STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Lets turn to another major item on the presidents agenda: job creation. This week in our series "New Jobs For A New Decade," were looking at the future of the employment market. More than 3 million jobs are expected to be created this decade in a single industry: the health-care industry. They range from highly paid surgeons to low-wage caregivers. Nursing is expected to add 600,000 jobs.
NPRs Tamara Keith reports.
TAMARA KEITH: Mike Jones wasnt happy. He was working long hours in his dads construction business, but something was missing. So after a long talk on the phone with his brother, Jones made an unlikely career choice. He decided to become a nurse.
Mr. MIKE JONES (Nursing Student): I enjoy helping people. Ive never been in the medical field before. This is my first time. It's all new for me.
Unidentified Woman: Has anyone worked on this...
KEITH: Jones and some classmates at Northern Virginia Community College are sitting around a table, cramming for a test. He is 40 years old, never went to college, and before he worked construction, he worked at United Airlines as a baggage handler. He sees nursing as his ticket to a solid income and a solid career.
Mr. JONES: I feel secure. You know, theres job security. So Im not worried like with the airline. I was with United Airlines. You know, I was concerned toward the end there, and that's one of the reasons that I quit. I just knew it was going downhill. So I don't feel that with this.
KEITH: If you're picking a new profession purely based on the numbers, nursing is a pretty sure bet.
Mr. ROGER MONCARZ (Bureau of Labor Statistics): It's a large occupation. It's a growing occupation, and certainly there will be jobs there in the field over the next decade.
KEITH: Roger Moncarz does projections for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can get an entry-level registered nurse job with just three years of college. And Moncarz says the median wage for an RN is $62,000, putting it among the highest wage-earning professions.
Mr. MONCARZ: The fact that the wages are pretty high also sort of separates it from many occupations that would be growing. The median wage for all occupations was about $32,000, so the 62,400 is a decent wage.
KEITH: And the perks don't stop there. Cindy Glover is the chief nursing officer at Reston Hospital Center, part of the large HCA hospital chain.
Ms. CINDY GLOVER (Chief Nursing Officer, Reston Hospital Center): You can work any hours you want, I mean particularly if you're a bedside nurse. Our full-times work three 12s a week, and that's not bad, having four days a week off. Now, it's a hard day, but you know, still, that's not bad.
KEITH: But it's not all roses. There are night shifts and holidays, and then there are the patients.
Ms. GLOVER: It is a difficult job. It's very, very hard. I mean, people can be difficult healthy. You get them sick? And you know...
Ms. CHRISTI ROMNEY (ER Nurse): You're the quietest vomiting patient I've ever had.
KEITH: It's 2 in the afternoon, and ER nurse Christi Romney has a new patient with chest and abdominal pain, and a serious case of alcohol withdrawal.
Unidentified Man: I'm sorry.
Ms. ROMNEY: No, you're fine. Don't apologize. I know you'd rather not be doing this.
Unidentified Man: I know you guys are working on it, but I need some pain medication.
Ms. ROMNEY: Yep. That's what...
KEITH: The patient is in his late 30s and tells her he'd been drinking all night. It's clear this isn't his first time coming to the ER after drinking too much.
Ms. ROMNEY: You really see everything, you know? We get drug seekers. We get, like this gentleman, alcoholics a lot of those. If you can't be compassionate to people of all walks of life, then don't go into nursing.
KEITH: Romney has a master's degree in public health and in her first career, did international aid work. But she says this hands-on work is incredibly rewarding, even if it means cleaning up after a drunk guy in the middle of the day.
Ms. ROMNEY: So you said no allergies to medications, correct?
Unidentified Man: No.
Ms. ROMNEY: I'm going to give you the Fenergan first. That's for nausea.
KEITH: Nursing isn't the kind of job you do for the money. It's physically and emotionally taxing. Tracy Wergley Graebener is a labor and delivery nurse.
Ms. TRACY WERGLEY GRAEBENER (Labor and Delivery Nurse): There's nothing glamorous about my job. Not one thing is glamorous about my job. But nobody goes into nursing thinking it's going to be glamorous. It's not. I mean, it's gory and some people would call it gross, but it's just what it is.
KEITH: Graebener says she tolerates the gross parts because of the rewards.
Ms. GRAEBENER: Yes, you're a good girl. Good girl.
KEITH: She's checking the vital signs on a baby girl born just minutes before. The baby is healthy, and Graebener is glowing. This is her first nursing job. Just two years ago, she was working as a pharmaceutical sales rep, making four times the money. But Graebener doesn't miss it at all not with moments like this.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: And you can hear more about new jobs for a new decade at NPR.org.