How to Navigate a Nursing Career: the Complete 2022 Guide

Nursing is a vocation perfect for those who are naturally empathetic, hardworking, and above all, carers. When you find yourself naturally falling into the position of caring for others, know that a career as a nurse can be just the ticket towards a rewarding, fulfilling career. The career itself, however, has many different avenues to take.

From how you progress through your nursing education to how you direct your career, there are many roles and many ways that you can use your nursing education and experience to find the perfect place for you.

Is Nursing a Right Fit for You?

To understand if nursing as a career is a good fit for you in the first place, it’s important to understand the difference between nurses and doctors. You should look at minimum love to help others and also have a keen interest in medicine and science. With those two characteristics, however, there are still two big routes ahead of you.

That’s why you need to know the difference. Nursing can be very well paid and can be far more accessible than the doctor route, but at the end of the day, the difference is far more fundamental.

Doctors help others by focussing on the medicine and science side of care; nurses help others by focussing on the patient side of care. It is for this reason that nurses are at the forefront of care and have played an instrumental role throughout history both in terms of inspiring better procedures and caring for patients both in acute and in recovery care.

If you are someone that believes that the holistic, patient-side of medicine is the right approach towards care and treatment, then nursing is perfect for you. The good news is that it is easier to get started, allowing you to start making a great wage helping others.

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How to Get Started in Nursing

There are many ways to get started as a nurse because there are many different nursing roles. One key thing to remember when you first start out, however, is that the nurse role that we all think about when we hear the word “nurse” is that of the Registered Nurse. To become an RN, you will need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In the past, you could also go for the Associate’s Degree in Nursing, though this option is being phased out around the country, as more states place greater emphasis on potential RNs earning the full BSN.

With a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

If you currently have a job that supports you well, then taking on a BSN part-time is a great way to work towards your second career in nursing. If you have the means to take on that same BSN full-time, then go for it. Not only are there full-time BSN degrees, but you can also look for integrated degrees.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

These integrated degrees do not allow you to earn the MSN that would qualify you to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. Instead, you can earn an integrated degree and earn both your BSN and also a master’s in a nursing specialty, like Clinical Nurse Leadership. Though you would need to go back and earn that MSN later in order to progress higher as a nurse, if your goal is to work in administration or more behind-the-scenes to help healthcare and patients across the board, an integrated degree like that can be the perfect option.

Working Your Way Up in Nursing

Working your way up in nursing is much different than working your way up through other careers. For one, there is an education qualification requirement before you can advance your career at every step of the way. You can get started with just a few weeks of training, yes, but to progress further into nursing, you will need to continue to earn qualifications.

With the exception of the Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and then any Doctorate degrees you may earn, which will require you to have the degree below it before you can enroll, other qualifications can be earned at any time.

You don’t have to become a Certified Nursing Assistant before you can become a Licensed Nurse Practitioner, for example. You can also go directly from working as a CNA and then complete your BSN and immediately qualify as an RN once you take the state exam.

Working your way up, as in, taking on the role of either Certified Nursing Assistant or Licensed Nurse Practitioner, is optional but a good option for those who currently don’t have a job but do need the benefits and financial support before they can start working towards their BSN.

Certified Nursing Assistants only require a few weeks of training and commonly work in care homes and hospices. Licensed Nurse Practitioners work underneath Registered Nurses, and their role requires around six months’ worth of training before they can get started.

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Finding Your Specialty

Working your way to becoming a Registered Nurse doesn’t require a lot of introspection. You don’t need to be able to answer what your ultimate dream role in nursing is to become an RN. The only question you need to answer at that stage is what route is best for your situation.

If you don’t already know at this point how you want to progress with your career, use these steps to help you decide on which specialization you want to pursue. Once decided, you will then want to either find an MSN or a BSN to DNP program that helps you achieve your goals.

1. Explore Your Interests and Passions Within in the Medical Field

Read medical journals, watch documentaries, shadow or work in different units, and generally try to explore the different medical fields. You don’t need to pressure yourself to learn about a field of medicine you just don’t find interesting, and similarly, you are allowed to focus on a demographic you are passionate about.

