National Nurses Week starts bright and early this morning, and you can bet that by the time you read these words, nurses will be on the job.

There is a problem, and it’s big — America doesn’t have enough nurses to meet its needs, and it’s not even close.

The nation’s health-care facilities are more than 1.1 million nurses short of what would be minimally required. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for nurses are growing at a faster rate than all other occupations in this country. And the shortage could get worse in the years ahead.

We can say that with some certainty because America’s population is aging, with about a quarter of the U.S. population 65 years or older. A long, busy life tends to break down the body, as every senior citizen is well aware, increasing the need for medical attention. Nurses are an integral part of the health-care equation.

Seven states face critical nursing shortages, and you can probably guess which state is No. 1. California’s nursing shortage has been put at about 45,000, with No. 2 Texas far, far behind with a shortage of 16,000 nurses.

It’s not necessarily a salary issue. The national average annual pay for a Registered Nurse is just more than $73,000. The average for a California RN is nearly $107,000 a year, but because of this state’s high cost of living, California ranks a dismal 48th nationally for average starting pay.

Put in blunt terms, America needs more bodies in the nursing profession, and the need is pressing.

We bring all this up because high school graduation season is upon us. Young people will get their diplomas and make major life decisions. College or a job? Actually, a smart young person can do both.

As with so many local career opportunities, Allan Hancock College has just the program for aspiring nurses. Hancock has one of the best nursing programs in the state, a claim you can verify by going into just about any medical facility on the Central Coast, where you will usually find someone with a nursing certificate gained through Hancock College’s program.

The Registered Nursing program is fully accredited. It is a two-semester deal offered every year starting in the spring semester. Graduates from accredited vocational nursing programs are eligible to apply. Everything about Hancock’s program is designed to provide the nurses at all certification levels with an opportunity for career advancement.

High school seniors may be wondering if nursing is really the career they want. It’s not an easy call. For one thing, you really need to like working with people, because nursing is definitely a hands-on career. You may someday individually save a life, but on the whole, a good nurse is the consummate team player.

Good nursing is based on science and a comprehensive knowledge of the human body. Math skills play a role in the administration of medications. The ability to read and understand scientific literature and communicate effectively in writing is key to success in nursing.

Perhaps the most important consideration for a graduating senior is the durability of a career, and nursing has that many times over. It also is a career with flexibility and mobility. Think nursing shortage, and the ability to work just about anywhere in the United States.

Nursing is a fine career choice, but whatever path you choose, always consider the long game, which many young people don’t do. As somebody famous once said, pick a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

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