Your nursing career can go far, far beyond what you may expect when you first start out. There are numerous options, from what specialization you can get into, to where you work, to even what context you work in. You can work directly with patients, you can provide health and safety for big events and entertainment, you can help on the other side of healthcare, and you can work to improve patient and health care. You can even educate the next generation of nurses.
Knowing your full list of options and opportunities is essential. It takes a lot of effort to progress your career as a nurse, but like with all occupations, the further you go, the more specialized you become. If you want to change career paths later on, it will be harder than simply applying to a new position and hoping that your existing qualifications will entice the employer to hire you. With nursing, you need the formal qualifications, and that could require further certification or a new degree.
Know all your options when you first start out, and not only can you choose the right online nursing programs to help you get to where you need to go, but you can also explore your interests and see what feels best. It’s the sure-fire way to choose a future that fulfills you, interests you, and compensates you accordingly.
Where Your Choice Begins: ADN or BSN?
Everything up until the ADN or BSN is straightforward and simple. There is nothing to customize because your role as a nurse in those positions is so limited. The same can technically be said of the qualifications that you need to become an RN, but in this case, you have to ways forward: The Associate Degree in Nursing or the Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing.
There are pros and cons of both options. The simplest answer is that it is better to earn your BSN. BSN-RNs earn more than their ADN counterparts and are also more likely to secure a position in any state throughout the USA. That being said, you could also earn your ADN, become an RN (and earn a higher salary) and then go on to finish your BSN. There are several BSN online nursing programs that will allow you to use what you have learned in your ADN to help you fast-track, though this will still typically take longer than just going for your BSN.
Specializing with Your MSN: What Are Your Options?
MSN online nursing programs allow you to really specialize in what you are interested in most. There are dozens upon dozens of individual options, so here are just a few examples.
Nurse practitioners are one of the largest demographic when it comes to being a nurse, which is why you’ll find so many great online nursing programs available. Their work is mostly hands-on, and they specialize either in a specific area of medicine or in a specific demographic.
For example, two popular types of NP options include:
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Adult-Gerontology, Primary Care
Clinical Nurse Specialist
Clinical Nurse Specialists are experts in a particular subject, whereas NPs are usually more specialized in a demographic. They work in more of a consultation role and work to improve health care delivery systems. They are often found in management positions and work with agencies and hospitals alike to improve and develop better policies and procedures.
Midwives are becoming increasingly popular, especially for first-time parents. They work and provide many of the services that doctors do, and can even deliver a child.
These anesthetists are infamous amongst nursing professionals for one simple fact – they earn the most. They are the nursing equivalent of the surgeon in this case, and in fact, often work alongside surgeons and dentists to provide anesthesia.
The Type of Nursing Work You Can Do
There are actually quite a few different ways that you can work as a nurse.
The first and most obvious way you can work as a nurse is direct with patients. This can be in a hospital, in a clinic, or even at a sporting event. The point is that your expertise will be used directly on another human being and that your care will often result in their physical (or mental) improvement.
You can work on the clinical side of things and aim to improve the state of healthcare overall as well as the health and wellbeing of your fellow nurses. Clinical Nurse Specialists often work in this role, and it is their expertise and hard work that helps improve the quality of healthcare across the board.
You can become a nurse educator once you earn an Ed.D. It’s similar to most other online nursing programs. In most cases, you will need an MSN and significant experience as an APRN. You may also often teach if you earn a doctorate of nursing. In these instances, rather than working with patients or in healthcare, you will instead be training up the next generation of nurses.
You can help researchers and scientists as they develop new medicines and treatments. In these instances, highly qualified nurses are often ideal, from administrating tests to noting down vitals. Here, you will technically be dealing with patients, but as it won’t be in a traditional healthcare setting, it deserves its own category.
Where Can You Work?
With these four main types of work in mind, you can work in many great locations. The best part is that most online nursing programs will make you eligible to work in these locations. Some roles are more suited for certain workplaces, yes, but you don’t actually need additional training beyond the online nursing programs you will already be taking.
