between 2008 and 2018, making it one of the fastest growing industries. Rural nursing, in particular, will be in demand, because there are so many medically underserved rural areas.

The median annual wages of registered nurses was $62,450, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,410, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,240. Generally, nurses in rural communities earn less than their urban counterparts. However, pay can potentially be competitive for a rural nurse at the right facility, because their responsibilities are great and their duties so varied. Nurse practitioners in rural communities are often paid more than those living in urban or metropolitan areas. Learn more about the physician and nurse practitioner shortages and how these shortages are impacting rural communities. Rural nursing can also be the opportunity to gain a huge array of nursing experience, which will ultimately help your career should you ever leave rural nursing. Whether you are already living in a rural community, or are interested in pursuing rural nursing once you earn your degree, it’s a great way to really feel you are serving a small community, while gaining a great variety of nursing skills.