Exploring the Broad Spectrum of Nursing Careers
Nursing isn’t a career for the faint of heart, as it often requires grit. However, another equally important quality for excelling in the field of nursing is passion.
Determining what you're passionate about in the field of nursing may help you navigate the broad spectrum of specialties and disciplines. This may also help you to identify the steps needed to take care of others while doing what you love.
With numerous specialties to choose from, the prospect of identifying the best fit can be overwhelming 1. Ultimately, to understand a specialty, you should identify the main tasks a specialist performs in the line of duty.
To begin to narrow down your options, consider the following specialized areas of nursing:
- Direct support care
- Obtaining information for records
- Basic health assessments
- Educating patients
- Patient monitoring
- Medication administration
Nurses often perform several of these duties on a regular basis. For example, a registered nurse working in an emergency room setting may be responsible for obtaining patient information, assessing basic vital signs, treating wounds like cuts or scrapes and educating patients on their doctors’ orders and diagnoses.
Choosing Preferred Areas of Nursing
A second component of identifying and pursuing a specific passion in nursing is selecting preferred areas of medicine to work within. The general categories for areas of medicine include:
- Advanced Practice
- Women’s Health
Each of these areas of nursing has distinct frameworks. Emergency medicine can be expected to be a fast-paced field involving direct contact with a wide variety of patients and medical challenges while advanced practice nursing tends to be more structured, regular and focused on addressing particular health issues.
Subcategories of each area of nursing also exist. If you know you would prefer a structured setting, consider which subcategories of advanced practice nursing that may include. You may choose to focus on caring for a particular age group, such as children or seniors. A particular field, such as cardiology or orthopedics, may also suit your preferences.
Preparing for the Steps in Your Projected Career Path
Once you have identified a few specializations or disciplines you are passionate about, it’s time to begin taking your next steps. Each step may be an important part in your career path.
Volunteering or Interning
Before identifying a single career path in nursing, you should gain exposure to the everyday realities of specialties. Volunteer or intern in some of the settings and specializations you are interested in pursuing. Many academic nursing courses include programs to offer this sort of exposure.
Most nursing programs may offer a broad medical education to prepare for generalist nursing careers, like a licensed practical nurse. LPNs provide the most basic of patient care and are considered entry-level nurses. LPNs aspiring to grow their foundational knowledge and specialize in a particular area within the field of nursing can continue on to pursue additional education and board certification2.
Licenses & Certifications
In order to put your education and passion into practice, you typically need to be licensed or certified. Many nursing specializations require additional certifications beyond the basics of being a registered or licensed nurse. 3. For example, a surgical nurse needs additional certifications for the particular surgery he or she intends to work in, such as cardiac surgery.
Established, working nurses are required to complete continuing education courses, usually every two years4.
It is common for nursing specializations and certifications to require completion of a certain number of practical hours in the field. For example, to become certified as a medical-surgical nurse, you must complete 2,000 hours of active nursing in the specialty within a 3-year time period5.
Putting It All Together
The process of pursuing a nursing career may look different for each person involved. However, the basic process of following the steps described in this article reveal a similar pattern. Consider the following example:
It all starts with the desire to be a nurse. After volunteering and completing shadowing projects for school, you may come to the conclusion that you're specifically interested in working in a hospital setting, at which point you sign up for nursing school to become a registered nurse. One year into the program, you begin to take coursework related to hospital specialties.
After graduating, you may begin to gain clinical experience and realize you enjoy the specialization of anesthesiology and the many opportunities it may provide, so you continue to work and study through a nurse anesthetist program. Over time, you obtain the necessary licenses.
Several years into your career as a nurse anesthetist in the hospital, you determine that you would like to work with children specifically and push yourself to earn additional certifications over time. You apply for and accept a job as an anesthetist for pediatric surgery. Years down the line, you may find yourself serving as a clinical coordinator educating other nurse anesthetists.
In this hypothetical scenario, you set out with a few basic goals and later identify a general specialized area to work within. Eventually, you narrow that specialization down and earn additional certifications. By the end of your career, you have the potential to become so specialized in something you're passionate about that you may choose to help educate others in the field.
Charting Your Steps
What you may notice in the above narrative is that each step taken along your career path to specialized nursing may be a job in itself. Most nurses take years to complete each step6. Along the way, nurses often discover a lot about themselves, their skills and their preferences.
In preparing to take the next step in your process, it's important to keep adaptability in mind. Over time, a nurse should gain credibility and complete professional achievements working in the field. At every step, your plans have the potential to change.
Maintaining a Balanced Approach
The need for adaptability in nursing is essential for both success and navigation of the many specialties that a nurse may pursue. It’s important to both commit to a few specialties and simultaneously explore many options in nursing given that the medical field is so diverse and ever-changing.
To maintain a practical, balanced approach in a nursing career, you should set broad goals. You should also identify your preferences but remain open to furthering your education and broadening your experience. Each step of the way can have new opportunities to explore. Taking them as they come and staying passionate is elemental in excelling in this noble career.
1"Nursing Overview." Retrieved from https://explorehealthcareers.org/field/nursing/ (Visited 2/7/16)
2 “Additional Education.” Retrieved from http://www.learnhowtobecome.org/nurse/ (Visited 2/7/17)
3 “Special Certifications.” Retrieved from http://www.learnhowtobecome.org/nurse/ (Visited 2/7/17)
4 “Continuing Education.” Retrieved from http://www.allnursingschools.com/registered-nursing/learn-how-to-become-a-nurse/ (Visited 2/7/17)
5 "Nursing Specialties." Retrieved from https://nursinglicensemap.com/advanced-practice-nursing/nursing-specialties/ (Visited 11/15/16)
6 “Charting Your Steps.” Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/types-of-nursing-degrees-1736022 (Visited 2/7/17)