TYLER, Texas — National Certified Nurses Day is observed every year on March 19th. The day was adopted in honor of Margretta Madden Styles, who's been recognized worldwide for her leadership and contributions to the study and practice of nursing. Styles is hailed as a pioneer of the field. Her distinguished career has inspired generations of nurses around the country. 

"Nurses who seek that additional certification, not only have that licensure, but they go and take their expertise in a certain area and receive additional training to show that they are experts in their field," said Michelle Nelson, who is the Department Chair of the Vocational Nursing Program at Tyler Junior College.

Before starting her teaching career, Nelson worked as a nurse for 21 years, obtaining a certification in the field of oncology. 

"Nurses are very, very passionate about whatever area they work in, so if you work in the NICU, you're going to want to get that certification," Nelson explained, "I know when I worked as an oncology nurse, for example, my patients would ask me, 'are you oncology certified?'"

She says it's important to note that obtaining a nursing certification is not an easy task, and it certainly doesn't happen overnight. 

"Once you have the certification, you have to continue keeping that up," said Nelson. "You have to maintain a certain amount of hours in the field doing that particular kind of work and you also have to do continual education studies."

East Texas has a growing medical community, with the area universities that provide programs for students wanting to go into careers such as nursing. In 2018, the University of Texas at Tyler's graduate online nursing program was ranked number one in the state and fifth in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report. Tyler Junior College has grown to offer unique programs for vocational and associate degrees in nursing, and through an agreement with UT Tyler, once finished at TJC, students can continue on to a four-year degree after graduation. 

"Nurses are the heart and soul of healthcare in many ways. Nurses are, often times, the first person that you see when you come in to seek healthcare. They are, often times, the advocate for care. They assist the physician and all of the other partners in the healthcare world.”

Even though the medical community in East Texas is continually growing, Nelson says it's important to remember the area hasn't escaped a nationwide nurses shortage. 

"I think many people don't realize, at this moment, how critical and serious the nursing shortage is across the nation," said Nelson. "We will need more than 1 million to fill the current spots in the United States. And it's not just that, we're talking about tens of thousands of nurses here in Texas, as well."

As you thank a nurse on this National Certified Nurses Day, she says don't forget to encourage a future nurse, as well.