While nurses mainly focus on attending to patients in multiple healthcare settings, there is a wide variety of career paths available to individuals interested in nursing. From assisting patients in their homes, to leading private practices, to educating the next generation of professionals, nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system.

Due to factors like technological advances, staff shortages, and public health literacy, the landscape of healthcare is rapidly changing. Nursing specialists are at the forefront of filling gaps in care and empowering patients to be proactive about health maintenance.

If you’re interested in this career path and want to know more about your options in nursing, here’s a list of the top careers you should consider in this field.

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Top Careers in Nursing

Although there are many healthcare positions that don't require a degree, we want to start by discussing jobs that count an undergraduate degree among the minimum education requirements. After all, they open the door to the highest-paying careers.

According to Dr. Donna Barry, director of the on-campus DNP programs at Regis College, these five career paths are excellent options for healthcare professionals who have already acquired the proper nursing credentials. “You need at least RN credentials for these positions, which you can get either in addition to an associates or a bachelor's degree.”

1. Registered Nurse

Registered nurses (RNs) work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, physicians’ offices, schools, outpatient clinics, and patients' homes providing care to individuals of all ages. They record patient medical histories, take vital signs, help perform tests and assessments, administer medications, and assist in evaluating patient needs.

As patient advocates, nurses also offer emotional, instructional, and physical support to make sure patients succeed in their treatment plan. Providing education to patients on their conditions and treatment options can even prepare them to continue maintaining self-care at home.

Much like other careers in healthcare, registered nursing positions are always in-demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) this career path is projected to grow six percent over the next decade. In addition, RN licensure opens the door to several specialist RN positions including emergency department nursing, public health nursing, and intensive care unit nursing, making this field an attractive career path for the foreseeable future.

2. Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners (NPs), one of the four types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), handle many of the same responsibilities as RNs and work in similar environments such as hospitals, physicians’ offices, and outpatient clinics. However, NPs have a graduate-level education and are qualified to treat many medical conditions without a physician’s direct supervision; allowing them to run their own practices in many states.

Other nurse practitioner duties include diagnosing medical conditions, training and managing other nurses, ordering tests and analyzing results, conducting research, prescribing medication, and creating treatment plans. Like physicians, APRNs can serve as primary care providers, making them extremely valuable in areas experiencing doctor shortages. In fact, BLS expects a 40 percent increase in nurse practitioner jobs in the next decade.

3. Nurse Educator

Nurse educators work in clinical and classroom environments instructing students on best nursing techniques and practices. They’re responsible for demonstrating proper procedures and patient care methods, evaluating student work, and guiding student research and lab work, ensuring graduates have the right tools to succeed in the field. They may also teach relevant college-level math or physical science classes.

Although they’re primarily teachers, nurse educators also conduct their own research to stay current on emerging industry trends, improve their teaching methods, and develop better solutions for delivering quality care.

4. Nursing Manager

Nursing managers hold leadership roles in healthcare settings such as hospitals, medical practices, and nursing homes. As high-level coordinators, they typically work in administrative offices and direct the everyday organizational activities of their facility.

Depending on the environment, nursing managers may oversee staffing, scheduling, inventory, compliance policies, technology adoption, workflow processes, budgets, departmental goals, database management, and more. Nursing managerial occupations are estimated to increase by 28 percent over the next decade, providing a great growth opportunity for nurses looking to take one more of a leadership role in healthcare.

Top Careers in Healthcare For Prospective Registered Nurses

If you’re interested in pursuing a nursing degree, healthcare has a wide variety of career paths available to individuals who are working toward this professional goal. “Some of these career paths are also for nurses who come from other countries and can't automatically get their licenses here in the U.S.,” says Dr. Barry. “Many end up in some of these positions while they can sort their licensure and retake courses in order to take, or pass, the NCLEXs.”

Here are six careers in healthcare that aren’t licensed nurses, but offer a roadmap to start earning and skilling up before earning a degree and obtaining licensure.

1. Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurse

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide basic nursing care in private homes, nursing homes, hospitals, physicians’ offices, and extended-care residential facilities. In these positions, you’ll often work long-term with patients to effectively build relationships with their family and other caregivers and offer guidance on how to best support them.

LPNs and LVNs usually work under the supervision of an RN. In addition to general nursing duties, they may help patients with daily lifestyle needs such as getting dressed, bathing, and eating. With a projected job growth of six percent, LPN and LVN roles are viable nursing career options for years to come.

2. Medical Assistant

Medical assistants (MAs) work in every type of healthcare facility doing scheduling, patient prepwork, and administrative tasks. As client-facing professionals, they play an important role in making patients feel comfortable and collecting accurate medical information for physicians. Medical assistants typically perform preliminary screenings, update patient histories, handle test samples, and get clients ready for examinations. If you’re interested in this career, you can look forward to an estimated 16 percent growth in medical assistant jobs over the next decade.

