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Choosing a Career in Nursing: What You Need to Know

Choosing a Career in Nursing

Whether you are just finishing high school, college, or you have been working for several years, choosing to embark on a career as a registered nurse (RN) is a decision not to be taken lightly. Working on the front line to deliver the best care to the most vulnerable people in our society, RNs are not only vital to the healthcare industry, but to our society as a whole. Registered nurses work in a wide variety of settings with different levels of responsibility, and if they wish, they can progress and develop throughout their career by completing an RN to MSN (master of science in nursing) program to become a nurse practitioner (NP). 

Being a nurse requires education, training, practical skills, personal qualities, determination, and resilience, but if you have what it takes, nursing can be one of the most rewarding career paths that a person can follow. If you are considering choosing a career in nursing, you need to be sure that you understand exactly what it will demand of you. Read on to discover what you need to know before choosing a career in nursing. 

Is nursing the right path for you?

It is difficult to define a typical day in the life of a nurse as there are so many different roles, levels of education, working environments, and degrees of responsibility that nursing can lead to. The role of a nurse usually includes the following activities and responsibilities:

  • Carrying out physical examinations of patients to assess their condition and potential medical problems
  • Administering direct, practical care to patients who may be injured, disabled, unwell, or recovering, e.g. providing food and drink, or helping them with personal hygiene
  • Reviewing and updating medical records
  • Devising and implementing patient care plans
  • Counseling patients (and often family members) as well as the wider community on how to prevent disease and adopt healthy habits
  • Educating patients on their specific conditions and providing advice on their treatment plans
  • Maintaining a hygienic and safe work environment, including preparing rooms and medical equipment for use
  • Providing psychological and emotional support for patients
  • After completing an RN to MSN, supervising licensed practical nurses, aides, and/or assistants.

Once qualified, RNs can choose to pursue a particular field of nursing by specializing in their training through an RN to MSN. For example, some RNs choose to specialize in pediatric, geriatric, neonatal, emergency, or psychiatric care.

RNs can also choose to advance in their career by continuing their education and training by moving on to a position in administration, teaching, and/or management. The most ambitious nurses can train to become an NP via an RN to MSN training program. In many states, an NP can diagnose patients, prescribe treatment, and manage their own practice much like a doctor can. 

An RN to MSN bridge program also gives RNs the chance to expand their clinical knowledge and skills to specialize as a family nurse practitioner or an adult-gerontology, primary care nurse practitioner. So, if you know you want to work with a particular demographic of patient, an RN to MSN course could be ideal.

What qualities and soft skills do nurses need to have?

Nursing can be a highly pressured and demanding career and requires interaction with patients and their families during some of their most difficult times. In addition, nurses often work long and physically demanding shifts, especially when making the transition from RN to MSN, so it is important that RNs have the personality and soft skills required to cope; including the following:

Emotional stability and resilience

Nurses meet people when they are suffering both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, this can mean that the patients they are caring for can take their frustration, sadness, fear, or anger out on the nearest person, e.g. their nurse. Nurses need to be able to not only handle this, but to behave professionally and compassionately. In addition, nurses need to be good listeners and able to accept constructive criticism, while working in pressurized, stressful, and unpredictable environments. 

A positive approach to their work

Nurses put their patients’ needs to the top of the list, ensuring that every patient they meet receives the best level of care no matter how physically or emotionally tired they are. Nurses need to maintain a positive and professional attitude at all times—positioning themselves as patient advocates.

Excellent communication 

Excellent communication skills are vital when pursuing a career in nursing. However, this does not just mean that you need to be able to express your point of view and convey information, but also to listen to and absorb the words of others, i.e. active listening skills. Nurses also need to understand how to ask questions in a sensitive manner while also ensuring they get all the relevant information they need to provide the right treatment. This can sometimes involve needing to talk about difficult issues as well as overcoming language barriers and talking with patients who are in pain or distressed. An RN to MSN course can help nurses to develop their communication skills.

Compassion and empathy 

Nurses who struggle to empathize with their patients and/or lack compassion are unlikely to advance far in their career. Aside from the fact that many patients are already struggling with physical or emotional problems, many choose to disclose sensitive information to medical professionals. For example, a patient may make an appointment to see a nurse about a minor medical complaint, but in the course of their appointment they may bring up concerns about their mental health, a traumatic experience, or issues of domestic abuse. Nurses need to be ready provide empathy and compassion, while remaining professional and providing the patient with the appropriate advice or care. This is a particularly important point for nurses wishing to complete the transition from RN to MSN to become an NP. 