The most obvious place to start is in a hospital. All online nursing programs require clinical hours, and those are most commonly carried out in this setting. You can think of it as your rite of passage. If the busy city hospital is too fast-paced, then know that smaller, more rural hospitals can be a great alternative. Not only will you be doing great work, but you can often enjoy a more calm work/life balance.
Clinics are an excellent choice of workplace, especially if you have decided to specialize in a specific demographic or condition. Not only will you often be able to keep more consistent, stable hours, you can also build a better rapport with your patients. In some states, FNP nurses are even eligible to start their own clinic, putting you in direct control and allowing you to build a community for your patients.
Satellite clinics are typically set up to help the most vulnerable in society. They will be where people, mostly homeless, can go when they need help or even just guidance. They are more approachable than regular clinics or even hospitals.
Around the World
Just as doctors can work on special missions around the world, so too can nurses. You can work on aid missions around the world and provide essential care, especially after natural disasters or for those who have been brutalized by war.
You could call yourself a travel nurse if you work as a humanitarian aid nurse, but the role also applies if you want to stay in the United States and travel around. Thanks to the NLC, you can go from state to state (in many cases) and take up positions as necessary. Travel nurses essentially fill in when there is a shortage. This could be because another nurse was sick, or on maternity leave.
Nurses can be found at concerts, on movie sets, at big, televised events, and more. They are there because either they need to be on-site in case a stunt goes wrong or to help in emergency situations if someone in the stadium gets hurt or gets sick. These are some of the most varied roles for nurses, as you can work anywhere from a stadium with thousands of people all the way to a movie set for a blockbuster film.
Rather than help the fans in the stands, you can work as a nurse and be part of a sports team. You will be there to check them over, improve their fitness, health, and recovery after an injury.
Your Own Practice
As stated before FNP-APRNs can actually start their own practice in a few states. It isn’t always an option legally, but it is a possibility worth investigating.
Nurses work wherever there is an employer that is ready to hire and keep them on staff. This could be a huge international corporation that believes in having an on-site medical staff or mental health nurse for their employees. It could be a deep-sea exploration team that needs a health expert on hand to monitor their staff. The fact is, wherever there is a need to stay healthy, there is space for a talented nurse.
What States Can You Work?
In many cases, if you want to move or work in multiple states, you will need to retake the exam in that state and to become licensed there. This is true for lawyers, doctors, and nurses. The only difference with nurses, however, is that you may be able to avoid the issue. This is thanks to the Nurse Licensure Compact, which has been continuously growing in member states since it was first created. Today the majority of states are part of the eNLF, with six other states and territories waiting to be approved.
That means that if you currently work in one of the 34 states that are part of the eNLC (the streamlined version of the NLC, which was implemented in 2018) you can simply notify the NLC of your intention to move to a new state, and have your license transferred over. This is very easy to do, and you don’t need to retake the exam in order to qualify.
This replaces many multi-state license requirements and makes it easy to move to a new state where you feel more at home or where you feel your calling.
If you do live in a state that is not part of the NLC, however, know that many states have individual agreements, meaning there may be ways for you to move without the full hassle, but it will depend on which state you live in, and which state you are moving to. The requirements vary drastically depending on your location and your destination.
There is also the very real possibility of your state joining the eNLC in the future, so keep up to date with the news. Many traveling nurses will use their privileges to explore the country and work where they are most needed as they go.
Exploring Your Interests
Knowing your options is the first step. It’s hard to want something, after all, when you weren’t even aware that it was an option. The options outlined in this guide are just brushing the surface as well, so for the sake of your career and future dreams, you owe it to yourself to really explore further. This can be done naturally as you study and complete your online nursing programs, but don’t just rely on what you learn in those online nursing programs alone.
Talk to your co-workers, to those in your industry, read nursing journals and news, and you’ll find that there are many roles available to you. Some may be new, like the option to become a telehealth nurse, and others might be some of the oldest positions in the world, like that of a midwife.
The only thing that matters is that you find something that you enjoy doing. You don’t have to like it every day, and it doesn’t have to put a smile on your face, but it does need to be interesting, and it does need to make you feel fulfilled. That sense of fulfillment is probably the biggest indicator that you are in the right position.