Nurse Career Path

Written by NS StaffJune 30, 2011
Nursing Career Paths

You first start your registered nursing position in the emergency room, which is exactly what you wanted. The constant motion and the ability to immediately improve the life of a patient makes you proud that you chose nursing as your career.

After the emergency room experience, you may decide to explore a different specialty or environment. One great aspect of nursing is that no matter how you evolve as a nurse, there will always be a need for your skills. It is actually quite normal to change specialties a few times during your nursing career.

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There is no "typical career path" anymore. It is normal to start as a licensed vocational nurse (or practical nurse). Then, after a year or two, go back to school to become a registered nurse, then years later return to school to become a nurse practitioner. It is also normal to go straight to being a registered nurse and staying one until you retire.

The key to having a good career path in nursing is to plan ahead and be flexible -- just go with the flow. Before you even register for classes, talk to nurses at a hospital, assisted-living center, or other location where you would enjoy working. Ask them what license you would need to work there. It really doesn't make sense to earn an LVN (licensed vocational nurse) degree if you need an RN (registered nurse) before they will even consider hiring you.

At the same time, your life will change. Most nurses change specialties at least once during their career. As you take your continuing education courses, you will have a chance to explore other areas of medicine. Always keep an eye open for new interests.

Don't use boredom or routine as an excuse to change your specialty. As Anne Federwisch said in "Career Shaping: Turn your job into the one you want" for NurseWeek: Whether you’re bored with your patient mix, frustrated by burdensome regulations, or feeling like you’re at a dead end, "bringing a solution is so important," said certified nurse administrator Louise Baldwin, MBA, RN, director of patient care services for Harris Continued Care Hospital–Fort Worth. "You’re the one closest to the problem." Work with your supervisor on ways to improve your work situation. Not only will it make your day-to-day work more interesting, it will show your supervisors that you want to help your field evolve.

You can make your own career path as a nurse. Just be ready to expect your life to take you in exciting new directions when you least expect it.

Learn More About Your Future Career as a Nurse:

Nursing Career Summary
Salary & Compensation
Day in the Life of…
Job Outlook
Typical Career Path
Medical Assisting as a Pathway to Nursing 
Profile of a Nurse
Nursing as Compared to Doctoring
Blood and Needles