Many people still think of nursing as a sort of one-size-fits-all type of career, but the truth is there are many different paths in the field. For example, a registered nurse might become a case manager and administer very little physical patient care. Instead, they create recovery plans and provide resources. However, even within the realm of patient care, you’ll find a ton of diverse jobs, depending on the type of skills you have or wish to learn.
Once you’ve decided to get your nursing degree or certificate, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make. Will you get your LVN (licensed vocational nurse) or LPN (licensed practical nurse) certificate and stop there? Or will you go on to become an RN? According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), the average RN salary is over $75,000, and the average LVN salary is just under $50,000. While a higher salary may not be your only consideration, it’s certainly worth keeping in mind.
At that point, you’ll also have to decide if you’d like to go on and pursue a bachelor’s degree (BSN) or a master’s degree (MSN) as an RN. Some even opt to go further with their education and become nurse practitioners or nurse-midwives. These decisions can become overwhelming if you let them, so you’ll probably want to figure out a good system to come up with the answers you need. You can start by asking yourself the following questions.
Do you have a high level of compassion?
Some people resist change so much that it can negatively affect their mental health. That’s OK! It’s part of who some of us are. We enjoy the stability of knowing what we’ll be doing every day and where we will be living for the next 20 years. These types of people might consider careers in physicians’ offices, cancer treatment centers, or long-term care facilities. Facilities that treat cancer patients have lots of opportunities for nurses who prefer to specialize in one thing and have a high level of compassion. Of course, even within this specialty, there is plenty to learn because of the many types of cancer. You may be administering chemotherapy to someone with colon cancer or you may be assisting with surgery for someone with breast cancer. The point is that even though things are fairly consistent in these care facilities, there’s also some diversity.
How long do you want to be in school?
Some people enjoy getting an education and would make that their career if they could, but others prefer to get the bare minimum they have to in order to make a living. Sometimes that’s a matter of finances. Student loan debt can be crushing, so getting out as soon as possible is often preferable. Something to keep in mind, though, is the many student loan forgiveness programs available to full time healthcare workers, especially those in high-need areas. But if you’d still rather keep your college time to a minimum, not to worry. There are plenty of practical nursing career opportunities for nurses with a one-year certificate.
Do you thrive on excitement or do you prefer a calm, uneventful work environment?
This question is probably the most important one to ask yourself before choosing a nursing career path. If you enjoy a good adrenaline rush every once in a while, you may be best suited for some type of emergency nursing. You could work for a trauma center, emergency room, or emergency flight service. Depending on the size of the facility, you could be practicing trauma and urgent care every day.
Nurses in this category also tend to like change and need the challenge of working in a variety of settings. For them, something like travel nursing might be a great option. A travel nurse might be putting on a wetsuit and taking surfing lessons one month and bundling up to go snow skiing the next. The beauty of it is that there are available jobs all over the U.S. and you can always choose where you go.
On the other hand, if you prefer more uneventful days most of the time, you can still have a career in nursing. Working in smaller facilities, such as local clinics or hospitals might be the best path for you. That doesn’t mean you will never experience any trauma. There’s always a risk. But for the most part, you’ll just be helping to treat common illnesses or accidents. Additionally, you can choose a career path that involves more advice and research than typical nursing, such as a case manager, researcher, or recruiter.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Many introverts are nurses, so don’t beat yourself up or think you can never make it if you’re more of a wallflower than the life of the party. Of course, social skills are important for developing a good bedside manner, but a sincere, compassionate attitude is sometimes the best way of making a patient feel comfortable than someone with the gift of gab. However, if meeting new people every day is something that makes you uncomfortable, there are nursing careers where this won’t be an issue. Many insurance companies and law firms hire nurse consultants with advanced skill levels to advise them on legal cases where they are investigating fraud or building medical lawsuits. You would mostly be using your expertise and providing information.