Nursing is one of the oldest jobs in the world. Since the earliest days of human society, we have needed empathetic and motivated people to care for the sick and injured, and we will need them for many years to come. Medical knowledge, technology, and treatments are evolving all the time, and a knock-on effect of this is that nursing has become even more varied and challenging. The potential career paths for nurses are numerous, as is the opportunity for advancement and higher earning potential.
The key to success and nursing progression lies in continued education and certification, which enables nurses to hone their skills and focus on their interests. Here are 15 of the possible career specialties and certifications available to Registered Nurses.
1. Hospital Ward Nurses
The majority of nursing graduates will begin their careers in a hospital. While doctors diagnose conditions and prescribe treatment, much of the daycare and support for patients is provided by the nurses. Hospital nurses will encounter patients from different demographics with lots of different conditions, and this provides graduates with a wealth of experience with which to kickstart their careers.
2. Operating Room Nurses
Patients are often in hospital for a surgical procedure, and an operating room nurse will provide care for patients before, during, and after surgery. This role requires specialized skills and knowledge of surgical techniques for a range of procedures. Many become certified as an operating room nurse to help patients prepare for surgery (which can be emotionally challenging). Some specialize in helping them recover emotionally and physically afterward.
4. Family Nurse Practitioner
A Registered Nurse who has achieved a Master of Science in Nursing and has been certified as a licensed Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) has autonomy and responsibilities which surpass those of a Registered Nurse. Typical family nurse practitioner responsibilities include examining and diagnosing patients (including ordering laboratory work), and prescribing medication and treatment. An FNP can work with patients of any age and can manage a private practice just like a doctor in some states.
Nursing Practitioners earn over $100,000 per year, on average, and are regarded as the most accomplished people in the nursing profession. If you like the sound of being a Nurse Practitioner but are interested in a particular demographic of patient or medical field rather than being an FNP, you can choose to specialize.
5. Cardiac Nurses
Cardiac nurses work with patients who have undergone or are about to undergo treatment and/or surgery on their hearts. This means that cardiac nurses can encounter patients who are outpatients, i.e., those being monitored because of previous cardiac issues or underlying cardiac conditions. Still, they can also work with patients who have had heart attacks and/or open-heart surgery.
6. Intensive Care Nurses
The Intensive Care Unit or ICU in a hospital is where the most critically ill patients are cared for. ICU nurses will, therefore, be working with patients who are close to death, which is a highly stressful environment. Patients require close monitoring so that early signs of deterioration can be identified and treated quickly. Making a mistake can have life or death consequences, so nurses need to be focused on their responsibilities. While the stakes are high, on the other side of this is that ICU nurses play a pivotal role in saving lives, and there are very few jobs that offer this level of reward and satisfaction.
7. Emergency Room Nurses
Another highly stressful environment for nurses in the emergency room. People are arriving at the emergency room all day every day, displaying minor injuries and mystery symptoms. At a moment’s notice, a critically-ill person or someone who has been traumatically injured can throw the day into a whole new gear. Emergency room nurses need to work calmly under intense conditions and prioritize patients based on their specialized knowledge of symptoms. The patients who arrive in the emergency room can be any age and from any walk of life. These nurses also need exceptional interpersonal skills to build rapport and give directions to distressed patients.
8. Psychiatric Nurses
Psychiatric nurses care for patients in hospitals, psychiatric institutes, outpatient clinics, or substance abuse facilities. Mental illness can affect people of any age and any background, and psychiatric nurses will provide emotional support, medication, therapies, and physical care, depending on the patient’s needs. Working in psychiatric care can involve managing aggressive and/or violent patients and those dealing with past trauma. These nurses need to be able to communicate with patients appropriately in these cases while understanding conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia.
9. Pediatric Nurses
Pediatric nurses care for children and young teenagers in hospitals and clinics either as inpatients or outpatients or in the child’s own home or school, depending on their condition. These nurses will specialize in recognizing and treating diseases prevalent in children and administering medication and vaccinations, supporting their recovery from surgery, and delivering treatment. Working with children requires a particular set of interpersonal skills and a natural rapport to help children and their parents to relax in a potentially stressful situation.
10. Hospice Nurses
Hospice nurses care for patients who are at the end of their lives while providing support for their families before and after their death. This can involve administering medication to manage pain and make them more comfortable during their final days, weeks, or months. Being a hospice nurse is a demanding role. It requires knowledge of specialist medications as well as the capacity to provide emotional support and guidance for people during an acutely difficult period.
11. Home Health Nurses
Nurses who provide care for patients in their own homes are known as home health nurses. When a patient is discharged from the hospital, but they still require care such as being on a ventilator, intravenous medication, or fluids and/or wound cleaning and re-dressing, a home health nurse will provide this. Home health nurses will travel to the homes of patients of all ages to enable them to live in their own homes. This can be preferable for critically ill patients who do not wish to stay in the hospital.
12. Labor and Delivery Nurses
Childbirth can be one of the most joyful times in a woman’s life, but it is also painful and potentially traumatic if the birth does not happen as expected. Labor and delivery nurses are there for soon-to-be mothers helping them manage the pain of labor, guide her through the process, and provide postpartum care for mother and baby after birth. Sometimes labor can become complex, and surgery is required, and sometimes difficulties can lead to a traumatic experience for mother and baby. This makes this role a potentially stressful one but helping women to deliver their babies safely is incredibly rewarding.
13. Neurological Nurses
A neurological nurse cares for patients who have suffered damage to their neurological system, e.g., because of a stroke, brain damage from an injury, or nerve damage. These nurses help inpatients (and some outpatients) to recover after trauma or disease reduces their cognitive and physical functionality. They are experienced in how the nervous system works and can deliver appropriate care with patience and compassion as patients try to regain their former functionality.
14. Oncology Nurses
Oncology nurses specialize in working with cancer patients in both inpatient and outpatient settings. An oncology nurse is trained in the treatment of several types of cancer and can deliver chemotherapy (often to outpatients) while providing emotional support and guidance. Cancer patients may also have to be hospitalized and/or undergo surgery as part of their treatment, and an oncology nurse would also support patients through this. Oncology certification is provided by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC).
15. Dialysis Nurses
A dialysis nurse cares for patients with kidney failure both inside and outside the hospital. When kidneys are not functioning, they are not cleaning the blood, which can have fatal consequences. A dialysis machine removes waste and excess fluid from the blood when the when the kidneys cannot, before returning the clean blood to the body. For some patients, the treatment is only temporary while the kidneys recover, but others may need a kidney transplant. Certification for dialysis nurses is awarded by the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC).
16. School Nurses
A school nurse is found in a school, college, or university and provides medical treatment and guidance to students. This may involve administering medication and treatment to children who are chronically unwell and have complex medical needs, as well as being on hand for minor injuries and first aid when required. School nurses usually work on their own and so should have a wide knowledge of pediatric care. In some cases, school nurses also teach the students about healthy lifestyle choices, practicing safe sex, and how to keep themselves as safe and well as possible. This role is ideal for a nurse who wants to make a difference and use their skills to benefit children without having to work in a hospital.
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