Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, once wrote in a letter that she "never los[t] an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often in such matters the mustard-seed germinates and roots itself."
Next week is National Nurses Week, leading up to National Nurses Day on Nightingale's birthday of May 12. To observe the occasion, we want to take a look at an extremely practical beginning: starting your own nursing career by attaining an associate or bachelor's degree in the field.
[Explore the Best Nursing Schools rankings.]
Nursing is a career with a whole lot of practical benefits. The job's growth rate is projected to exceed 25 percent through the next decade. The Wall Street Journal's look at the 2010 census indicates that nursing graduates face a low 2.2 percent unemployment rate and earn a median $60,000 salary, while a poll conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a corporate consulting firm, that surveyed 100 human resources professionals indicated that healthcare degrees, including nursing, were the No. 1 field for job security.
[Read more about available healthcare jobs at every career level.]
Beyond the hard numbers, a nursing degree also allows you to have a big impact on people's lives every day. According to nurse and expert Gail Inderwies, president and executive director of Pennsylvania-based Keystone Care, "Everything we do is in terms of how to improve quality of life for the patient and the family."
Fortunately, the popularity of nursing means there are plenty of scholarships out there for nursing students. That also means that competition can be fierce, but if you do some thorough research and cast your net widely, you'll find some programs that fit your skills and specialties.
• In celebration of National Nurses Week, the brand new Nurses of Tomorrow Scholarship is providing three $1,000 awards to qualified nursing students with financial need. The program, funded by Medical Solutions and their Traveling Nurses, asks applicants to answer the question, "How would you define a Nurse?"
If you have a 2.75 or higher GPA, financial need, and a good community service background, head over and submit your application. The program kicks off during National Nurses Week and has a June 5 deadline.
[Check out online graduate nursing degree programs.]
• That's not the only program with a deadline coming up. The U.S. Health and Human Services Agency's HRSA Nursing Scholarship Program is taking applications until May 8, and if you're a student with financial need who's enrolled in or accepted to a nursing program, it could pay off in a big way. The scholarship covers full tuition and provides textbook and living expense stipends. Last year, nearly 400 applicants benefited from the program.
The only catch: If you're chosen as a recipient, you also commit to working for a minimum of two years after graduation at what HHS calls a "critical shortage facility," which includes public hospitals, rural health clinics, hospice providers, and other institutions that face a shortage of qualified nurses. Check out all the fine print before you apply, but don't let it dissuade you from a tremendous opportunity.
• Another program with an upcoming May deadline is the Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship. Open to undergraduate students in nursing and other healthcare fields, the Gallagher Koster scholarship awards five students with $5,000. The scholarship is open to juniors and seniors in four-year programs; if you're in a two- or three-year program, check the eligibility guidelines.
In addition, you'll have to fill out the whole online portion in one session, so make sure you have all your materials and your essay about why you're pursuing a healthcare career handy. The deadline for this one is May 18, so add it to your spring to-do list!
These programs all have fairly general eligibility rules; you should also take a look at more specific opportunities. Your counselor or financial aid office can clue you in to nursing scholarships specific to your county, state, or school. (In the Scholarship Coach's research, there were too many of these to even start listing.)
There are also some national options. The National Black Nurses Association and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses offer a wide range of awards each year, and there are even a couple specific scholarships for male nursing students, thanks to the American Assembly of Men in Nursing.
Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.