Byline: Dan Sewell Associated Press
CINCINNATI u Their fellow students call them "Mom and Pop."
Both 40 years old, Lena Gambill and Bob Mitchell are among the first-year nursing students at Shawnee State University, in the Ohio River city of Portsmouth nearly 100 miles southeast of here. In an Appalachian region that was already struggling with double-digit unemployment before the national recession hit, they both considered a nursing career their best bet for a secure future.
"The reason I decided to do it is no matter where we go, no matter what happens economy-wise, this is an occupation I can count on and I can take with me," said Gambill, a mother of three who had been a full-time teacherAEs aide.
"There is always something you can do with nursing," agreed Mitchell, a former state prison guard.
A field that has long seen staff shortages is getting another look from people who are out of work, fear they soon could be or need to replace a laid-off spouseAEs income.
But there are barriers to overcome, from getting the needed education to meeting the professionAEs sometimes exhausting demands.
"The most difficult thing has been budgeting between my family and schooling to get to my goal," said Gambill, estimating she spends 40 hours a week studying and doing clinical work in a two-year program to become a registered nurse.
Industry experts say the recession is reducing nursing vacancy rates because more nurses are delaying retirement, moving from part-time to full-time status for the extra income, or coming back from retirement.
But plenty of need remains, especially as the baby boom generation ages and requires more health care. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected more than 1 million nursing openings over the 10-year period ending in 2016.
Among the benefits of becoming a nurse, besides employment security, is yearly pay that usually ranges in hospitals from around $50,000 into six figures, depending on experience and skills. Nursing offers flexible scheduling that can include three-day weeks (12-hour shifts) and weekends-only positions. And workplaces are as varied as physiciansAE offices, nursing homes, in-home care and health-related corporate jobs.
The bureau also projects strong job growth for some faster routes into health care. They include licensed practical nursing; the degree takes about a year to earn, and jobs usually pay about two-thirds what registered nurses earn. …