hen it comes to helping others, giving back, and making a real difference in the world, there is no role that does this more consistently than nursing. Nurses are the backbone of healthcare and, as a result, are the backbone that holds society upright. They have gone above and beyond during the pandemic and continue to provide exemplary work even in difficult situations, all for the sake of their patients.
Nurses are considered one of the most trustworthy professions, and nursing as a career route has come so far from its early days. No longer is it a field-trained position or a supportive role. Today, advanced practice registered nurses can operate almost as independently as some primary care physicians. The level of education has gone from a certificate to an associate’s degree to full-scale degrees.
You can earn a bachelor’s in nursing, a master’s in nursing, and even a doctorate in nursing. With the arrival of telehealth and the natural expansion of healthcare and its roles, there is an increasing number of ways that you can progress through your career and customize it to suit your needs and goals.
You don’t have to work in an ER, where it seems like you face daily life-or-death situations. You can take your nursing career out of hospitals and into universities or entertainment or sports. Also, you can work as an educator, a nurse, a researcher, and so much more.
Navigating nursing can feel daunting when there are so many options ahead of you, but knowing these options at the start of your career can help you make smarter personal investments and better decisions about your future.
To help you navigate your burgeoning career as a nurse, this career guide will help you get started:
The Push for Degrees
There are certificates, and you can even earn an Associate’s Degree in Nursing instead of a BSN in order to become an RN, but the days where this will be an option are dwindling. Associate’s degrees are one of the first education options offered to nurses in the 20th century, but they have been losing popularity and are being pushed out.
The only instance where you would earn an ADN is if you immediately intend to continue with your BSN. You can often transfer credits and fast-track through a BSN when you have an ADN. The benefit of doing this is simple: it allows you to work as an RN and earn a higher wage sooner, though the overall time it takes you to finish your BSN will take longer.
The push for higher education doesn’t stop there. There is also talk of requiring APRNs to earn not just an MSN but also a doctorate degree in nursing. This hasn’t been finalized yet, and it likely won’t be necessary for all APRN roles, but this is just one additional factor to consider when it comes to training through your career.
There are many excellent specializations you can choose from as a nurse, and many of them can be built on as time goes by.
For the most part, you will need to earn a formal qualification in order to be certified and to hold certain titles. If you want to become a family nurse practitioner, for example, you will need an online nurse practitioner program that specializes in family care. The MSN in question will help you understand the causes and factors that impact health and increase your knowledge in pharmacology, pathophysiology, patient assessments, treatment methods, and research skills.
There are some cases where work experience is enough. To become a cosmetic nurse, for example, you will need to be a fully qualified nurse and to work for at least two years in the field under the supervision of someone like a plastic surgeon or other established aesthetic nurse. You will then need to apply and use that experience as well as recommendations.
Even in this second example, you will need formal qualifications. Cosmetic nurses have, at least, a BSN and are practicing RNs.
APRN roles, however, will universally need either an MSN or a post-graduate certificate. The difference between the two is the foundation of knowledge. You will need an MSN already to earn that post-graduate certificate, as it skips the foundational knowledge from an MSN and delves directly into the information you need to add a new specialization under your belt.
Your Education Track
There are many different ways you can learn and advance your skillset and qualifications as a nurse.
There are certifications at all levels of nursing. When you first start out, you may be interested in the Certified Nursing Assistant qualification, whereas when you are already an APRN, you may want a post-graduate certificate. Certificates prove your knowledge and skillset in an area of medicine, but they can also be used to note that you can use a new tool or have the ability to treat a specific disease or patient type.
The Associate’s Degree
As stated, the Associate’s Degree used to be the go-to degree option for nurses and, in fact, was the only option for a long time. The BSN, however, has come to replace it and is the recommended option today across the country.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
The BSN is an undergraduate degree that you can either complete full-time or part-time. It covers general and foundational knowledge, so you don’t need to worry about specializing just yet. Once you graduate, you will be able to take the state exam and earn your RN license.
Master of Science in Nursing
The MSN often comes included with a specialization, as APRNs specialize in a particular field of medicine or work with a specific demographic. There are so many different ways you can take your field with your MSN. If you already have an MSN, then that post-graduate certificate will be how you specialize further or in new fields.
Doctorate in Nursing
Earning a doctorate will make you into a doctor, though you won’t be able to simply use the title. However, you will be a doctorate-holding nurse, which will put you above others in your field and help you truly stand out as a leader in medicine.
You can work in a variety of locations. In fact, you can work anywhere so long as there is the budget to hire a medical team. You can work in any industry and on big and small projects alike. Your job is human health, after all, which means wherever people are, you are needed. Not everyone will be able to afford to have a nurse on board, but that doesn’t mean your career options are limited.
Working in healthcare can mean a lot of different things. You can work in hospitals, clinics, remotely, as a travel nurse, and so on. There are many nursing roles open and available within the healthcare industry, so it is up to you to be honest about the work/life balance you need. If you thrive for the thrill of healthcare and love your job, you’ll be a lot happier working in a hospital than someone who needs a stable set of hours that a clinic can offer.
There is no right or wrong answer to where you work within healthcare, so choose based on your energy levels, your interests, and your goals.
Healthcare research is very important, and working within research means that you can be part of the team that brings forward a whole new treatment method, a whole new vaccine, or even helps improve diagnosis and understanding of a rare disease. You will be working likely with patients in this field and offer support and take measurements that scientists will then use to help understand and improve their methods and findings.
You can work as an educator and train the next generation of nurses. One of the biggest issues in increasing the number of nurses is the lack of open spots available in nursing education. This has become much better since online degrees have become normalized, but there is still a bottle-neck situation when it comes to training. By earning an EdD, you can become a nurse educator and help more students learn what they need to make a difference in the world.
You can work at events, with sports teams, on movie sets, as part of research expeditions, as the go-to on-site nurse on large construction projects, and more. Large projects and fields that are very lucrative often benefit from having an on-site medical team, particularly if there is danger (in the form of stunts, construction, and so on). Short-term, high-budget projects in particular often have nurses on-site to improve health and safety features and to provide emergency first aid to help minimize risk and impact.
The enhanced nurse licensure compact is an agreement between a majority of the states that allows nurses that have been trained and licensed within these states to easily transfer their license. They can then work in a new state rather than retaking the licensing exam and becoming licensed in two states instead.