Todd Peterson was 35 and had just lost a good job as a machinist because the company he worked for went out of business. Aptitude tests pointed him toward science, and a vocational counselor encouraged him to go to nursing school. It wasn't a career he'd ever considered, but he decided to give it whirl. Fifteen years later he has no regrets.

What sold him on nursing? Security for one thing. He liked knowing that he could find a well-paying job almost anywhere. Variety was another advantage. "Nurses work in acute care, health education or public health settings - to name just a few. And they work in industries like insurance," Peterson says.

He also enjoys the interaction with patients. "I like to joke and kid with people. I enjoy helping patients feel better emotionally even when I can't make them feel better physically," he says.

Going With The Float

For the last nine years, Peterson has been a float nurse in the HealthEast Care System, filling in wherever he's needed at St. John's, St. Joseph's or Bethesda Hospital. In the course of a week he may work in intensive care, behavioral health and with patients on ventilators.

"Float nurses enjoy a lot of variety and interact with a lot of different people. Every day is different. I love not knowing where I'll be working or what I'll be doing," he says.

Teaching Patients And Peers

As lead preceptor for the HealthEast float pool, he's in charge of taking new float nurses around to each hospital, orienting them to the different units, introducing them to everyone they need to know and generally helping them as they settle in.

Peterson is also involved in clinical and continuing education. He has, for example, taught his nursing colleagues about software systems and new forms of documentation as HealthEast goes paperless.

Teaching is part of his nursing practice, too. That might mean explaining why salty, fatty snacks are bad for the heart or why it's best to avoid drinking too much pop. "At least 25 percent of nursing involves teaching patients how to take care of themselves," he says. "I try to tell people the truth in a way they can accept."

Something New Every Day

Peterson notes that more men are beginning to enter nursing. Recently, while working in an ICU, he discovered he was one of three male nurses on the unit. "I no longer feel like the odd man out," he says.

He recommends nursing as a career for anyone - male or female. "The field is continually advancing," he explains. "If you don't learn something new every single day, you haven't tried very hard."

Advice For New Nurses

Peterson, who completed a two-year degree in nursing, will soon begin taking the additional course work needed for a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). "A BSN opens up more opportunities for advancement or a move into a new area like research," he says.

His advice for recent graduates? "Don't stop taking classes. Keep going until you've earned a BSN. Going back to school is always harder than continuing on right away."

By Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.