Nurse and therapist are two of the best jobs in the US — or are they?

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Tim Mullaney
Tim Mullaney

Registered nurse, physical therapist and nurse practitioner are three of the top 10 jobs in the United States, according to new rankings from U.S. News and World Report. This might come as a big surprise to anyone who's been following the recent news in McKnight's.

As a professional caregiver in a long-term care facility, you're doing the emotionally taxing and sometimes clinically complex work of seeing people through their dying days — and you're dealing with interfering family members, according to one recent story that provoked quite a bit of reader response.

You also must contend with a sometimes crushing burden of documentation and other bureaucratic delights, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Nurses spend an average of five hours completing a comprehensive assessment for a resident, according to a recently released survey from the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination.

As if it's not hard enough to complete these assessments, Minimum Data Set coordinators are spending about 18 hours in meetings every week, that survey found.

These are among the challenges once you've landed a job in long-term care nursing, but just getting the necessary credentials can be frustrating. Nursing programs turned away more than 53,000 qualified applicants last year, due to faculty shortages, lack of funds and lack of clinical placement sites, according to the latest data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

With these stories in mind, I dug a little deeper to find out why U.S. News had ranked the nursing and therapist jobs in the top 10. Three factors were given the most weight: median salary, the employment rate and future job prospects (described as “the ease of landing a job in the future.”) Nurses and physical therapists scored well on all these measures, and U.S. News noted that demand for nurses and therapists is particularly strong in long-term care and other settings where aging baby boomers will seek services.

When it came to the more subjective elements of the rankings, such as job satisfaction, these caregiving jobs didn't shine quite so bright. Registered nurses' upward mobility and flexibility were characterized as “average,” while their stress level was designated “above average.” Physical therapists enjoy “above average” flexibility but “below average” upward mobility.

In other words, these rankings might actually be saying that nurses and therapists bring home nice paychecks and have enviable security, but their daily experience on the job isn't all that great. An analysis of the rankings might suggest the experience of being a healthcare professional actually is much worse than the experience of being a software developer — the U.S. News No. 1 job, and one associated with workplaces that are like “labyrinthine play areas.”

Of course, I realize that the rankings also didn't give much weight to the tremendous job satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference in people's lives. Given the recent studies and surveys showing the difficulties of being a nurse or therapist, I think the U.S. News list offers an apt opportunity to focus on the aspects of these jobs that really do make them exceptional.

Not being a nurse or therapist myself, I'm hardly the best person to say what the best parts of being a nurse or therapist are. So I invite all you caregivers who are reading to leave a comment below, and say whether you agree that you have one of the best jobs in the country, and why.

I will note that when I got to thinking about the rewards of being a professional caregiver, I thought of Walt Whitman's poem The Wound Dresser, which reflects Whitman's own experience as a nurse in the Civil War. The elderly narrator of the poem looks back on his life, and in particular his time as nurse:

Thus in silence in dreams' projections,

Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,

The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,

I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so

young,

Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and

sad …

I think Whitman's eloquence makes the U.S. News rankings seem like an almost laughable way of evaluating a job like nursing, but I can't resist one last rankings-related observation: Software developers certainly have contributed hugely to society, and even to improved healthcare outcomes, but it's hard for me to imagine similarly powerful words being written about coding and debugging.

Tim Mullaney is a Staff Writer at McKnight's. Follow him @TimMullaneyLTC.


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