There is no standard state or federal requirement that has to be met for someone to become a medical assistant. However, many employers do require anyone they hire as an MA to be certified. Online MA certificate programs can provide a convenient way for interested professionals to prepare for certification.

3. Certified Nursing Assistant

As the title suggests, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) provide basic care under the supervision of nurses. They frequently work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and assisted living facilities helping to lift, reposition, bathe, feed, and dress patients. CNAs also take vitals, record basic health information, and regularly communicate with patients about their needs and concerns. Since CNA job growth is expected to increase by five percent in the next decade this role can provide valuable experience and income if you plan to work toward a nursing career.

4. Medical Secretary and Administrative Assistant

Medical secretaries and administrative assistants fill support roles in healthcare offices and labs. They’re typically responsible for scheduling, billing, record-keeping, data entry, and patient correspondence. Assistant and secretarial jobs require working knowledge of medical terminology and procedures related to their work environment. The top industries hiring medical secretaries include physicians’ offices, diagnostic labs, dental practices, and outpatient care centers. If you hope to work in nursing, starting out as a medical secretary can be useful for acclimating to these environments before pursuing a degree.

5. Home Health and Personal Care Aid

Home health and personal care aides help clients who have chronic illnesses or disabilities perform daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, shopping, housekeeping, managing medications, and going to doctor’s appointments. These patients may have physical, cognitive, or mental challenges that make it difficult for their families to provide adequate care or for the patient to live independently.

As a result, personal care aides typically work in client homes, group homes, or day service programs. They monitor patients, provide basic nursing care, assist with medical devices, and communicate with the client’s other healthcare providers. With a projected 25 percent increase in jobs in the next decade, the demand for home health aides is only continuing to grow.

6. Health Technologist and Technician

Health technologists and technicians work in clinical labs collecting, analyzing, and documenting patient samples. When physicians and specialists need more information about a patient’s quality of health, they send requests to labs for diagnostic testing. It’s the technologist’s job to safely obtain and store biological specimens such as blood, cell tissue, urine, and saliva.

Technicians use a variety of technological tools to manage specimens and log data in clinical labs in hospitals, physicians’ offices, or diagnostic clinics. Keeping up with the national average in job growth, health technologist job postings are expected to grow by seven percent over the next decade, giving professionals in this field many opportunities for specialization.

Things You Should Consider When Applying to Nursing Positions

Whether you’re still in the exploratory phase or ready to enroll in a training program, it's important to remember that your personal job and salary outlook will depend on factors like education level, years of experience, professional network, geographic location, and industry credentials. Here are factors to consider as you weigh your options.

Nursing Professionals Are in High Demand

Healthcare is a universal need. As a result, highly skilled nurses will always be an in-demand profession. However, careers that are in higher demand are also filled at a faster rate as well. “I think a lot of DNPs get picked up from their program right away to teach,” says Dr. Barry. “Or they’re in line for a promotion at their current job once they have their doctorate.”

For example, according to our analysis of job postings data, here are the top 10 nursing job postings, along with the average duration before the position is filled:

  • Registered Nurses (29 days)
  • Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurses (28 days)
  • Medical Surgical Registered Nurses (26 days)
  • ICU Registered Nurses (27 days)
  • Operating Room Registered Nurses (27 days)
  • Emergency Department Registered Nurses (27 days)

Fortunately, these fast recruitment cycles offer a great advantage to new graduates, who'll have strong job prospects right out of school.

Education Matters

Since nursing is a critical healthcare position, their education is incredibly important to the success of modern day treatment. Understanding the best practices for patient safety, privacy, and wellbeing is essential for a patient’s success. In addition, the high volume of young individuals entering the industry makes it even more beneficial to obtain advanced education that develops specialized skills.

Dr. Barry urges prospective nursing professionals to consider their long-term competitiveness in the healthcare field. “So many people in nursing have a bachelor's degree and master's-level education. It’s always a good idea to make yourself stand out by getting even more higher education.” Advanced degrees equip you with the skills to make a bigger impact on patient outcomes, and in turn make you more marketable to employers.

According to our analysis of job postings data, around one-third of all nursing professionals hold a bachelor's degree, while only two percent have a doctorate-level education. However, not all degrees are created equal. It's crucial to choose a reputable, accredited program with a track record of producing successful graduates.

Take the First Step Toward a Career in Nursing

Nursing is a career path that has clearly outlined standards for entry, but education is the most important step to becoming a nursing professional. Regis College can help you choose the best educational path to achieving your career goals, whether you're interested in an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

Regis College offers multiple pathways to becoming a nursing professional. For those looking to start their nursing career, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree are excellent options that focus on clinical practice, simulation labs, analytical research projects, and professional mentoring. Both programs also offer an experiential learning model to give graduates a strong foundation in direct nursing care roles and beyond.

For nursing professionals who are looking to develop their leadership skills or break into the world of academia, obtaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at Regis is an excellent option as well. For more personalized guidance on pursuing a degree, consider contacting a Regis College admission counselor.

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