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Andrew, Nurse Unit Manager

What does a typical working day involve?

As Nurse Unit Manager of a ward at one of Melbourne's rehabilitation hospitals, Andrew's job is to keep the ward running and to keep both the staff and patients happy. He makes sure patients receive the right meals and treatment, and that the staff he supervises have a safe and pleasant work environment. His favourite part of the job is talking to people, and the most rewarding is "getting people back home." He enjoys working in a rehabilitation hospital because patients stay for longer (up to 12 months), which allows the nurses to get to know the patients better. Andrew has worked in the same hospital for 12 years, and in his current position for almost nine years.

What are the pros and cons of the job?

There has been a shortage of nurses in Victoria for a number of years. Now, however, there is a lot more support for nurses, particularly young nurses. More of an issue today is that not enough university places are being made available, and Andrew doesn't see the numbers picking up until this is addressed. For those who choose nursing, the shortage means there is a low chance of unemployment. And not only are there plenty of opportunities in Victoria, but nursing is also a good career to travel with. Australian nurses can get registration in the USA and UK, or for a more exotic destination, "there's always high-paying jobs advertised for Saudi Arabia".

Andrew is lucky to now have a nine-to-five weekday position, but shift work is very common in his profession. New nurses often find it the toughest aspect. However, Andrew says the most challenging part of nursing is caring for dying patients because it causes you to confront your own mortality and belief system surrounding death. Many nurses say an interest in helping people is what drew them to the job, and Andrew emphasises that "you've got to like talking and working with people." The desire to care for patients and to be their advocate is important, as is an interest in biological sciences.

How did you become a registered nurse?

After finishing school, Andrew worked in a supermarket for 18 months before deciding to take up a nursing apprenticeship. The apprenticeship was a three-year course, which kicked off with eight weeks of study, "then they let you loose on the wards." Instead of the apprenticeship system, nursing students now study a three-year Bachelor degree at university. Most graduates also complete a graduate year program, which involves two or three placements in different wards where they are teamed up with more experienced nurses. After testing the waters, most nurses tend to specialise and may complete a Graduate Diploma in their chosen area.

Any tips for becoming a registered nurse?

If you are thinking of becoming a nurse, Andrew advises that you "make certain it's what you want to do". Don't wait until you've got a big HECS debt before finding out! For those already studying nursing, he suggests you check out hospitals in your final year to find a good one for your graduate year. He recommends getting your foot in the door at a large hospital where you can work your way up the ranks. There are opportunities for advancement in nursing if you gain the skills and apply yourself. Nursing is a flexible occupation, and these days a variety of new avenues are opening up, including 'nurse practitioner' roles (which require a Masters degree) and a greater number of case manager and community roles.

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).