It’s a great time to break into the field of nursing. With the demand for healthcare services growing, lots of organizations are facing physician and nursing staff shortages. Going to school for nursing can be a great investment that leads to a fulfilling career.
Nurses must be compassionate, adaptable, and able to work under pressure. The field can be demanding and often requires nurses to work odd hours, but it’s also extremely rewarding for those who are suited to the work.
Not sure what your options are for getting into the nursing field? Here are some of the different types of nursing degrees and careers to consider.
Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered nurses are the foundation of the nursing profession. They have a versatile skillset that allows them to manage many different aspects of patient care. RNs help patients with daily tasks like getting to the bathroom and changing linens, but they also administer medication, monitor vital signs, and coordinate care with doctors and other medical professionals.
Becoming an RN is a great way to build a career in the field of healthcare. Registered nurses work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, and correctional facilities. Many people start with becoming an RN, which requires an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and then eventually get the training they need for more advanced nursing certifications.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) and Nurse Practitioner
Advanced practice registered nurses have additional training beyond what’s needed for an RN. They can fulfill a number of different roles in the healthcare field. Some APRNs go on to become nurse educators or take on leadership roles.
Another path is to become a nurse practitioner (NP), which is a growing profession that is increasing access to healthcare for people all over the country. Nurse practitioners have advanced medical training at the graduate level and can provide many of the same services as physicians.
In some states, NPs and APRNs are limited in what services they can provide, or must have physician oversight to provide care. In other states, NPs have full practice rights and can provide preventative, acute, and ongoing care.
APRNs often specialize in a certain area of care or serve a specific patient base. Some of the possible specialty areas include pediatrics, psychiatric care, midwifery, and gerontology (senior care).
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)
Licensed practical nurses or licensed vocational nurses provide direct patient care and often report to RNs. They can help with necessary tasks like bathing and dressing, but they are also trained to collect samples, check blood pressure, and perform other basic medical tasks.
Becoming an LPN/LVN is a less rigorous process than getting an RN license. A certificate or diploma from an approved program (generally at a technical college or community college) is required.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
A certified nursing assistant is qualified to help with basic patient care tasks. Becoming a CNA isn’t difficult, as it’s an entry-level position, and they work in a variety of settings. Beyond taking an approved education program, only on-the-job training is required.
Without additional training and certifications, opportunities and earning potential are limited. However, becoming a CNA can be a good stepping stone for someone who wants to get into the field and gain experience.
Other Opportunities for Nurses
Within the field of nursing, there are lots of different career paths you can take, depending on your interests. Travel nursing, for instance, is an opportunity within the field that is growing as hospitals try to adapt to staffing inconsistencies. There are also less well-known career options such as legal nurse consulting, forensic nursing, flight nursing, and becoming a nurse researcher.
For nurses who want to get their APRN certification, there are lots of specialties to choose from. APRNs can become certified nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, or clinical nurse specialists (CNS) who work with specific populations or in certain settings, like the emergency room.
Choosing the Right Nursing Career for You
If you’re interested in becoming a nurse, it’s important to understand your options before you decide on the path that’s right for you. The opportunities open to you will depend on the level of education you’re willing to pursue. Anyone with the right skillset can become a nurse, regardless of gender or age.
Getting certified as a CNA or LPN is relatively easy. There are lots of openings for these positions and it’s generally easy to find work. However, if you want to eventually get more responsibility and make more money, you will need to earn an associate’s degree at a minimum and pursue an RN.
Beyond the RN level, there is currently an extraordinary amount of opportunity in the field for APRNs and NPs. Nurse practitioners are helping to ease the physician shortage and enjoy perks like better pay and more autonomy. An advanced degree opens up lots of career options and can set you up for leadership positions later on.
Do What You Love
Following your interests as a nurse is important. As you go through nursing school and work toward your degree or certification, take the time to explore different nursing career options and opportunities you might want to consider now or even later in your career. You can always go back to school later on if you decide you want to develop your skills, increase your knowledge, and specialize.