If you’re an aspiring nurse seeking a place in the healthcare industry, it’s essential to understand the nurse career path. This will help you identify the best route to your nurse career goals, and help you navigate the industry successfully.
In this article, we discuss the nurse career path, the different stages you will encounter, and provide tips to help you confidently navigate your journey and achieve your nursing professional goals. We will also cover some of the most popular nurse career paths as well as how much you can earn with a career in nursing.
Nurse Career Prospects: Why Is Nursing a Good Profession?
Nursing is a good profession because nurses earn a competitive salary and have a positive career outlook. Nursing is a vital organ of the healthcare system. It contributes significantly to patient care which can be fulfilling. In addition, you can work in a variety of healthcare settings as a nurse, from critical care to bedside care.
Nurse Salary and Job Outlook
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment growth rate for registered nurses is nine percent. In addition, the average annual salary of a nurse is $77,600. However, nursing is a large field, so the salary outlook can vary widely from position to position.
What Does a Typical Nurse Career Path Look Like?
Stage 1: Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are skilled at providing basic care in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. CNAs clean up the patient’s ward, check their vitals, and may assist them with daily activities such as feeding.
CNAs take directives from registered nurses to effectively execute their tasks. This is an entry-level position that requires four to 12 weeks of training, and you must obtain a state license certificate. The average salary of a certified nursing assistant is $33,164 per year, according to ZipRecruiter.
Stage 2: Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) focus on patient care. They dress wounds, provide personal care like bathing, and keep accurate records of a patient’s health profile. They also consult registered nurses on establishing effective medical care plans for patients.
LPNs work in healthcare environments, including nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. You need 12 to 18 months of training and a state-approved certificate or diploma to become an LPN. A licensed practical nurse’s average annual pay is $50,976, according to ZipRecruiter.
Stage 3: Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered nurses (RNs) provide a broad range of healthcare services, including conducting diagnostic tests and physical examinations, providing patient counseling, and organizing clinical settings. A registered nurse briefs patients on their health status and could offer emotional support.
Registered nurses team up with doctors and other healthcare providers to provide robust medical care. It takes two years to acquire an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and four to complete a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). RNs earn an average annual salary of $76,447, according to ZipRecruiter.
Stage 4: Nurse Administrator
Nurse administrators are management nurses who handle budgets and generate reports on financial issues. They work with health policy analysts to identify best practices in clinical settings. Nurse administrators earn an average annual salary of $87,016, according to ZipRecruiter.
Stage 5: Advanced Nurses
Advanced nurses provide specialty care. For instance, nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to ease pain during surgery. You may also consider becoming a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or certified nurse midwife.
Advanced nursing programs demand a bachelor’s degree and take two years to complete. According to ZipRecruiter, most advanced nurses earn an average annual salary of $115,245. Nurse anesthetists earn $187,809 per year on average.
Nurse Career Path: Important Milestones
Nursing career milestones are targets you can set to help you develop professionally. Though they vary for individuals, there are five essential career milestones for nurses listed below. There are many different degree paths for becoming a nurse, but these milestones apply to all levels of nursing.
- Get a promotion. A promotion pushes you up the nursing career ladder, which exposes you to new responsibilities and better career opportunities. It also boosts morale, job satisfaction, and engagement with work.
- Secure a leadership position. If you tend to organize and coordinate activities, you should consider a leadership role. For instance, a clinical nurse leader deploys their leadership skills to motivate other nurses to accomplish a task.
- Improve your communication skills. Nurses need solid communication skills for seamless interaction with patients, doctors, and other professionals. They utilize oral and written communication channels to deliver test results and update doctors on a patient’s health status. Writing and speaking are essential for providing the intended message.
- Optimize patient care. Patients are the heart of nursing activities. Providing quality care for patients can improve their overall well-being, in turn increasing your job satisfaction. For instance, nurses often consider personalizing health care to improve certain conditions some patients face.
- Become a nursing advocate. Nurse advocates put their patient’s needs first. You don’t need a degree to do this, but intentional communication with your patients can help you understand their needs. You can advocate by informing patients of their legal rights and helping them understand medical terminologies.
