Where do you see your nursing career in five years?
Maybe you want to work in pediatrics at a good hospital. Or maybe you’ve got your eyes on something a bit more.
There are lots of different reasons for wanting to advance your nursing career – going into a specialty that interests you and providing better patient care are two big ones.
But let’s be practical here – and honest. Having in-demand skills, a more attractive resume and the ability to command a higher salary sure don’t hurt either.
Whether you’re looking for your first job as a new RN or have years of experience, it’s never too early or too late to start thinking about advancing your nursing career.
A great thing about nursing is that it has a wide variety of opportunities to train in new specialties, obtain higher certifications and branch out into other healthcare positions.
And if you want to advance your career, there’s only one secret you need to know.
The Secret to Advancing Your Nursing Career – Education
As a nurse, you’re always learning. Even if you’re happy being an RN and never go for any higher credentials, you’re still completing continuing education to keep your license current.
But if you want to advance your career – education is the key.
Often you can continue your education while you’re working as an RN. Some healthcare institutions will even provide tuition reimbursement if you’re willing to commit to them for a number of years (usually around three to five).
Let’s take a quick look at the three educational paths that will advance your career.
3 Paths To Success
There are three paths to advance your nursing education and career. Two of these, the MSN and Ph.D., are going to require you to go back to school – sorry.
The third path of specialized certifications relies more heavily on the experience you gain on the job.
If you are an LPN, you’ll first need to go back to a community college or technical school to earn an associate’s degree, then pass the NCLEX exam to become an RN (Registered Nurse).
That gets you certified as an RN, but if you’re looking to advance further, you’ll need to earn a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). It’s a four-year degree, however many colleges offer credit for previous experience and have accelerated programs that are usually 1 – 2 years of intensive training.
Once you have your BSN, the wide world of nursing specialties is your oyster and there are three paths of continuing education that you can take.
1. MSN (Master of Science in Nursing)
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is an advanced, post-graduate degree that focuses on a specific area of specialization. It takes about two years to complete and opens up opportunities in administration, education and higher levels of practice in a specialty of your choice.
Once completed, you’ll be an APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse) with a more focused nursing practice. There are four general types of APRNs, including certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), certified nurse midwife (CNM), clinical nurse specialist (CNS) and nurse practitioner (NP) – with Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) being one of the most popular.
Before you decide on a specialty to go into, it’s always a good idea to shadow a nurse in the department you’re interested in or talk to fellow nurses who’ve recently got their MSN.
2. Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing)
A Ph.D. in nursing is the highest level of education you can receive – that’s why this is known as a terminal degree. A Ph.D. differs from a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) which specializes in advanced clinical practice.
For a career in health administration, advanced clinical practice or clinical research, you’ll need a Ph.D. If education piques your interest, you can also teach with a Ph.D.
3. Specialty Certifications
Specialty Certifications are specialized exams that qualify nurses for competence and advanced knowledge in a specific area of care. Usually you’ll be required to have a minimum number of clinical hours in the area of care to be eligible.
You can choose to specialize in a specific type of care, like neuroscience nursing for example. Or you can choose to cross-train in another field to widen your skill set.
Specialty certifications bolsters your credibility as a nurse, improves confidence and increases your attractiveness to employers and ability to command a higher salary.
There are many types of certifications, but some of the most common include: Med-surg nursing, oncology nursing, critical care and cardiac nursing, pediatric nursing, ER nursing and ambulatory care nursing.
There are an almost endless number of specialties and career paths you can take as a nurse. But to reach any of these goals, you need to continue your nursing education.
Take some time to consider what kind of nursing you’re passionate about, where you want to be and start working on your education.
Not only will you increase your skills set and attractiveness to employers, you’ll be greatly improving on the main reason for being a nurse– to provide the best care to your patients and ensure the best possible health outcomes.
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