Career progression for nurses: inspiring ideas for taking your career to the next level

There are many reasons why nursing is a great job to have. It’s rewarding, gives you high levels of employability, and enables you to dedicate every working day to helping other people. Being a nurse also has the advantage of offering a wide range of opportunities for career progression, with plenty of niche areas in which you can specialize. This means you have the enviable chance to forge a career which genuinely matches your specific interests, skillset and circumstances.

Of course, having all these options can make it difficult to narrow down exactly what job to aim for if you’re just starting out in the field. This article will outline some of the main areas and roles that you might be interested in, as well as set out some questions to ask yourself in order to help determine which types of job might best suit your personality and strengths. Hopefully this will in turn inspire you to take your nursing career to the next level!

Choosing the right career path for you

Before we get into some of the specific roles that are out there, let’s talk about how to pick the right kind of career path for you. While there is no quick and easy method to find the perfect job, there are certain questions you can think about in order to help you figure out what’s important to you and what sort of position will best suit your preferences. For example:
• Do you want to work in a hands-on patient care role, or a job that has little direct patient contact?
• If you want to work in direct patient care, what sort of patients do you prefer to treat (e.g. children, the elderly)?
• What sort of hours of the day and days of the week do you want to work?
• What kind of healthcare setting would you prefer to be employed in (e.g. a hospital, clinic, school, care home)?
• What type of health conditions are you most interested in treating (e.g. mental health, women’s health, cancer, heart disease)?
• Are you good at working with numbers and data?
• Are you interested in teaching and training other nurses?
• Would you like a managerial role?
• Do you enjoy research?
• Do you enjoy public speaking?
• Do you want a job that provides the opportunity to travel?
• Do you have a graduate degree in nursing? If not, would you be willing and able to go back to college and study for a direct entry MSN program or similar high level qualification?

Another helpful tip is to make a list of all your relevant strengths and weaknesses, as well as the sort of tasks you enjoy doing and those that you would rather avoid if possible. This can make it easier to work out exactly what type of job role will suit your skillset, and also that you will feel passionate about.

Finally, once you’ve narrowed your potential options down to a few that you’re seriously considering aiming for, it’s always worth having a chat with someone who is already working in those roles. This will enable you to find out the reality about what those jobs are truly like, and also get some advice on how to achieve them. It’s ok if you don’t personally know anyone who works in those roles – you can always try reaching out to people online and asking if they’d be open to having a quick chat in exchange for a free coffee. You never know, you might just find a fantastic mentor this way!

Career ideas: direct patient care roles

For those who prefer working directly with patients and providing personal primary healthcare, there are a broad range of options available for travel nurse adventures. Most of the higher level job roles in this category involve specializing in treating a particular patient group or medical condition. For example:

Pediatric Nurse

This involves working with children from infancy all the way up to the end of their teenage years, educating them about healthy lifestyles and other relevant issues as well as treating a wide variety of healthcare conditions. The job requires a good sense of humor, lots of patience, strong communication skills, and a knack for making intimidating medical procedures feel less scary!

Geriatric Nurse

This role specializes in caring for senior citizens, and is only likely to become more important with the country’s population aging. It involves treating healthcare conditions related to aging, such as dementia and arthritis, as well as addressing psychological issues such as loneliness. The job requires plenty of compassion, patience, and a talent for staying upbeat.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

If you want to treat a wide range of patients in terms of both age and medical conditions, a job as an FNP could be perfect. You’ll provide primary healthcare services to people across the whole lifespan, with duties ranging from administering medication and running diagnostic tests to developing treatment plans and assisting with surgical procedures.

Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses specialize in working with patients suffering from cancer. The role involves conducting screening tests, administering chemotherapy and other treatments, managing the side effects of those treatments, and providing vital emotional support to patients and their families during this difficult time in their lives.

Psychiatric Nurse

For those with an interest in psychology and mental health, psychiatric nursing is definitely worth considering. You’ll work with patients who are dealing with all sorts of mental health conditions, such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, substance abuse and schizophrenia. Empathy, adaptability and creativity are all key skills to have.

Nurse Midwife

Being a nurse midwife involves working with expectant mothers to assist them through pregnancy, labor and the delivery of their babies. You’ll also continue to support parents after the birth of their child, for example by educating them about topics such as breastfeeding and childcare.

Nurse Anesthetist

In this role you will be responsible for administering anesthesia to patients before medical procedures, monitoring them throughout the surgery, and watching over them during their recovery afterwards. You’ll need high levels of attention to detail and strong analytical skills, and could find yourself working on both scheduled surgeries and emergency procedures.

Career ideas: indirect patient care roles

For those who would prefer a role that involves less face-to-face contact time with patients, there are still a multitude of job options available. In fact, in some respects the positions in this category are even more varied. For example:

Nurse Researcher

For those with an interest in science and data, a career in research can be very appealing. It involves assisting with or conducting your own studies before analyzing the results with the hope of gaining valuable insights. You’ll then write up your findings with the aim of being published in an academic journal, and hopefully improving patient care outcomes. Strong written communication skills are therefore a must. You could work in a university or research laboratory, as well as a hospital or medical clinic.

Nurse Educator

Another academic career path to consider is becoming a nurse educator and training up the next generation of nurses. You’ll need excellent communication and teaching skills, an in-depth knowledge of your subject, and a talent for inspiring others and getting the best out of them. These sorts of positions are available both in colleges and teaching hospitals, and also involve designing, updating and evaluating curriculums for different classes and courses.

Health Policy Nurse

If you are hoping to stimulate large scale changes to healthcare, a move into policy could be exactly what you’re looking for. This involves reviewing and revising policies, laws and regulations related to healthcare, as well as lobbying legislators to make improvements in fields such as access to healthcare services, patient safety, and protection for medical professionals. It’s important to have confidence, good communication skills, and high levels of organization for this role.

Legal Nurse Consultant

In this position you’ll use your nursing expertise within the legal field, consulting with attorneys and giving advice on a wide variety of medical issues as they relate to the law. This could be by translating healthcare jargon for legal staff, reviewing medical literature, or identifying expert witnesses for different cases. You might find yourself working on issues as varied as medical malpractice, product liability, personal injury, long term care litigation and even criminal cases.

Nurse Informaticist

Nursing informatics involves combining nursing with information science and computing, analyzing data in order to improve patient outcomes. The role can also see you helping healthcare institutions to implement new patient technology, for example by training staff in how to use them and monitoring the results of the rollout. Depending on the precise job role, you may be able to work remotely in this field.

Chief Nursing Officer

Those with big ambitions for their career should consider aiming for the role of chief nursing officer. This is a high level executive position in which you are responsible for a variety of leadership and administrative tasks such as managing budgets, overseeing the hiring and training of nurses, and attending board meetings. You’ll also be required to cultivate relationships across departments, advise on best practices, and facilitate the professional development of the nurses at your workplace.

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