Nursing is so much more than bedside care. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses take many of the responsibilities of doctors. They are the key point of contact for care. They have a team of nurses of their own, they have expert skills, and they can reach this point in their career without taking time off of work.
To be a doctor, you must attend medical school, spend years of your life prepping and training, often without the ability to work full time whatsoever. APRNs also require years of education and ongoing training, but due to the structure of their career trajectory, they can work and learn at the same time. For those who cannot afford to take a four-year pre-med degree, and then a four-year med degree before they can finally start working in a residency program, nursing is the next best thing.
Nurses are the most important part of healthcare, and with a national shortage, every step forward you make will be supported by the government and even your employer. Depending on how badly your employer needs an APRN in the specialty you are going for, they may even sponsor your education or help you pay for it in one way or another.
There are so many ways to move forward with your career once you have a BSN and are a fully-fledged Registered Nurse. If you need help deciding, these are the top eight options ahead of you:
Top 8 Career Pathways for Nurses
Though there are more specific roles of nurses, the main eight career pathways that you will want to work towards are the following:
1. Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners make up the majority of APRNs. Family nurse practitioners, in particular, are very popular and a great, rounded role to get involved in. They work directly with patients and provide advanced care. Some are even provided the ability to diagnose and write prescriptions. They are working to offset the shortage of physicians and help boost the overall health of those in their community.
2. Midwife Nurse
Midwife nurses work with expecting mothers from even before conception. They work alone or alongside a gynecologist. Many families are opting for home births, or, at the very least, want a dedicated midwife nurse to help them through their pregnancy. That is where you come in. You will handle a smaller number of patients, but be able to really help guide them through this happy time in their lives.
3. Anesthetist Nurse
Anesthetist nurses work in surgery rooms, in dentist offices, and beyond. They are a key member of any team and are the highest-paid nurses. On average, they will earn around $150,000 per year for their role (still far less than the highest-paid doctor, at $500,000). This makes anesthetists very attractive to aspiring APRNs, who want to be compensated well for their hard work and expertise.
4. Critical Care Nurse
Critical care nurses typically work in the ER and help save lives every single day. It is their fast thinking and quick hands that help patients in the ER. You will work with doctors to care for critical injuries. It is fast, it is demanding, and it is incredibly rewarding. Just as with Nurse Practitioners, there are many sub-types of critical care nurses.
5. Psychology Nurse
More are becoming aware of the importance of their mental health, and that there is no shame at all in seeking out help for their mental illnesses. Mental illness changes the chemical makeup of the brain. It is an illness like any other, and with more people recognizing this, the mental health sector needs to expand. Psychology nurses work in recovery centers and in mental health facilities to care for those with mental illness.
6. Nurse Educator
If you want to make the biggest impact on healthcare, then you will want to aim to become a nurse educator. You will need to earn an EdD, which is no easy task. It means even more years of education, but the end result is a great job as a professor. You will be directly responsible for training the next generation of nurses who will go on to save lives across the country.
They are paid decently well, around $80,000 per year, but the biggest draw is the work/life balance. Professors enjoy easy hours, summer, winter, and spring holidays, and today can work with students around the country and even around the world.
7. Nurse Director/Chief of Nursing
If you want to improve nursing, the quality of care of all patients in a single hospital, as well as provide support and care for the nurses working there, then being the nurse director or Chief of Nursing is the perfect option for you. Unlike other roles, however, these are very competitive. There is only one Chief of Nursing per hospital, and you need to work your way up to the role just like you would any executive position.
It can actually help to earn a DNP beforehand, especially if that DNP is more like an MBA in that it helps you improve your leadership and communication skills. After all, the Chief of Nursing isn’t just responsible for the wellbeing of nurses and patients, but for the department from a business standpoint as well.
8. Nurse Researcher
There are many roles you can fill as a nurse researcher. In general, you will be working with experts to devise new treatment plans and to test new cures. You can work alongside them and provide the supportive care to their patients, or you can work directly with them, for example, by drawing the blood or administrating the treatment.
You may work alone, with a team, or under the direct supervision of a medical doctor. Either way, you will be working towards making a better world for those with diseases and conditions that do not have a simple, effective solution. Not only that, but you can enjoy a much more consistent working life, so if you want a rewarding career that will have you at home at a certain time of day, this is an excellent choice.
Choosing Your Specialty
Even within some of these career pathways, you will have additional options ahead of you. Nurse Practitioner is a very wide umbrella, meaning you can specialize in an area of medicine that interests you the most.
For example, here are just a few of the options open to you as a nurse practitioner:
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- Cardiac Nurse Practitioner
- Oncology Nurse Practitioner
There are dozens, however, so you simply need to focus on the area of medicine that you feel most comfortable in, and that interests you the most. You cannot go wrong if you follow your passion.
How to Pursue These Career Pathways
In all cases, APRN roles need two things at a minimum. A Bachelor of Nursing and a Master of Nursing. The MSN, in particular, will need to be in the APRN discipline of your choice. Once you have those degrees, you will then need to take the state exam and subsequently apply to renew your license every two years or so, depending on your state.
When looking for degrees, it is important that they include the placement hours and are accredited by the right national bodies. Marymount University, for example, holds accreditation for both its Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
By looking for such accreditation, you know for a fact that the degree will allow you to learn what you need, and, more importantly, make you eligible to take the state exam. The MSN specialization and the placement will make you ready to start your new job as an APRN, though some roles will need a DNP and further work to achieve.
Exploring Your Options
That MSN can trip people up because you need to know what you want to do before you begin. With a BSN, you learn the basics. You are building a strong foundation that will help you later in life. With an MSN, you specialize. That is why if you aren’t 100% sure on what you want to do just yet, it is actually better to wait.
See if you can shadow different departments. Ask around the nurses that work with you to learn more first-hand what it is like to be that kind of APRN or to work in that area of medicine. You could even start reading medical journals and doing your own general research to discover what you are most interested in.
As you are working, you are building your expertise and experience. There is no problem in taking extra time to be 100% in the future ahead of you. If anything, it will help you far more than rushing into something that is not a great fit.
Be certain, be committed, and be the APRN of your dreams.