Nursing can be a very exciting, rewarding career, but you will need to put in a lot of effort to see your goals through. Before you can make any advancement or any significant change to your career, after all, you’ll almost always need to go through training of some kind and then take a test to earn your license. All of that is before you even start the job-hunting process.
Though there are certainly more hoops to jump through with your career than other options, the fact that there are such straightforward training, testing, and licensing requirements means that it just takes time and dedication to get to your dream role.
The other reason why goal setting is so much easier in nursing is that the roles are clearly defined. You can then work in many different environments and still, for the most part, fulfill the same role. There will be differences and variations, of course, but in general, if you’re licensed to work in a certain role, you can work wherever that role is advertised.
There are some limits. States have their own unique set of laws that determine what your job as a nurse (particularly as you advance) will entail. In some states, you can own and operate your own clinic. In others, you’ll always need your work to be signed off by a physician or other MD supervisor. In some cases, you can write prescriptions. In others, you can’t. The rules are flexible in the sense that states are adapting their approach to help smooth over the physician shortage, but overall, if you want a guarantee of your privileges as a nurse, you will want to move in advance.
While many nursing colleges and education institutions are available to those living in multiple states, know that there isn’t a blanket option available for everyone. That’s why you must relocate if the type of work or even education you want is state-dependent.
In some cases, you can be a bit more flexible. Most states are in a pact agreement known as the Nurse Licensure Compact. The NLC or the upgraded equivalent, the eNLC, is a union of states that lets nurses freely move and transfer their licenses for job opportunities. If you aren’t in the eNLC, then transferring your license is a much more involved process.
That being said, you may not always want to operate within the eNLC. Some of the states that pay the highest wages to nurses aren’t in the eNLC (like California). If you wanted to earn the highest, going to the states that statistically pay their nurses more on average is a good choice. Do keep in mind that wages are typically higher because the cost of living is higher, so there will always be a trade-off.
If you’re a carer, and someone interested in medicine and science, then nursing in any situation is going to be a great career for you. It’s incredibly rewarding, and with so many ways to transition into the role, also an excellent second-career choice.
Regardless of whether this will be your first or second career, this guide will help you kickstart your efforts and streamline your career path so that you can become the best nurse you can be.
If You Need Work Fast
If you currently don’t have a job and need to get work quickly to support yourself or to get benefits, like healthcare, then there are a few nursing positions you should consider. If you don’t have much time at all, work towards a Certified Nurse Assistant certification. These only take a few weeks to complete, and once you have that, you can start applying for roles in care homes or hospices. There is a huge demand for carers, so the chances of you getting a job quickly are quite high.
If you have a bit more time, you can work on your Licensed Nurse Practitioner diploma, which takes around six months.
If you do have work, can take out a loan, or have a partner or even parents who can support you through a longer degree, however, know you can skip these roles entirely and work on becoming a Registered Nurse from day one.
Earning a BSN: Your Options
To become an RN you need either a BSN or an ADN. If you have any aspirations at all of progressing your career further, however, then you’ll need a BSN at one point or another. How you go about earning that BSN will be up to you.
You can earn your BSN full-time either online or on campus. If you’re already taking time off and don’t have any big responsibilities to juggle at home, do know you’ll typically have access to more resources on campus. Even being able to physically meet up with your peers makes a huge difference. On the other hand, learning online and remotely can help you keep your maintenance costs low.
The best way to kickstart a second career in nursing is with an accelerated degree. Accelerated degrees are only available to those who already have a degree. You’ll need to have a certain number of prerequisite credits already under your belt. This means those who have a BSc will have less additional work than those who earned a BA. If you don’t have any credits, get in touch with the admissions board. In some cases, you may be able to add the course to your program, or they may direct you to a community college or other institution that offers the course for college credits.
Part-time is a great option for those currently working or those with big at-home responsibilities, like kids. If you have a family member that you need to care for, you can usually get paid while also gaining essential work experience. You’ll need to apply for the carer’s stipend for your parent or loved one, which is done through the government.
Regardless of what home responsibilities you may have, a part-time degree is a good way to work around them and make progress with your goals. As you may imagine, part-time degrees take far longer than full-time ones. Just keep in mind that every little step forward is progress, and you’ll be fine.