There are so many people out there who need medical care and attention, and you focus on what science interests you the most and also who you want to help the most means that you can give better care to those who need it. We are all different, but being our best selves is how nurses, and their patients, get better quality care every day.

2. Be Honest About the Work/Life Balance You Need

Some thrive in high-pressure situations. Others need a consistent routine in order to do good work and enjoy themselves. Don’t ever feel pressured to put yourself in a work/life balance that does not support you. If you feel stressed and like you cannot get a handle on your stress, the issue will likely just compound.

There are more than enough roles and job openings out there for you to find the work/life balance that suits you. Remember, boredom can also cause stress just as much as feeling overwhelmed, so finding the perfect balance will help you pick the right career path for your future.

3. Take Your Time

You aren’t in a rush. There isn’t a timeline you need to adhere to. If you aren’t sure of what you want to do next with your nursing career, then the work that you are doing right now as an RN is still important.

Doing the same thing, however, isn’t going to help you make any big decisions. To help you decide how you want to advance your nursing career, or if you want to advance it at all, you need to get out there and explore. Work in different units, in different settings, and with different people. You can do the same role in the same type of workplace and have two very different experiences simply due to who works there and how it is managed.

Finding the right place for you is a journey, and it isn’t going to stop when you enroll in an MSN. Continuing said journey is how you always make the best decisions for yourself, and the best way to take the said journey is to actively get out there and try new things for your career.

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Retraining: When and How to Specialize in a New Nurse Role

Don’t feel like you are trapped in the path you have chosen for yourself. You always have options. Retraining doesn’t mean starting from scratch. If you already have your MSN or higher qualification, then you can easily retrain and recertify with a post-graduate certificate. What these certificates do is allow you to fast-track an MSN certification. Rather than complete all the same standard credits, you instead invest in just the ones that allow you to learn and become qualified to work in that new role. Why you would want to recertify varies. Perhaps you found a new passion, or perhaps your state has recently begun to offer full autonomy for Family Nurse Practitioners, meaning that you can now start to operate and manage a clinic of your own.

Online Nursing Degree

There are some universities that specialize in these post-graduate certificates. You can earn a post-masters FNP certificate from Carson-Newman University Online and benefit from a part-time, online degree that has been designed specifically for working nurses. It takes two years or less, depending on how fast you work and how many credits you take on at a time, with each of the eight credits taking 15 weeks.

Like every nursing program, there are residency and in-person training, but these are handled on your behalf, so you don’t need to look for your residency yourself and can instead enjoy professional placement. With small class sizes, personalized support, and a great new job role, earning that post-graduate certificate can be just what you need to fall back in love with your job and your future.

Looking Beyond Healthcare

Some nurses are happy to continue to work within the healthcare sector their entire careers. Others find themselves burnout out and needing a change of pace. There are so many ways that you can take your career further and so many ways you can use a nursing degree. Understanding what you can do outside of the healthcare and even the different workplaces and job roles within the sector can ensure that you always know the best next step for your career.

It’s natural to get tired the older you get. It’s normal to need a change of pace, new scenery, new options. No matter what you do as a nurse or with your nursing experience, you will be helping people, so don’t worry about letting anyone down.

You could go into education, for example, and be part of the team educating the next generation of nurses. You could switch from healthcare into healthcare research and care for either the clinical patients or even work alongside scientists to develop new treatments, diagnosing tools, and more.

You can get out of healthcare entirely and help others by advocating for better care paradigms and policies. You can take your work as a nurse private and offer personalized services to your patients.

There are so many incredible ways that you can look beyond traditional roles in nursing and truly find your stride. Your options, of course, will depend entirely on where you are located. In some states, you can open your own practice; in others, you need oversight from a physician for almost everything.

The rules are always changing, especially as more states and legislators are turning to APRNs to help fix the physician shortage.

Just because there is that shortage, however, does not mean that you should ever feel pressured to stay in a role that is not a good fit for you. You deserve to work somewhere you feel supported and in a field that interests you. With the rise of telehealth as well, there will be even more opportunities for you to find the perfect job role and be able to live in your dream home, in a town or city that feels like home.

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