The field of nursing is an extremely rewarding one to work in. You get to make a real difference to people’s lives every single day, whether it’s by educating them about their health, helping them to manage existing health conditions, or treating those in need of urgent care. On top of that, it’s a field in which you will always be in high demand. Job prospects are set to grow faster than average over the next decade, so you can feel confident that it’s a career with excellent levels of employability and job security.
In addition to this, nursing is also an extremely versatile field. There is an amazing range of options out there for those who want to invest some time and effort in education and professional development and take their careers to the next level. From becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner or working in other specialized direct care roles to moving into management, education or policy positions, there’s plenty of choice if you want to break out of a career rut.
On the flip side, this wealth of choice can be a bit overwhelming for nurses who are newly qualified or unsure exactly what path they wish their career to take. This in turn can lead to feeling paralyzed by indecision. To help you out, this article will outline some of the different possibilities that are open to you so that you have a better idea of what you might want to aim for. Good luck!
Types of job progression
Before we get into the specifics, it can be helpful to make some distinctions between the different types of job roles that exist for nurses. This might be useful in narrowing down what type of career you wish to have. Broadly speaking, we can divide nursing positions into two main categories: those that specialize in providing direct nursing services to patients, like an FNP; and those that specialize in providing nursing services that are indirectly involved in-patient care.
Within these two groups there are of course further divisions – for example, in direct care you can focus on a particular patient population or health condition – but this can be a helpful distinction to start with when it comes to choosing your path.
How do I know which is the right career path for me?
This is a question that we all ask ourselves, no matter what industry we work in. Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer that will help you to easily figure out which job will be the best one for you. However, there are further questions you can ask yourself that will make it easier for you to focus on what’s important to you and what sort of position will suit you best:
- Do you want to work with patients directly (like an FNP), or would you prefer an indirect patient care role?
- What sort of patients would you like to work with (e.g. children, the elderly)?
- What type of health conditions are you interested in helping people with (e.g. mental health, cancer, obesity)?
- What sort of healthcare setting would you like to work in (e.g. hospitals, clinics, care homes)?
- What sort of hours do you want to work?
- What days of the week do you want to work?
- Do you want a job that provides the opportunity for travel?
- Would you be willing to go back to college and gain a graduate degree (if you don’t already have one)?
- Do you enjoy working with numbers and data?
- Do you enjoy teaching and training others?
- Do you want to manage other staff members?
Making a list of the sorts of tasks you enjoy and the sorts that fill you with dread can also be helpful for this exercise. Another great tip is to talk to people who are already working in the roles that you’re interested in, in order to get the inside scoop on what the position is truly like. After all, no one can tell you what it’s like to be an FNP as accurately as someone who is currently an FNP! Don’t worry if you don’t know anyone who has the job you’re thinking about though, as you can always reach out to people online and ask if you can buy them a coffee in exchange for their insights.
Roles related to direct patient care
If you enjoy working directly with patients on a face-to-face basis and providing personal care, these positions might be of interest to you:
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
An FNP is an advanced role in which you provide primary healthcare to patients across their lifespan. You benefit from greater autonomy and responsibility in comparison to a Registered Nurse (RN) role, with an FNP having a wider range of tasks to perform. These include running diagnostic tests, administering medication, assisting with surgical procedures, developing treatment plans, educating patients about healthy living, and in some states you can also prescribe medication. You will need either a master’s degree in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice to become an FNP, and once licensed you can work in a variety of healthcare settings including hospitals, clinics and private homes.
Becoming a pediatric nurse is a fantastic option for those who love interacting with children. It involves working with young patients from infancy all the way up to the end of their teenage years, treating a wide range of health conditions and also educating them about healthy lifestyles. To succeed you’ll need lots of patience, a good sense of humor and excellent communication skills, because children are not always able to explain their symptoms accurately. Plus, of course, you’ll have to be able to help reassure little ones and their parents when they need to undergo intimidating medical procedures.
At the other end of the age spectrum, a geriatric or gerontological nurse specializes in caring for the elderly members of our society. Due to the country’s aging population, the demand for nurses who can fulfill this role is only likely to increase. You can expect to perform a range of duties including administering medication, helping patients with daily tasks such as washing and dressing, treating diseases relating to aging (such as dementia), and also addressing psychological issues such as loneliness and social isolation. For this role, you’ll need plenty of patience, compassion, and the ability to maintain a positive attitude even when dealing with tricky patients.
