Career progression for nurses: how you can take your job to the next level

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Working as a nurse can be extremely rewarding, as you help to improve the lives of your patients every day and make a real difference to your local community. It’s also a field in which the job prospects are very strong, because healthcare professionals of all kinds will always be in high demand. In addition, nursing is a very varied and interesting sphere in which to work. This is due to the fact that there are so many opportunities to continue your education and move up into more specialized and advanced roles. Plus, with the increasing availability of online nurse practitioner programs, leveling up your career has never been more convenient.

This diversity of job roles can leave nurses who are newly qualified feeling a little bit overwhelmed however, and unsure of exactly what choices are open to them and which pathway they want to take. To help you out, this article will outline some of the different career opportunities available and give you some advice on how to decide which route is the right one for you. Hopefully, this will inspire those nurses who are just starting out or who are feeling stuck in a rut, and get you excited about all the possibilities that lie before you. Once you have a better idea of what to aim for, there are also some tips at the end for how to study for online nurse practitioner programs alongside your existing work commitments.

Different types of career progression

Before starting to look at some of the specific job titles out there for nurses, it might be helpful to give a broad overview of two different categories of positions you can choose between. This can be a useful first step in narrowing down your options after graduating from online nurse practitioner programs. The categories in question are direct patient care roles and indirect patient care roles. The former involves working in a face-to-face capacity with those in your care, whereas the latter involve providing other kinds of nursing services that help people without interacting with them directly. Of course, there is often some overlap between the two, but the percentage of time you spend with patients can differ drastically depending on the job role you choose.

Direct patient care roles

When it comes to roles involving direct patient care, the main questions to ask yourself are what sort of people you would like to work with and what type of health conditions you would like to treat. One of the great aspects of taking online nurse practitioner programs is that many have specialist tracks which allow you to focus on the specific areas that you’re passionate about, helping you prepare for the exact job you want.

For example, those who enjoy working with young patients from infancy all the way through adolescence might like to consider becoming a pediatric nurse. This requires plenty of patience, strong communication skills and a good sense of humor. You’ll also need the ability to help reassure children and their families when they have to undergo scary medical procedures.

At the other end of the scale, you could become a geriatric nurse and work with elderly patients. This involves helping seniors with daily tasks, treating diseases related to aging, and assisting with psychological concerns such as loneliness. The ability to stay positive even when dealing with difficult people is a must for this role!

Other options include focusing on a specific health condition rather than a certain patient population. For instance, you could become an oncology nurse and specialize in treating patients who have cancer, or a cardiovascular nurse and work with those who have heart conditions. Alternatively you could become a psychiatric nurse and help people who are suffering from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or addiction.

Finally, you could make your decision based on the location that you want to work in after graduating from online nurse practitioner programs. This could include for instance becoming an operating room nurse and assisting with surgeries, or an emergency room nurse treating those with trauma and injuries. Another option is to become a travel nurse and work temporary jobs in different places all across the country or even the world.

For those who know that they want to work directly with patients of all different ages and with all different health conditions, becoming a family nurse practitioner is a great choice. An FNP provides primary healthcare to a broad range of people, building close relationships with the local community at the same time.

Indirect patient care roles

For those who would prefer to move into indirect patient care roles after their online nurse practitioner programs, the options are surprisingly varied. This means you have the opportunity to combine your passion for nursing with any number of other skills and interests in order to create your ideal career.

For example, if you thrive in an educational environment and are talented at teaching others, you could consider becoming a nurse educator. This involves training up the next generation of nurses, either through online nurse practitioner programs or clinical classes held in person, and also designing curriculums and assessments.

Another pathway related to academia is that of a nurse researcher, where you can design and run research studies in order to gather and analyze data that could improve patient outcomes on a large scale. Those who enjoy working with data and numbers could also consider looking at nursing informatics, where you use your problem solving and analytical skills to implement and evaluate new patient care technology.

One other interesting role to consider if you’re confident and passionate about social justice is becoming a health policy nurse. In this role you review and revise healthcare laws and regulations, lobby legislators, and sit on relevant committees in order to try and bring about positive change in the industry. Alternatively, you can move into the field of law after online nurse practitioner programs and work as a legal nurse consultant. This involves providing expert advice on a variety of medical issues as they relate to the law, for example by identifying expert witnesses, translating legal jargon, or conducting interviews.

