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Career progression for nurses: ideas for your next job role

4 Mins read

Working as a nurse can be an extremely varied and interesting job to have, not to mention a rewarding one. There’re many different pathways that you can take as your career progresses, which enables you to carve out a role that truly suits your interests, personality and life circumstances. Of course, this also makes it a bit overwhelming when it comes to choosing which track you wish to take. So, if you’re currently unsure about exactly where you want to be in five years, hopefully, the following suggestions will help you to narrow your choices down and get you inspired. For ease, we’ve divided the roles into two main categories: those involving direct patient care and those involving indirect patient care. 

Direct patient care roles

These positions are great for people who enjoy providing face-to-face patient care in a clinical setting:

  • Pediatric nurse – this involves working with children from infancy all the way through their teenage years. You’ll help to treat a wide range of health conditions and also educate your patients on relevant health issues. Patience and a sense of humor are must-haves!
  • Geriatric nurse – this involves working with senior citizens, for example, by helping with daily tasks, administering medication, and treating common conditions related to aging such as dementia and loneliness.
  • Psychiatric nurse – this involves specializing in mental health conditions, which could include everything from depression, PTSD and substance abuse to OCD and schizophrenia. You’ll need high levels of empathy, adaptability, and emotional resilience.
  • Nurse midwife – this involves working with expectant mothers throughout pregnancy, assisting with labor and the delivery of babies, plus providing postpartum care. You’ll also provide advice on contraception, fertility issues, and reproductive health.
  • Nurse anesthetist – this is an advanced role that involves administering anesthesia to patients before medical procedures, monitoring them during their surgery, and assisting them with recovery afterwards. It could be with either scheduled or emergency procedures, and requires high levels of attention to detail plus a minimum of a master’s degree.
  • Family nurse practitioner – this involves providing primary healthcare services to patients of all ages. You’ll have many different responsibilities, including running tests, administering medication, developing treatment plans, and educating the public on healthy living.
  • Oncology nurse – this involves working with cancer patients by conducting screenings, administering treatments such as chemotherapy, helping with the management of side effects, and providing crucial emotional support.

Indirect patient care roles

These positions are fantastic for people who enjoy focusing on aspects of nursing that are outside of direct face-to-face patient care:

  • Nurse educator – this involves training up the next generation of nurses, as well as designing and evaluating curriculums. You could work in a teaching hospital or nursing school, and will need strong communication skills. A minimum of a masters in nursing practice is required.
  • Nurse researcher – this involves designing and running research studies, gathering and analyzing data, and then reporting and (hopefully!) publishing your findings. You could work in a hospital, university or research laboratory, and will need strong critical-thinking and analytical skills. A doctoral degree in nursing is recommended.
  • Nursing informaticist – this involves combining your nursing expertise with skills in computing and information sciences to improve patient outcomes. You’ll help to integrate new technologies into the healthcare system, train staff on how to use them, and evaluate how successful they are. Creativity and problem solving skills are key.
  • Health policy nurse – this involves revising and evaluating healthcare policies, regulations and laws in order to make progress on issues such as patient safety and access to healthcare services. You could also get involved with lobbying legislators for change, and fighting for social justice.
  • Legal nurse consultant – this involves consulting with attorneys in order to translate medical jargon, identify expert witnesses, review medical literature, conduct interviews, and other similar tasks. You might find yourself helping with cases relating to issues such as medical malpractice, long-term care litigation, forensics, or product liability.
  • Chief nursing officer – this is a particularly high-level executive role in which you’ll carry out a wide range of administrative, management and leadership tasks. For example, you might handle budgeting, recruitment and training of nurses, and development of patient care procedures. Roles such as this require a lot of experience, so are great for more advanced nurses.

How do I know which career path is right for me?

It would be great if there was an easy answer to this question, but the reality is that there are a huge number of different factors to consider when deciding which job is the right one for you. Here’re some of the questions you should bear in mind when making your choice:

  • Do you want to work directly with patients, or in a more indirect patient care role?
  • Aside from nursing, what other skills do you have?
  • Which health conditions would you most like to focus on?
  • What sort of patients do you prefer working with (e.g. young children, senior citizens)?
  • What hours of the day and days of the week would you like to work?
  • Would you like a job that includes travel?
  • What sort of healthcare setting would you like to work in (e.g. a hospital, school, care home)?
  • Are you happy to go back to college and study for a graduate degree?
  • Do you like working with numbers and data?
  • Would you want a role that involves handling finance or managing other people?
  • Do you enjoy teaching and training other nurses?

In addition to answering these types of questions, there are a few other steps you can take to help you figure out the sort of career you want to have:

  • Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses
  • Draw up a list of the sorts of tasks you enjoy doing and those that you would rather avoid
  • Research different job roles online, for example by reading blog posts
  • Reach out to people who are working in roles that you think you might be interested in, and ask if you can have a chat over coffee (either in person or virtually). This is a great opportunity to find out what a job is truly like