If you have an interest in mental health and psychology, you might find this job very rewarding. Like an FNP, you’ll work with patients of all ages and from all walks of life, but you’ll focus on those who are suffering from mental health conditions. This could include anything from depression, PTSD and schizophrenia to substance abuse, bipolar disorder and OCD. Psychiatric nurses can be employed in a broad range of locations, including hospitals, prisons, specialist centers and mental health organizations. Key skills include creativity, adaptability, strong interpersonal skills, empathy, and emotional stability.
As an oncology nurse you’ll specialize in working with patients who have cancer – a role that’s only becoming more important due to the prevalence of this disease. The role involves helping to screen people, administer chemotherapy and other treatments, manage any side effects that patients may experience, and be a source of emotional support to them and their families at a very difficult time in their lives. As such, in addition to the clinical skills and knowledge you gain from taking your certifications, having excellent interpersonal skills, understanding, and compassion is vital.
A nurse anesthetist is an advanced role in which you are responsible for administering anesthesia to patients, monitoring them throughout their procedure, and then keeping an eye on them as they recover from it as well. This can involve working with both patients who are having scheduled surgeries and those having emergency procedures. It’s a position that involves a lot of attention to detail and analytical skills, and boasts a high salary to match the high levels of responsibility. Like an FNP, to become a certified nurse anesthetist you’ll need at least a master’s degree in nursing but preferably a doctor of nursing practice degree, and to pass a certification exam.
Roles related to indirect patient care
If you would prefer a role with less patient contact time compared to an FNP or the other roles above, and instead focus more on other aspects of healthcare and nursing, these positions might be what you’re looking for:
Legal Nurse Consultant
Those who are interested in the chance to blend their nursing expertise with a completely different field might like to look into this role. It involves consulting with attorneys and providing expert advice on a variety of medical issues as it relates to the law. For example, you might help translate complicated healthcare jargon for legal staff, identify expert witnesses or act as an expert witness yourself in court, conduct interviews, or review medical literature. This could encompass all sorts of cases including product liability, personal injury, long-term care litigation, medical malpractice, civil rights, and forensic or criminal cases.
If you’re passionate about teaching others, a job as a nurse educator might suit you well. It involves using your advanced knowledge, skills and experience to train up the next generation of nurses – whether they want to be an FNP, RN, or any of the other jobs on this list. In addition to teaching, you’ll also be involved with curriculum design and evaluation. A minimum of a master’s degree in nursing is required, but those who wish to teach at a university are advised to take a doctoral-level degree.
Another aspect of academic nursing that might be of interest to you is moving into the world of research. Nurse researchers design and run research studies, gathering data and analyzing it before reporting their results. Many publish their findings in relevant academic journals, and the results you discover could lead to valuable insights that help to improve patient care outcomes. To succeed in this role it’s best to study for a doctoral degree in nursing in order to gain training in a wide range of research techniques and perfect your academic writing skills.
If you have an interest in data and numbers, the field of nursing informatics could be perfect. In this role you combine your expertise in nursing with computer and information sciences to analyze data in order to improve patient outcomes. You can also help to assist your place of work in implementing new patient care technology by training other nurses to use new systems and then monitoring the results of the rollout. An extra benefit of this job is that it can often be done remotely, which is ideal for those hoping to work from home. Key skills for the role include problem-solving, analytical thinking, and creativity.
Health Policy Nurse
Those looking to make big changes to the healthcare system would do well to consider moving into a policy role. This enables you to have input by reviewing and revising policies, laws and regulations related to healthcare. For instance, this could cover issues such as patient safety, accessibility of healthcare services, and protection for doctors. You could also find yourself lobbying legislators, sitting on relevant committees, and fighting for social justice. Consequently, excellent communication, organization, confidence and research skills are all critical for this role.
Chief Nursing Officer
Chief nursing officer is a very high-level executive role that’s well-suited to those who have lots of ambition for their career. It involves carrying out a wide variety of leadership and administrative tasks, such as managing nursing budgets, representing nurses at board meetings, and overseeing the recruitment of new nurses. You might also find yourself with responsibility for advising on best practices, cultivating relationships across departments within your workplace, facilitating the professional development of all your nurses, and generally ensuring that the highest standards are upheld. The job calls for a lot of experience in addition to a master’s degree in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice, but comes with a correspondingly high salary.
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