One of the best things about nursing is the flexibility -- nursing offers a variety of work settings, specialties and hours. You can spend as little as two years to become a registered nurse or go clear to the doctorate level and become a certified registered nurse anesthetist. You can fly airplanes and helicopters as a flight nurse, take care of children as a pediatric nurse or spend all of your time with seniors as a geriatric nurse. With all these choices staring you in the face, it’s a good idea to have a career plan.
Learn About the Possibilities
As a new graduate it can be difficult to determine just where you want your nursing career to go. One way to find out is to volunteer to float to other areas when they need help. You might have started in the medical-surgical department but discover that working in the newborn nursery is a better choice for you. A few days in the emergency room can help you determine if you’re the sort of adrenalin junkie who thrives on a fast pace with critically ill patients. You should also research requirements for specialization in a particular area.
Nursing starts with education, and one of the unique things about this profession is the multiple-choice options in basic training. You can qualify for the licensing exams by taking a two-year associate degree, a two- or three-year nursing diploma or a four-year bachelor’s degree. In addition to those basics, you can also go on for a master’s or doctorate. If you don’t already have a bachelor's degree, make that the first step in your career plan. A bachelor’s degree opens the door not only to further education but to options such as management or nursing education. The American Nurses Credentialing Center also requires a bachelor’s for certification.
Advanced Nursing Degrees
A more advanced degree in nursing is required if you really want to climb to the top of the professional ladder in areas such as advanced practice, education, nursing research or management. If you already have your bachelor's degree, plan on two more years to get a master’s degree if you go to school full-time. A doctorate will take an additional three years, but many working nurses study part-time and spend four to six years in the process. Some programs are set up to allow graduate nurses to take each step through the process from bachelor's to doctorate while they continue to work.
Determine where your interests lie. If CSI is your favorite TV show, you might want to go into forensic nursing or become a death investigator. Maybe you wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t afford medical school. You could have a very similar career as a nurse practitioner. If you want to work in gynecology and obstetrics you could become a certified nurse midwife. The job of nursing researcher might be just the thing if you always wanted to be a geeky scientist. Become certified -- certification in a specialty shows your competence and is an extra feather in your cap.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.