A healthy outlook for nursing

By Laura Crimaldi
Sunday, January 11, 2009 - Updated 3d 13h ago

The federal government predicts that education and health services will account for more than three out of every 10 new jobs created in the next seven years - and Fantaba Sheriss, 27, hopes to join that work force as a nurse.

Sheriss, a Roslindale resident who grew up in West Africa, begins part-time studies this month at Bunker Hill Community College. “I want to be a nurse,” said Sheriss. “I’ve always been helping people.”

The move should also help Sheriss achieve her American dream despite a rotten economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs for registered nurses will grow by 23 percent, or 587,000 positions, between 2006 and 2016.

That growth puts opportunities for nurses among the largest number of new jobs for any occupation.

“We just tripled our capacity and people are just beating down the door to get into the program,” said Les Warren, director of work force development at Bunker Hill.

The college offers day, evening and weekend programs that lead to an associate’s degree and it prepares students to take the national licensing exam. Tuition, supplies and fees cost $11,650 annually for Bay State residents. An average registered nurse’s salary in the Boston area is $70,000, said David Schildmeier of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Nurses are not weathering the economic downturn unscathed. Schildmeier said MetroWest Medical Center, Jordan Hospital and Caritas Norwood Hospital laid off nurses last year. Hiring freezes are spreading, but the demand for nurses has not contracted, he said.

Sheriss, a laundry attendant at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, said she prepared for nursing school by earning a GED last March and enrolling in College Pathways, a college prep course at Action for Boston Community Development.

“They gave me the secret weapon to go to college,” Sheriss said. “They gave me the courage.”