Nursing Careers & Specialties

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When embarking on a career in nursing, you’ll find there is a wide variety of nursing specialties and nursing careers to pursue. Whether your interest turns toward children, the elderly, emergency care or working in a hospital, there is likely a career in nursing that fits your passion.

brief history of nursing

The job market shows that there is an increasing demand for registered nurses, with a projected job growth of 20 to 28 percent between 2010 and 2020.I The aging baby boomer population and increased emphasis in outpatient and preventative care are two of the factors driving job growth in nursing careers.II

Entry Level Nursing Careers

Certified Nursing Aid

Certified nursing aides usually work under the direction of a supervising RN.  They perform caretaking tasks like bathing patients, changing bed clothes and recording temperatures or blood pressure readings. 

CNA career requirements: CNAs must earn a postsecondary certificate or award, in which they learn the basic principles of nursing and complete supervised clinical work.iii These programs can are found in community colleges, vocational and technical schools, and in hospitals and nursing homes. Certification requirements vary by state.

Licensed Practical Nurse / Licensed Vocational Nurse (LPN / LPV)

LPNs are sometimes referred to as LVNs, or licensed vocational nurses.  LPNs and LVNs perform tasks including taking patients’ vital signs, dressing wounds, assisting physicians with patient exams, and counseling patients on proper aftercare.

LPN career requirements: LPNs and LVNs must complete an accredited program, which generally takes about 1 year. These certificate in practical nursing programs are commonly in technical schools and community colleges.  After earning a certificate, you must pass the National Council Licensure exam to be eligible work in all states.iv

Registered Nurse (RN)

When considering a career in nursing, a job as a registered nurse likely comes to mind. A registered nurse takes cares of patients in hospitals, emergency rooms, doctor’s offices or rehab clinics and manages follow-up care.

RN career requirements: An associate’s degree or bachelor’s in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. A bachelor of science in nursing offers more classroom training and clinical experience, and is required for more specialized careers in nursing.v

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners can prescribe medicine and diagnose and treat patients. In addition to critical care, nurse practitioners can specialize in several fields including geriatrics, pediatrics and gastroenterology. It also paid a median annual salary of $89,960 in 2012.X

Nurse Practitioner career requirements: A master’s of science in nursing is required. Nurse practitioners are also required to be licensed by the state in which they work. Depending on state legislature, rules may apply to specific responsibilities.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRNs)

Advanced practice registered nurses are RNs who have completed additional study and training (master’s degrees and/or doctorates) in order to provide advanced levels of patient care. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing recognizes four categories of APRNs: certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), certified nurse-midwife (CNM), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), and certified nurse practitioner (CNP).

APRN career requirements: Currently, each state creates its own rules about APRN education requirements, entry level qualifications, recognized roles, and career titles.  The NCSBN is working to standardize these state requirements, and to create consistent benchmarks for the certification, accreditation, education, and licensure of all APRNs.  More information, visit the NCSBN’s website.

Advance Practice Psychiatric Nurse

Advanced Practice psychiatric nursing is a challenging field where you could be working with patients with mental illnesses including depression, schizophrenia and dementia. Job growth in this specialty is projected to be between 20 and  28 percent between 2010 and 2020.XV

Careers requirements:An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing is required. If you want to become a nurse practitioner or advanced practice registered nurse, you may need a master’s of science degree in nursing.XVI

Occupational Health Nurse

An occupational health nurse assesses employees’ health related to workplace hazards. Typical tasks include examining workers, assisting in diagnosing health problems, and helping to create a safer work environment.

Career requirements:A bachelor’s in nursing is required, as well as being a licensed registered nurse in the state where you work.  Master’s and doctorate degrees in nursing may be required for some jobs.XVII

School Nurse

School nurses do everything from identify vision or hearing problems to overseeing safety and wellness programs. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 3.8 percent of all registered nurses were working in a school setting in 2008.XVIII

Career requirements:A bachelor’s degree is required.  A license is required in the state where you work.

Clinical Research Coordinator

A clinical research coordinator assists in planning and coordinating research projects, and supervises to make sure research standards are met. This field paid a median average salary of $115,730 in 2012.XIX

Career requirements:Most require a bachelor’s degree, although a bachelor of science degree in nursing is optional for job consideration.XX

Advanced Nursing Specialties

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNM)

One of the highest-paying nursing specialties is a nurse anesthetistVI, with an annual median salary of $148,160VII. Nurse anesthetists work to administer anesthesia, monitor patients while they’re under, and take care of patients while they recover.

CRNM career requirements: A bachelor’s degree in nursing, a license from the state in which you work, a year’s experience in acute care, completion of accredited anesthesiology training, and passing the national certification testVIII are all required.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CM)

Certified nurse midwives help improve the health of pregnant women and newborns by educating patients, providing prenatal and postpartum care, and assisting with labor and delivery procedures.

CM career requirements: A master’s degree is required. CNMs must graduate from an ACME-accredited education program. They also need to earn their license and complete the national certification exam offered by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB), in order to become certifiedIX.

Clinical Nurse Specialits (CNS)

Clinical nurse specialists integrate specialized patient care with medical diagnosis and treatment.  Clinical nurse specialists generally focus on specific populations, settings, types of disease or types of care.

CNS career requirements: A master’s degree in nursing and passing the state licensure exam are required.X

Certified Nurse Practioner (CNP)

Certified Nurse practitioners can prescribe medicine and diagnose and treat patients.  In addition to critical care, nurse practitioners can specialize in several fields including geriatrics, pediatrics and gastroenterology. It also paid a median annual salary of $89,960 in 2012.XI

CNP career requirements:A master’s of science in nursing is required. Nurse practitioners are also required to be licensed by the state in which they work.

Critical Care Nurse

Are you the cool head in a crisis? If so, one of the nursing specialties to consider is a critical care nurse. As a critical care nurse, you could work in an emergency room or intensive care unit. Job growth in this field is faster than the national average, and is projected to be between 20 and 28 percent between 2010 and 2020.XII

Career requirements:An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing. To become a clinical nurse specialistXIII or acute care nurse practitionerXIV, you will generally need a master’s of science degree in nursing.

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