Planning Your Nurse Career Path
Starting out on your nurse career path can be daunting. Read on to learn some tips for planning out your nurse career path and reaching your nurse career goals effectively.
Identify Your Goal
The nursing field is broad and full of diverse job roles, including leadership positions. Understanding your professional goals will help you navigate the field effectively. For instance, a nurse administrator is a path to consider if you have a passion for budget management in a clinical practice.
This would also help you identify the right medical setting to achieve your goals. For example, certified nursing assistants are common in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, while registered nurses are frequent in hospitals.
Earn a Degree
Your desired nursing profession dictates the particular nursing degree you will need.
It is possible to earn a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) online, though you need to fulfill the clinical requirements in a community healthcare center. You can also opt for an advanced degree, but a BSN degree is a good place to start.
Nursing programs are popular channels that merge classroom instruction with clinical training. Some degree paths can put you to work sooner, as nursing students can become RNs in about two years through an associate’s degree program. With such programs, you can get your nursing degree fast.
After completing your nursing education, getting licensed demonstrates that you have practical nursing skills. Additionally, many states require licensure for nurses to practice. You can take a state competency exam to obtain a state license for entry-level positions.
Advanced positions require you to take the national council licensure exam (NCLEX). There are national certifying bodies in your professional line, like the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB), that organizes the NCLEX.
Apply for Jobs
To apply for nursing jobs, prepare your resume with relevant nursing experience and credentials and then align them with the job description. You should include contact details like your email address, as it will enable potential employers to contact you. Next, you should seek care nurse job postings or other job openings online via job search platforms like LinkedIn.
Once you submit your application, you may need to be patient. Generally, you may wait a week and send a follow up email or call to confirm the status of your application. During this time, you can begin preparing for your nursing interview.
Be a Lifelong Learner
The healthcare industry is constantly evolving with new treatment methods and technologies. Staying knowledgeable about the modern-day healthcare space requires updating and educating yourself with new information, which leads to a boost in your nursing career.
You can advance your career with education courses. Though they usually come up every two years, your state nursing board will have more information about a course and its requirements. Additionally, earning certifications or advanced degrees, such as a graduate degree, is relevant to specializing as a nurse.
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Popular Nursing Career Paths
|Career Path||Skills||Average Salary||Job Outlook|
|Nurse anesthetist||Postoperative care, airway management, advanced cardiac life support||$187,809||45%|
|Occupational therapist||Communication, organizational, and problem-solving skills||$96,357||17%|
|Medical and health services manager||Problem-solving, interpersonal, and communication skills||$64,538||32%|
|Massage therapist||Knowledge of techniques, people skills, pathology and sanitation||$59,879||32%|
|Medical assistant||Vital sign measurement, phlebotomy, medical terminology||$32,896||18%|
Next Steps for Aspiring Nurses
Aspiring nurses should consider beginning their nursing career path as a certified nursing assistant. Next, they should consider moving up the nursing career ladder with more qualifications, which means more job opportunities and higher pay. For instance, a nursing assistant can enroll in an associate degree program for licensed practical nurses.
Additionally, you can combine your passion for nursing with administrative roles like nurse administrator or chief nursing officer by acquiring the relevant skills and degrees. You could also consider becoming a specialist nurse.
Nurse Career Path FAQ
The most in-demand nurses include travel nurses, nurse researchers, oncology nurses, intensive care unit (ICU) nurses, nurse educators, and pediatric nurses. However, there is substantial demand for nurses across the nursing profession. In fact, the industry is still recovering from the nursing shortage created by the pandemic.
The program length to become a nurse depends on your area of specialization. For instance, it takes a minimum of about 16 months to become a registered nurse, but specialist nurse positions like a nurse anesthetist may take up to eight years. Overall, there are various nursing career paths available to people with different education levels.
Certified nursing assistants don’t need a college degree to work, but a diploma or certificate in any CNA program is highly relevant. For other roles, an associate’s, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or Master of Science in Nursing degree is required.
Some of the highest-paying nursing jobs include certified registered nurse anesthetist, neonatal nurse practitioner, cardiac nurse practitioner, orthopedic nurse practitioner, oncology nurse practitioner, and general nurses.
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