Careers in law enforcement and nursing have several things in common: They both serve the public, experience periods of intense activity, stress, and have similar work schedules. The educational requirements differ greatly, though, as do the job duties, work settings and career outlooks. Choosing which career path to follow depends on what appeals to you more.
Entering Law Enforcement
Law enforcement agencies are very careful about choosing candidates. The basic requirements include being a U.S. citizen, being at least 21 (younger in some police departments), having a high school diploma and a driver's license, and being able to pass the department's physical fitness standards. Basic physical functions, such as vision and hearing, are tested, too. Candidates usually go through a series of interviews and have to submit to background checks, drug and sometimes lie detector tests, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If an applicant passes all of these, he's sent to his department's police academy. Training is free and students are paid, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Wearing the Uniform
The life of a police officer is stressful. On any given day he's faced with criminals, dangerous situations, injuries and death. He must stay alert and be ready for anything. Police work is cited by the BLS as having a rate of on-the-job injuries that is higher than the national average. They work full time in shifts. However, having a hand in meting out justice makes the job potentially rewarding. Officer salaries averaged $55,010 per year in 2010 and should see a 7 percent increase in employment through 2020, a rate that is considered lower than average, according to the BLS.
Becoming a Nurse
Nursing candidates, on the other hand, need a college education. Licensed vocational and licensed practical nurses take accredited programs that last about a year. Registered nurses require at least an associate degree, which typically takes two to three years to earn. They take subjects such as chemistry, microbiology, anatomy and psychology in a classroom setting, then practice what they learned in a clinical setting under the supervision of a medical professional. After they complete nursing classes, they must pass the National Council for Licensing Examination to obtain their licenses.
Providing Vital Care
Licensed vocational and registered nurses work in hospitals, medical offices, nursing homes and home health care settings, among others. Some work in shifts in settings where 24-hour care is called for; those in doctor's offices may work regular daytime hours. Nurses are also prone to injuries at the workplace, as they spend most of their days standing, walking, bending and lifting. Nurses also come into regular contact with infectious diseases. Knowing the care they provide improves, even saves, lives can make this a rewarding career. Vocational nurses earned $40,380 on average in 2010, according to the BLS, and should see a job increase of 22 percent through 2020; registered nurses earned $64,690 and are expected to experience a 26 percent increase in employment.