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For Colleen Connelly, there was never a doubt. When it came to deciding her future, she didn’t vacillate. At age 8, Connelly could already see her life mapped out in front of her: She was born to be a nurse.

There’s something special about being there in the darkest hour, literally therein the room during a person’s most vulnerable, devastating and wonderful moments, said Connelly, senior nursing director of University of Utah Health’s Critical Care, AirMed and Emergency Departments.

“You step in, and they let you share their experience with them,” Connelly said. “They look to you for guidance; they look to you for reassurance. It’s quite an honor to have a complete stranger let you in like that.”

Fellow nurse Spencer Steinhach, on the other hand, took a more circuitous route to his dream job. After years working as a whitewater rafting guide and ranch hand, he had the opportunity to job-shadow a nurse. He’s never looked back.

“Nursing has really paved the way of who I am and what I do,” said Steinbach, who currently serves as a patient placement manager at U of U Hospital.

So, whether you grew up nursing your Cabbage Patch Kids and pet gerbils or you’re just discovering the profession after trying other detours, now is the time to consider a career in nursing.

Now, more than ever, hospitals such as University Hospital are eagerly looking to hire compassionate and dedicated nurses as our state and country face a serious nursing shortage. Nationwide, it’s estimated that one-third of the nursing workforce is planning to retire within the next five or 10 years, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Utah is ranked third in the country in severity of nursing shortage. With our population aging every day, the problem isn’t going anywhere. However, it’s creating openings for people with a passion for helping others.

“The abundance of opportunity for new and young nurses is tremendous,” said U of U Health Chief Nursing Officer Margaret Pearce. “Health care is changing and on the brink of exciting new ways of care.”

Just as there are many routes to becoming a nurse, there are many different ways nurses use their skills.

“When I tell people I’m a nurse, most people imagine scrubs and making rounds around the hospital floor,” said Steinbach, the whitewater-rafter-turned-RN. “Instead, my team coordinates the flow of all patients seen at the hospital each day.”

Steinbach has worked at various medical facilities in Utah, Colorado and California, but it’s the culture at the U that keeps him passionate about his job.

“The commitment to patients and teamwork between colleagues is amazing,” he said.

Beyond the culture, another reason to consider U of U Health for a career in nursing is that nurses at the U are upwardly mobile.

“We are committed to helping them progress in their careers,” Connelly said. “In the last year, we’ve implemented a career ladder that helps nurses meet their professional goals.”

At U of U Health, nurses have the chance to take part in research, receive and nominate others for awards, and share their voices as members of quality committees that aim to improve patients’ hospital stays and reduce hospital infections. As a member of the U of U Health staff, they also receive half-off tuition so they can continue to advance in their educations.

If you’re debating whether a career in nursing is right for you, here are some words of wisdom from Pearce:

“You certainly need to care about people,” she said. “Nursing is a very intense profession, but it is rewarding. It requires a good attitude and an open heart and mind.”