Exploring Your Nursing Career Options


By Megan M. Krischke, contributor

One of the great strengths of the nursing profession is the variety of career paths, specialties and work environments from which a nurse can choose. The opportunities available to nurses only continue to expand, driven by a number of trends.

For instance, the demand for nurses is growing along with an increasing number of patients: people are living longer with chronic conditions, the baby boomer generation is aging and health reform could potentially allow 38 million people to pursue more preventive care than they have in the past.  Additionally, new technologies are creating new positions for nurses.

From acupuncturist nurse to wound/ostomy/continence care nurse practitioner, the new book, 201 Careers in Nursing, outlines the basic job description, educational requirements and core competencies and skills needed for more than 200 different nursing roles.

“When we were compiling the list of nursing careers we stopped at 201, with the most common and most popular careers,” explained one of the book’s co-authors, Emerson Ea, DNP, APRN, clinical assistant professor at New York University College of Nursing. “But there are many opportunities above and beyond the 201. Our health care system is changing and creating more opportunities for nurses to assume responsibilities and increased leadership in health care.”

“There are a lot more opportunities for nurses to specialize and a lot of professional development around those specialties,” added Joyce Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Elizabeth Brooks Ford Professor of Nursing at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case Western Reserve University, who co-authored the book with Ea. “There is a focus on reducing medical errors and making sure patients are safe while they are in hospitals--this will require both more nurses, and more specialized nurses.”

“Because nurses are at the bedside, and know patients well, this emphasis on quality and safety of care creates opportunities for nurses to be at the forefront of the health care conversation,” Ea said.

Among the more unique careers included in the book are aromatherapist, cruise ship/resort nurse, veterinarian nurse, editor of a book or journal and missionary.

“The educator role is one that is growing and will continue to grow,” noted Ea.  “We all talk about the shortage of staff nurses, but that includes a shortage of nurse faculty.  We need more nurse educators to educate more nurses--this is an area with huge potential.”

Fitzpatrick mentioned that other areas experiencing growth are informatics--where nurses can combine clinical and information management skills--and the legal field, which has a need for nurse attorneys , legal nurse consultants and forensic nurses.

“Also in high demand, and among the highest paid nurses, are nurse anesthetists,” she added. “The majority of anesthesia in the United States is delivered by nurse anesthetists. Sometimes these nurses have their own practice and sometimes they work in collaborative practices with anesthesiologists. Positions as critical care nurses and nurse practitioners, depending on the type, are often financially rewarding. Nurse practitioners often provide primary care and even have their own practices, which can be attractive to some.”

For nurses who are looking for a career outside of direct patient care, there is potential for positions such as a public policy advisor, researcher, lobbyist or recruiter.  While some roles outside of the nurse mainstream may require additional education, nurses can also gain experience through volunteering or taking an entry-level job on a new career path.

“If a nurse is looking for a change, I’d recommend leafing through our book and seeing which competencies they already have that match up with different roles,” remarked Fitzpatrick. “Also, if you see a new role that interests you, you can begin to work toward building the needed competencies and obtaining credentials in that area.”

“In the midst of all these opportunities, the core of nursing--that we are a caring profession--is the constant,” reflected Ea. “Whether you want to work at the bedside, in the board room, or as an educator, the value of caring is embedded in all of them.”


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