Finally, the most ambitious nurses out there might be interested in using what you learn on online nurse practitioner programs to move into an executive leadership role such as chief nursing officer. This requires you to take responsibility for a number of administrative and management duties such as budgeting, hiring, and training of nurses, and ensuring that the highest standards are met in the healthcare facility in which you work.

How do I decide which career path is the right one for me?

This is very often a tricky question to answer regardless of the industry that you work in, and many of us change our minds about the career path we wish to take more than once during our working lives. Luckily retraining is much easier now compared to the past thanks to the prevalence of online nurse practitioner programs, so don’t stress out too much about having to find the perfect job right away – you can always move into a different sphere later if you want to.

Having said that, we of course want to pick the best career path that we can in order to get the most satisfaction from our work. With that in mind, here are some questions to ask yourself that should help you to figure out what’s important to you, what your interests are, and which of the positions discussed above would suit you best:

  • Do you want to work directly with patients, focus more on indirect patient care, or find a role that blends the two?
  • What sort of healthcare setting would you most like to be employed in (for example a large hospital, a local clinic, a specialist medical center)?
  • What sort of patients do you enjoy working with (for example young children, the elderly)?
  • What types of health conditions are you most interested in treating (for example cancer, mental health conditions, women’s health conditions, obesity)?
  • Would you like a job that involves a lot of travel?
  • What hours would you like to work (for example full time, part time, night shifts)?
  • What days of the week would you like to work?
  • Would you be willing to go back to college and study online nurse practitioner programs or attend classes on campus?
  • What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?
  • What types of tasks do you like and dislike?
  • Are you good with data and numbers?
  • How about budgeting and finance?
  • Do you have the skills to teach and train others?
  • Would you like to manage other nurses?

One helpful tip is to make a list of the sort of duties that you enjoy and those that you would rather avoid, as well as carry out an honest assessment of your personal skillset. At the same time, remember that your strengths and weaknesses are not set in stone – by taking online nurse practitioner programs and gaining more clinical experience you can always work on those areas that you’re less skilled at or less confident in.

Another step that can be very useful is to reach out to people who are already employed in the roles that you’re considering and ask for some advice. This is a great way to find out what a certain job is truly like. Don’t worry if you don’t know anyone personally who has the position you’re interested in – you can always contact people online, or network with those you meet on online nurse practitioner programs. It can be a little nerve-wracking to contact a stranger, but most people are more than happy to share their insights with their fellow nurses.

Studying for online nurse practitioner programs alongside your current job

People often feel a bit nervous about returning to college or enrolling on online nurse practitioner programs, especially if they’ve been out of formal education for a while or are embarking on a high level degree program. This is even more true if you’re intending to balance completing your studies with your existing work commitments. The first point to remember if you’re feeling like this is that the fact you have been accepted on your course means that your college is confident you have the capability to pass it – so you should be too! For some more practical assistance, the following advice should help.

It’s important to plan out how you can fit online nurse practitioner programs around your current obligations. That means sitting down and working out the best times for you to study and then sticking to that schedule. This is much more effective than just trying to squeeze in your learning as and when you’re free. You’ll have the freedom to study when you want to, so have a think about when you’re at your most productive. For some people this is early in the morning before work, whereas others prefer to study late at night once everyone else has gone to bed. You could even try working on your lunch break or heading out to a coffee shop or local library on your days off.

Another helpful tip is to figure out what your preferred learning style is. Some people like to use visual materials, others prefer auditory resources, and some need to physically write notes out by hand to remember them effectively. No method is objectively better than the others, you just need to determine which works best for you and then lean into that.

Finally, you should never be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Your college will have lots of support services available – both for students on online nurse practitioner programs and those attending classes on campus – so be sure to make the most of them. It’s important to take care of yourself while you study, both to prevent you from burning out but also to ensure that your cognitive abilities are at their fullest. So, eat well, drink plenty of water, take regular exercise, get enough sleep every night, and set aside quality time to spend with friends and family or on your hobbies. Good luck!


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