Patient Dedication: 4 Nurses Who Helped Change the World

Anyone admitted to the hospital quickly learns that doctors might get all the glory, but it is really nurses who do most of the heavy lifting. Great nurses don't just check your vitals and carry out your treatment plan -- they provide comfort in what can be a scary, confusing time. And that is only the beginning. In fact, with the right balance of training and dedication, nurses can (and have) changed the world. Here are just four nurses who have done just that.

1. Clara Barton

"I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them." So said Clara Barton, one of the most famous (and undoubtedly most fearless) nurses in history. Barton launched her career treating soldiers in the field during the Civil War, and in 1881, founded the American Red Cross. A true humanitarian, Barton is as well known for her role in the advancement of women's rights as for the advancement of her profession.

2. Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale is often considered the mother of the modern nursing profession, so much so that to this day new nurses must take the Nightingale Pledge. Nightingale is best known for her nursing and sanitation reform efforts and her prominence as a teacher: in 1860, she founded the world's first secular school of nursing.

3. Sue Averill, RN

Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale may have defined the history of nursing, but nurses like Sue Averill are shaping its future. Averill launched her ER nursing career in 1979, but following a devastating 1985 earthquake in Mexico, quickly dedicated herself to humanitarian efforts. She has worked with groups like The Salvation Army and Doctors Without Borders, providing nursing services to those in need in Asia, Africa, Latin America and beyond. In 2007, Averill teamed up with fellow RN Staci Kelley to found One Nurse at a Time, a Seattle-based non-profit designed to encourage and support nurses who want to volunteer abroad. In 2010, Averill was nominated for Nurse of the Year in Community Service by NurseWeek Magazine and the March of Dimes.

4. Sandra Walters, RN

Registered Nurse Sandra Walters proves that disaster-stricken or third world countries are not the only ones in need of a little compassion and humanitarianism; sometimes RNs can have the largest impact here at home. In 2006, Walters founded the Andre center for Breast Cancer Education and Navigation, a non-profit designed to help underserved breast cancer patients navigate a sometimes complicated health care system. Walters also provides patients -- most of whom are uninsured -- with no-cost education and support services. The center even helps raise funds for patients in dire need of housing, food or transportation.

Saving the world pays off

Nursing has its benefits, and not just for ailing patients. Sure, becoming a nurse will top up your karma card in a truly positive way, but it can also provide you with job (and financial) security. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for registered nurses is projected to grow by 22 percent, 2008-2018. Earnings aren't too shabby either: the BLS notes that the median salary for RNs in 2010 was $64,690, though the top 10 percent earned in excess of $95,130. Of course, the right training is a must, and online registered nurse programs are a great start. Those already working in the field who want to improve their career stock even more can invest in online RN to BSN degrees or (for the super motivated) online RN to MSN programs. Research programs carefully, whichever route you choose, to ensure you find one that suits both your goals and learning style.

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