Physical fitness and good stamina 

Nursing can be physically challenging, not to mention the fact that many nurses work unsociable hours that can interfere with family life. Nurses need to look after their own physical health and wellbeing, including eating an energy-rich diet, maintaining hydration levels, taking physical exercise, and getting lots of sleep. 

A desire to learn

Nurses are expected to continue to learn and develop throughout their career, as medicine is a continually evolving field with technology advancing all the time. In order to succeed, nurses should enjoy furthering their education through continued study such as an RN to MSN program. 

What practical skills do nurses need to have?

Following a doctor’s diagnosis, nurses need to be able to assess a patient’s symptoms and ongoing condition and administer the necessary treatment. 

Nurses may be required to administer medication and general practical care to patients, to carry out regular assessments, to maintain health records, to advise patients, and provide reports to senior medical staff. Other advanced skills include advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) planning patient treatment, case management, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), critical-care nursing, life support, and telemetry. Many of these key skills will be developed during an RN to MSN course. 

What career paths can nurses follow?

Once qualified, and with a few years of experience under their belt, an RN can choose to pursue a more specialized field of nursing through an RN to MSN course. Nurses are found in a wide range of settings and have plenty of opportunities to make their career as varied and challenging as they wish it to be, or they can choose the specialize through an RN to MSN bridge course.

Most RNs are employed by hospitals (state, local, or private), but they are also employed by ambulatory healthcare services, doctor’s offices, community centers, mental health facilities, schools and colleges, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, and outpatient care centers. It is important to note that there is plenty of opportunity for new nurses entering the career, as demand is expected to grow by 12% per year until 2028.

Here are some of the possible career paths an RN might want to pursue:

Intensive care unit (ICU) nurse

An ICU nurse cares for patients who are critically ill and/or seriously injured, e.g. people who have suffered strokes or heart attacks, or who are recovering from invasive surgical operations. 

Emergency room (ER) nurse

An ER nurse provides emergency care for people who arrive in a hospital emergency room with illness or injury. Often these people will require urgent care with life or death consequences, and nurses are required to be able to care for a wide variety of conditions under intense pressure. 

Pediatric or geriatric nurse

Pediatric nurses care for infants, children, and teenagers. The care they provide is much the same as they would provide to adults, but communicating with and supporting children (as well as their families) requires advanced soft skills. 

Certified nurse midwife (CNM)

CNMs care for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and after the baby has been born (postpartum). This includes preparing expectant mothers for labor and childbirth as well as the initial care of their new baby. These nurses can also work with gynecologists and obstetricians to diagnose and treat couples who are finding it difficult to conceive.  

Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) 

An APRN has completed an RN to MSN course or doctoral degree, giving them advanced clinical expertise in a special field. APRNs can be primary care providers and take senior roles in healthcare facilities. In addition to performing general nursing duties, clinical nurse specialists care for patients with complex needs and conditions such as diabetes and cardiac or respiratory conditions. 

Nurse practitioner (NP)

Advancing to an NP gives nurses many of the same responsibilities as a doctor and in lots of states NPs can practice as a primary healthcare provider. NPs can diagnose and assess patients, order laboratory tests, and prescribe medicine and/or treatment. They can work as part of a team or independently. To become an NP, an RN must complete an RN to MSN course to achieve their master of science in nursing degree. 

How much do nurses earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that in 2019, the average annual wage for a registered nurse was $73,000 or $35 per hour. Registered nurses on the lowest income earned around $52,000 per annum. Of course, earning potential in nursing is dependent on many factors, including which state you are licensed in, your level of education, and your level of responsibility. Those who had advanced to more senior positions, e.g. those with more experience who had completed an RN to MSN course, earned over than $111,000 per annum. 

How to become a Registered Nurse

If you are convinced that a career in nursing would be right for you, your next steps are to find out how to get started on your journey. While there is more than one route into nursing (including a diploma or an associate’s degree), those who complete a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) are able to secure the best employment opportunities and tend to earn a higher starting wage. It is also likely that at some point in the future all nurses will need to have a BSN to practice, so it makes sense to start your career on a solid foundation. 

If you already have an ADN or ASN, an RN to MSN course will enable you to get your BSN and MSN in one course. Once you have qualified as an RN, it is easier to move on to study for an MSN through an RN to MSN course. This can also be a quicker route to a more senior position, as RN to MSN programs enable nurses to achieve their MSN on a shorter timescale. 

In addition to the theory and technical knowledge that an accredited nursing course provides, nurses must complete clinical hours to ensure they have the practical experience and hands-on learning required to qualify. 

With your education and practical training completed, you can apply for an RN license, which enables you to practice in your state and apply to take the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX). Assuming that you pass the exam, you can begin a challenging, rewarding, and exhilarating career as an RN before advancing your career with an RN to MSN course.