1. Career Advice
  2. Career Path
  3. Consider these nursing career paths
Consider these nursing career paths

Consider these nursing career paths

Artwork by: Alexandra Shevchenko

  • What is the typical career path for a nurse?
  • What are the different levels of nursing?
  • Which nursing field is in the highest demand?
  • 5 Popular nursing specialties
  • 1. Operating room nurse
  • 2. Emergency room nurse
  • 3. Neonatal intensive care nurse
  • 4. Pediatric nurse
  • 5. Family nurse practitioner
  • What type of RN is most in demand?
  • What else can I do with a nursing background?
  • Travel nursing
  • Outdoor industry
  • Natural medicine
  • Key takeaways

There are many doors open for those with a nursing background. We’ll tell you the most popular routes along the nursing career path.

Embarking down the medical career path leads many to the field of nursing. One of the most diverse career routes available, nursing allows people to use their skills in a variety of capacities. We will talk about some of the most popular career paths in nursing and why people choose them.

In this article we’ll discuss:

  • The typical career path of nurses, and the different types of nursing available

  • What kind of options RNs have in choosing a specialty

  • What you can do as an RN outside of traditional career routes

What is the typical career path for a nurse?

When most people hear the word nurse, the image they conjure up is likely that of a registered nurse, or RN. RNs are prominent in almost every medical setting. They are in charge of patient intake, following medical charts, administering medication, and so much more. If you have ever visited a doctor, you likely were first seen by a nurse.

To become a nurse, you must first obtain an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Some people enter higher education and go straight for this degree, other people might have a four-year degree in something else, and then add the ADN on top of it. Just as popular is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). 

Once the required education is achieved, aspiring RNs have to pass the licensing exam, called the NCLEX-RN. After earning their licensure, RNs can begin searching for entry-level positions. 

What are the different levels of nursing?

A registered nurse might be the most commonly thought of nurse, but there are actually quite a few other denominations of nursing. 

  • Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) will help with bathing, dressing, and assisting patients with mobility. They often work with long-term care settings and hospice or end-of-life care. Becoming a CNA usually only requires a short training program with a certifying exam. 

  • Nurse Practitioners (NPs) walk the midline between RNs and a primary care physician. They are typically seen as primary care in areas where there might not be a permanent one, such as rural towns. They can diagnose and treat patients. 

  • Practical Nurses (LPN) are licensed nurses with an educational background that's less rigorous than an RN. 

  • Nurse educators apply their skills to the education field. Typically coming from a background in medical environments, nurse educators help teach new-coming nurses while in an education setting. 

Which nursing field is in the highest demand?

Since the onslaught of COVID-19, RNs have been in consistently high demand. This is a result of an increase in patients over the last few years, as well as a rise in burnout among medical staff. Throughout the pandemic, many medical staff exited the field because of being overworked and undervalued. Expedited licensing courses began popping up out of a dire need for more RNs to fill the holes left behind. Even today, the medical world is still seeing a shortage of RNs. 

Our country’s largest demographic also includes a rapidly aging population, who will increasingly require care in their old age. Over the coming decades, the medical field is likely to see a wave of staff transitioning out of caregiver roles and into patient roles.

All of these combined factors lead experts to believe that the field of RNs is and will remain in high demand.

5 Popular nursing specialties

Once you are a practicing nurse, you will have many doors opened up relating to the type of specialty you choose. Because nursing is such a diverse and complex field, it’s common for nurses to pick a niche and stick with it. This is referred to as their specialty. 

Below are the most popular specialties that nurses go into.

1. Operating room nurse

Operating room nurses, or OR nurses, are the ones assisting surgical doctors during procedures. They ensure the safety of the patient during and after their operation, and might even assist the surgeon with small tasks and gathering tools. 

2. Emergency room nurse

Emergency room nurses, or ER nurses, work in the emergency level of hospitals and clinics, meaning they have one of the most fast-paced jobs of all nurses. ER nurses have to be quick thinkers and possess the ability to move from task to task swiftly. 

3. Neonatal intensive care nurse

NICU nurses work with one of the most sensitive demographics: critically ill newborn babies. This specialty is not for the faint of heart. It is also incredibly challenging because, after all of their training in nursing school, NICU nurses work on patients with miniature versions of the organs they are familiar with. 

4. Pediatric nurse

Pediatric nurses work with people between infancy and adulthood. During those ages, human bodies experience many changes. Because of this, pediatric nurses are tasked with understanding the nuances of the body through all of its stages. 

5. Family nurse practitioner

Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) are the nurse version of a family medicine doctor. They are trained in supporting all ages and stages of life, including preventative care, health promotion, and disease management. 

What type of RN is most in demand?

The RN specialty that is in the highest demand is ER nurses. The emergency room can expose medical personnel to patients experiencing a wide range of traumas. This exposure can cause ER nurses to have a higher turnover than other specialties. ER nurses will likely stay in high demand. 

What else can I do with a nursing background?

Nursing doesn’t have to be confined to hospital or clinical settings. Many RNs choose to pivot away from the traditional route in an exploration of new capacities to utilize their medical skills. 

Travel nursing

For those who want to continue working in the direct field of nursing, but in a new environment, travel nursing might be the perfect solution. Travel nurses typically make a higher wage than permanent nurses because they are asked to move around the country for short stints. There are also non-profits that accept volunteer nurses to practice nursing while traveling around the world. 

Outdoor industry

The outdoor recreation industry is perfect for nurses to transition into because many recreation agencies benefit from being able to offer on-site medical services. There is a wide variety of fields and outfitters to choose from.

Natural medicine

Natural medicine practitioners like naturopaths and acupuncturists are an excellent option for RNs to transition into while still remaining in a medical capacity. While both of those routes would require continuing education, having an RN background takes care of many of the prerequisites.

Key takeaways

  1. Nursing is one of the most diverse career routes available.

  2. The medical field provides many different opportunities for those with nursing backgrounds, allowing each nurse to cater their work environment to their preferences.

  3. RNs will likely always be a high-demand field. That means job security!

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