Working as a nurse is an extremely rewarding role. You get to work directly with a diverse range of patients, helping to take care of them and make their lives better every single day. It’s a position that is in high demand across the United States, with job prospects expected to continue to rise over the next 10 years. This makes it a great field to be trained in when it comes to employability and job security.
Nursing is also a very versatile field, with a wealth of options for those who wish to continue their education and development. There’s no such thing as a ‘standard’ career path here! This does mean that it can be a little overwhelming for nurses who are just starting out, or who are unsure of what their options for career progression are.
This article will outline some roles that you could aim for. The position that’s right for you will depend on a variety of factors including your personality, the aspects of nursing that you most (and least!) enjoy, and the kind of lifestyle you want to lead. Hopefully, it will help inspire and encourage you to take your nursing career to the next level.
Types of Career Progression
With so many different pathways available, it might be helpful to divide them into two rough categories: jobs that specialize in providing nursing services to a certain group of people, for example those of a particular age group or who have a specific health condition; and jobs that focus on a different aspect of nursing as opposed to direct patient care, such as management or education.
Direct Patient Care Roles
If you want to maintain a lot of time dedicated to providing face-to-face patient care, here are some great roles to consider:
Family Nurse Practitioner
A Family Nurse Practitioner, or FNP, is an advanced position where you can enjoy greater independence and autonomy in treating your patients. It involves running diagnostic tests, examining patients, developing treatment plans, monitoring health conditions, assisting with procedures, prescribing and administering medication, and educating patients. You can work in a variety of settings, including clinics, hospitals, and patients’ homes, and with people of all ages and backgrounds. You’ll need a Master’s degree for this role, but it’s possible to take an MSN-FNP online, so you can continue to work while studying.
Oncology nurses specialize in caring for people who have cancer, a role that’s extremely important given the prevalence of this disease in the US today. You’ll help to screen patients, administer treatments such as chemotherapy, manage side effects, and support those in your care as they go through fa difficult time in their lives. It often involves developing long-term relationships with your patients as they undergo treatment, so in addition to clinical knowledge, having good interpersonal skills and compassion is key. Certifications are available in this specialty for those who wish to advance further.
If you enjoy working with children, specializing in pediatric nursing could be perfect for you. You’ll work with patients from infancy all the way up through their teenage years, with an emphasis on education and disease prevention as well as treatment. Communication is key in this role, because kids can’t always verbalize their symptoms accurately. You’ll have to have plenty of patience, be a good listener, and have the ability to help little ones cope with scary medical procedures. There are plenty of options for further specialization within the role too.
Also known as a gerontological nurse, this role involves caring for the elderly and aged members of our society. With the elderly population increasing year on year, demand for this role is only set to increase. Typical tasks range from helping patients with daily needs such as washing and dressing, to administering medication, treating age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and addressing psychological issues such as loneliness. To succeed in this position, you’ll need to be patient, understanding, and have a cheerful and upbeat personality even when dealing with difficult patients.
For those with an interest in psychology and mental health, a position as a psychiatric nurse is a great option. This role involves working with patients of all ages and backgrounds, who have a wide variety of mental health conditions. These may include depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, anxiety, and much more. You could work in a number of different locations, including regular and psychiatric hospitals, prisons, specialist schools and care facilities, or mental health organizations. Good communication and interpersonal skills are musts, as well as flexibility, creativity, teamwork and emotional stability.
There are a huge number of health conditions that you can specialize in treating, and diabetes is a common choice – especially as the condition is becoming more prevalent. This role involves not only helping to monitor and treat those suffering from the condition, but also educating them and their families about the disease. You’ll teach people how to manage their symptoms by making changes to their diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors. After completing your Master’s in Nursing and gaining experience in the field, you can look towards becoming certified in this specialty.
Certified Nurse Midwife
As a nurse midwife you’ll be working with expectant and new mothers to help with pregnancy, labor and delivery. This involves performing regular examinations and checking for complications, as well as preparing mothers for the birthing process and staying with them throughout it. You will also support new parents after the birth of their child, for example by educating them about breastfeeding and caring for their new infant. A Master’s degree is necessary for this role, after which you’ll have to take the American Midwifery Certification Board exam to be able to practice.
Indirect Patient Care Roles
If you’ve been working as a nurse for a number of years, you might feel ready to move into a slightly different area within the field. Here are some suggestions:
Health Policy Nurse
Those who wish to create and facilitate change in healthcare would do well to consider becoming a health policy nurse. This important role involves reviewing and revising healthcare policies, laws and regulations to help improve patient safety, accessibility to healthcare services, and protection for both patients and doctors. You may also liaise with government officials on the topic of societal healthcare needs. A Master’s degree in Nursing is highly recommended for this job, or even a Doctorate. Communication, leadership, research and organizational skills are all also key attributes to have.
Nurse educators use their advanced knowledge and experience to teach and train the next generation of nurses. This could be in both nursing schools and teaching hospitals, and also involves designing, evaluating, updating and implementing the curriculum that is taught. You’ll need good leadership and communication skills, as well as in-depth knowledge of both the subject you teach and the art of teaching itself. A minimum of a Master’s degree in Nursing is required, but a doctoral degree in the subject might be of interest to those who want to specialize in university-level education.
Another side of academia that you might like to get involved in is research. As a nurse researcher you will be able to design and create research studies, gather and analyze data, and then report – and perhaps even publish – your findings. This role can be done in a hospital, medical clinic, university or research laboratory, and the results you find could lead to valuable insights that help to save lives. The recommended qualification for this role is a doctoral degree in nursing, as you need to be trained in research techniques as well as nursing itself.
Legal Nurse Consultant
If you’d like to try working in a rather different arena, a legal nurse consultant position might be of interest to you. These are registered nurses who consult with attorneys and provide them with expert advice on medical issues. This could involve conducting interviews, reviewing medical literature, identifying expert witnesses, providing testimony in court yourself as an expert witness, producing exhibits to be used in trials, and translating healthcare language for legal staff. You may work on cases such as personal injury, product liability, medical malpractice, forensic or criminal cases, civil rights, and long-term care litigation.
Chief Nursing Officer
If you have big ambitions for your career, chief nursing officer could be a great goal to aim for. This is a high up administrative and leadership role that involves a wide range of important tasks. These could include advising on best practices and ensuring standards are upheld, managing nursing budgets, representing nurses at board meetings, being involved in recruiting nurses, cultivating relationships across different departments, and facilitating the professional advancement of your nurses. In addition to a Master’s degree in Nursing, for this role you will need several years of managerial experience, and can expect to enjoy a correspondingly high salary.