ADN to BSN
You can, technically, earn your ADN in two years and be qualified to work as an RN. You may have a harder time finding work since states and employers are increasingly looking for BSN-RNs to fill positions. Aside from that hiccup, you also won’t be able to earn an MSN until you finish your BSN.
The good news is that you can fast-track through a BSN program. There are specific tracks designed for ADN-RNs. Rather than complete the same credits you have before, you simply take the BSN-specific courses you’re missing. In short, you split your BSN into two parts. The ADN takes around two years, and then you’ll work as an RN, and while you’re working as an RN you can then complete your BSN credits.
How to Further Your Career
Working as an RN is not the be-all and end-all of your career. It’s just the start. To start making waves and kick your efforts into gear, you’ll also want to explore your options on the job, invest in further training and academia, and then understand your options from there.
Unlike other careers, work experience is only going to take you so far in nursing. That being said, there’s a lot of value in exploring your options and getting as much hands-on experience as you can get. While you absolutely will learn a lot, and every titbit is going to help you, this time should also be spent working in different units, different roles, and even in different work environments. You need to understand where your passions in medicine and care lie, and also what work/life balance you need to enjoy a fulfilling life. Try out different things with these goals in mind, and you’ll also establish a great network that can help you later on. Don’t forget that networking works both ways, so look out for other people where you can too.
Lifelong learning is an essential component of any nurse’s career. In some states, you may even need to prove you’ve committed to so many hours of further training to renew your license.
The main reason why you’ll want to self-research at the start of your career is so that you can make yourself aware of the opportunities available to you that you cannot see right away. There may be unique positions in a larger hospital, for example, or changes coming thanks to a policy recommendation.
Earning Your MSN
The reason why you’ll want to spend so much time exploring and learning about your career options is so that you can then decide if and where you want to specialize. There are a few roles that are more all-rounded, like the FNP credential. Family Nurse Practitioners work in the same capacity as physicians do, and many states are even using FNP-APRNs to offset the physician shortage.
There are many unique roles for APRNs, with most locked based on what credentials and licenses you have. The MSN does take less time than the BSN, but you’ll want to be happy with your specialization choice at the start.
Expanding or Changing Your Credentials
While APRN is the highest tier of nurse, that doesn’t mean that you are necessarily done working your way up the ladder, either. You may see a huge gap in your skills that will make a big difference to your patients. If you operate a family health clinic, for example, but see a huge demand for acute care in your older patients, then you can expand your skillset by learning more about the post-master’s AGACNP.
Post-master’s certificates take around four semesters to complete and will make you qualified to take the NCLEX exam to expand your credentials and better serve your patient base.
Earning a Doctorate
The MSN, and even post-master’s certificate, are not the highest level of nursing credential you could achieve. While earning a doctorate in nursing is not essential for any role, it can help prepare you to take on a leadership position. Those who go on to earn the Doctorate of Nursing Practice credential are usually those interested in starting their own clinic, taking over as Head of Nursing, or even those working their way towards the Director position.
DNPs aren’t the only doctorate program that a nurse can earn. If instead, you wanted to become a top nurse educator, you’d want to work towards a PhD. There are other ways to become a nurse educator, of course, with demand resulting in many institutions offering special MSN programs for those who want to become nurse educators, but the top positions are still going to be dominated by doctorate-holding APRNs.
Making Your Career Your Own
Don’t ever assume that your career as a nurse has to look a certain way. It’s important to remind yourself that you have options every step of the way. Human health is your specialty, meaning you can work anywhere people are. The only hiccup is that you also need to work where someone is willing to pay you.
What this means is that you aren’t chained to healthcare institutions. You could move out of hospitals and clinics and work privately in many different capacities. You could become a school nurse at any level of institution. You could work as part of the health and safety team on a movie set. You can be part of the health team on a remote research expedition.
You can even move out of healthcare entirely and, instead, work in policy change, healthcare marketing, and so on. Your skillset is invaluable, so your career is adaptable to fit your needs, wants and priorities. It is this flexibility that makes it such a wonderful career to get started in today.