Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Are you a people person? Do you love to learn? Is health care a passion of yours? Nursing could be an excellent career choice for you. Nursing is in high demand and has huge potential for job growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is growing at a rapid rate.

As a nurse, you may work across a variety of settings and with different populations and specialties. In addition to nursing school and other certifications, you’ll need to possess critical thinking and communication skills, compassion for others, high confidence, and strong attention to detail.

Do you aspire to become a nurse? Read on for four crucial steps you’ll need to take in order to make your passion a career.

1. Choose a program and earn your degree

To become a registered nurse (RN), you’ll need a certain amount of specific nursing education. You'll need to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (four years), an associate's degree in nursing (2-3 years), or an approved nursing program diploma (2-3 years). There are also accelerated nursing degree programs across the country that allow people with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees and backgrounds earn their BSNs at a faster rate, as well as combined bachelor's degree/MSN nursing programs in which graduates earn both a bachelor’s degree and master's degree in nursing in a total amount of time that is less than it would take to earn the degrees separately.

Through all nursing school programs, students will gain clinical experience under supervision at hospitals, clinics, or other health care settings.

The median salary for a registered nurse with a bachelor's degree from an approved degree program tends to be significantly higher than that for nurses with an associate's degree or diploma. Additionally, there are many more jobs available for nurses who graduate from BSN programs than for those who don't.

2. Become licensed

After completing their nursing education and graduating from an approved nursing program, registered nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Depending on where you want to practice, you’ll also need to meet additional requirements, such as passing a criminal background check.

If you want to specialize in a certain area of nursing, such as neonatal, pediatric, surgical, and so, you will likely need to obtain other certifications.

3. Find a specialty and look for positions

If you decide to specialize in a particular area of nursing or with a specific population, as many nurses do, figure out your area of focus early on, so you can obtain the additional degrees, certifications, or licenses you might need. You can also decide to specialize after you’ve been practicing for a few years, because you might discover a passion for a niche on the job. Nursing specialties include:

• Neonatal: Work with premature infants, usually in a hospital setting.
• Critical care: Focus on critically ill patients with life-threatening injuries or illnesses.
• Health policy: Develop initiatives and laws to improve the health care sector in a non-clinical setting.
• Advocacy (nurse advocate): Represent the interests of patients and their families in clinical settings.
• Pain management: Monitor and administer pain medication.
• Psychiatric: Assist with monitoring the mental health and treatment of patients with psychiatric illness.
• Pediatric: Help children in clinical or hospital settings.
• Oncology: Administer treatments to and work with cancer patients.
• Geriatric: Work with older and elderly patients at hospitals, clinics, patient homes, and other settings.

There are many other nursing specialties dealing with a range of populations, locations, and services.

If and when you choose a specialty, you’ll be able to hone your focus for your job search. As with most jobs, nurses tend to find positions through a combination of networking and responding to job listings. It’s a good idea to join general nursing and specialty-specific associations that sponsor events and hold workshops, so you can meet other medical professions; colleagues can be an excellent research for you as you search for a position. Many of these associations have career counseling services, job postings, and job search websites as well. Reach out instructors, graduates of your nursing program, and peers for advice and leads. Search for job openings on nursing-specific job boards and other online nursing career sites as well.

Also consider alternative settings. While hospitals, physician offices, clinics, and nursing care facilities probably have the most positions available, registered nurses may work in a wide range of settings, including:

• Schools
• Camps
• Correctional facilities
• Courthouses
• Military bases
• Patients’ homes
• Missionary outposts
• Hospices
• Community centers
• Places of worship
• Colleges
• Laboratories
• Government institutions
• Outpatient care facilities
• Their homes
…and many other locations.

Given the wide array of facilities at which nurses may work, you could approach businesses, schools, and other places in your area to see if they could use the assistance of a registered nurse. You might be surprised at the response!

4. Advance in your career

If you possess good leadership qualities, communication skills, and judgement, you may advance to more senior-level positions, such as charge nurse, head nurse, or director of nursing, as you progress in your career. Many management-level positions required advanced degrees in nursing or healthcare administration, so you may need to attend graduate school to take on these responsibilities. Many employers will fund or partially fund their employees’ education.

You may also choose to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). In addition to their bachelor's degree in nursing, advanced practice nurses must earn at least a master's degree in nursing, and in some cases, doctoral degrees. Advanced practice nurses have a higher median salary than RNs. This group encompasses several subcategories of nursing, including:

• Nurse practitioners: Responsibilities for nurse practitioners include diagnosis, patient care and evaluation, and treatment. They may also prescribe medication. In many cases, they have full practice authority, although they may require a medical doctor’s signature for some decisions.

• Nurse-midwives: You probably associate midwives with delivering babies, but they also provide gynecological services, write prescriptions, and offer family planning education and counseling and care for newborns.

• Nurse anesthetists: In collaboration with other health care professionals, such as surgeons, nurse anesthetists take care of patients’ anesthesia needs before and after operations and other procedures. These duties may include performing a physical examination, educating the patient, administering the anesthesia, and overseeing patient recovery.

• Clinical nurse specialists: Blending research with practice, the CNS is responsible for providing education or advice on conditions and treatments. They generally work with specific populations, individuals, or specialties. A CNS practices in three major areas, or three spheres of practice: patient, nursing personnel, and health care system.

You may also choose to teach future nurses, advance to an upper-level administrative position, or focus on research about the nursing field and practices, in which case you’ll likely need a doctorate in nursing.

Nursing can be a rewarding and fulfilling career path. No matter what path, specialty, or location you choose, you’ll find a wide array of options. Nursing is a well-paid, high-demand, and rapidly growing field with high potential for job growth and a profession in which you can make a real difference in people’s lives.