If you’re looking for a career that allows you to make a meaningful difference in other people’s lives, it’s hard to find a better fit than nursing. This busy and dynamic career is surprisingly versatile, too, with many specializations and responsibilities. From managing your own team of professionals to working exclusively online and even focusing solely on pregnancies and deliveries, there is something for almost everyone in the nursing field. Your education defines what kind of position you fulfill, and you can dramatically increase your chances of finding work in your chosen niche by completing your advanced degree(s).
In this article, we’ll look at the different career pathways you can go into with a master’s degree in nursing.
What are the benefits of a nursing career?
Before we dive into exactly what you can expect from a nursing degree, let’s talk about why so many people decide nursing is the field for them. There are several reasons why it is such a popular career, but one of the most important is job satisfaction. According to a Bureau of Health Workforce survey, the vast majority of nursing respondents were satisfied with their work. More specifically, nearly 90% of participants reported being either moderately satisfied or extremely satisfied with their work, with values of roughly 50% and 40%, respectively.
So, we know that nurses enjoy their jobs, but why? What is it about nursing that leads to such fulfilled employees? There are a few different reasons why nursing creates such satisfied workers. First, nurses have the opportunity to pursue almost any specialty that attracts their interest. From working with the elderly to helping mothers and children, the medical field demands nurses with a variety of different specialized skills. The ability to work in a niche for which they have passion is a big reason why nurses are satisfied with their work.
In addition to this, nursing professionals see firsthand what their hard work and dedication do for their patients. In some careers, employees feel unappreciated as time goes on and they spend years devoting their time and effort to their job. Many nurses, on the other hand, interact with grateful patients and their loved ones daily. They are always ready to shower nurses with praise in response to excellent care, and nurses can watch the people they care for recover and live healthy lives, too.
Finally, nursing leads to employee satisfaction because the job is dynamic and engaging. Regardless of the niche they fill, nursing professionals must be able to make decisions under pressure and respond to emerging situations at a moment’s notice. This kind of flexibility can be difficult to develop, but nurses have it down to a science. Because they are actively engaged at all times while working, nurses are less likely to report monotony and boredom at work. As a result, nurses spend less time watching the clock and more time interacting with their patients and their coworkers.
There are a great many nursing specializations to consider. Whether you are new to the industry, are an experienced professional looking for a change, or are just beginning your education, you are sure to find something you like when digging into the nursing field. Below are some of the most popular specializations to consider—but remember that this is a very short list! If you don’t see something interesting here, do some independent research because there might be a specialty you would love to pursue.
With that out of the way, here are some common nursing specializations.
Advanced practice/nurse practitioner
One of the most well-respected professions in the field of nursing that you can access with a master’s degree is advanced practice nursing. Nurse practitioners are the most common example of advanced practice nursing professionals, and they have a wealth of opportunities available to them. Depending on where they live and what kind of patients they want to work with, nurse practitioners are often able to act more akin to a doctor than a nurse. In some states, this includes prescribing medication, ordering and interpreting labs, and analyzing diagnostic tests. Nurse practitioners are increasingly considered primary caregivers rather than nurses, although, of course, both descriptions are accurate.
Nurse practitioners offer balanced careers ranging from general primary care to families to offering more advanced care, including mental healthcare and other areas of psychiatry.
Once you have mastered your nursing curriculum and are ready to enter the workforce, your future might not necessarily lie in a busy hospital or clinic. On the contrary, perhaps educating aspiring nurses suits you better. Nurses with a master’s degree can often find work at teaching hospitals as well as at nursing schools and other academic environments. As a nursing educator, you are responsible for transferring your experience, knowledge, and skills to the next generation of nurses. Creating, updating, implementing, evaluating, and re-designing nursing education curriculums is another common responsibility of nursing educators.
We’ve touched on this briefly a bit earlier in the article, but some nurses prefer to specialize in caring for pregnant women. Nurse midwives are some of the most important professionals to work with pregnant people and are trained to administer counseling, attend and assist with births, and provide annual exams even once the woman in question is no longer pregnant.
If you aren’t sure how you feel about working on at-home births, don’t worry. Most nursing midwives attend births in hospitals, not at home. Nursing midwives provide support and advice to mothers as they move through the labor process. Midwives also offer support to the partners or other loved ones of the mother, keeping them calm and guiding them through the often-overwhelming birthing process.
When you think about receiving anesthesia, your mind might initially envision a physician or physician’s assistant. However, some nurses can provide these services, too, once they complete their master’s degree.
Nurse anesthetists most often work with surgeons, dentists, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers who use anesthesia in their work. Nurse anesthetists can expect to not only administer the anesthesia but to also interact with patients and discuss existing allergies, medications, or health issues before beginning the process.
Nurse consultants are a bit different from other nursing professionals we’ve described in this section. Nurse consultants don’t spend much time interacting with patients in any form. On the contrary, they typically provide medical advice to businesses, primarily medical businesses. They do this by offering subject matter expertise in various specialties such as public health, oncology, or pediatrics, among many others. Nurse consulting professionals also directly assess and observe healthcare delivery systems in organizations and institutions.
In addition to providing broad-level support, some nurse consultants also work on individual patient cases and advise on potential treatment plans; professionals in this area tend to interact more closely with patients than other nurse consultants in the field.
The medical field relies on experienced and responsible professionals to provide patients with outstanding care when they are at their most vulnerable. Ethics are critical to the field of nursing, and nurses often find themselves considering ethical dilemmas while performing caregiving duties. Nurse ethicists are experts in these areas and work to resolve ethical concerns by providing consultation, education, and research in a variety of healthcare settings. Nurse ethicists also work in policy development.
Telehealth nurse practitioner
The last nursing specialty we’ll discuss here is the telehealth nurse practitioner. As we mentioned earlier, nurse practitioners are quickly becoming primary care providers in several different medical areas. They tend to conduct annual physicals, provide care for common health ailments, run diagnostics testing, and prescribe medication as needed. This kind of care is increasingly offered via telehealth services, allowing patients to receive care from the comfort of their own homes and allowing nurse practitioners to streamline their patient services.
Nurses with a master’s degree are ready to tackle this new technology-based specialty.
How to get the nursing job of your dreams
Now that we’ve looked at some of the most common specializations nurses can pursue, let’s take a closer look at how you can find that perfect job.
Earning your degrees
There are a few different degrees you can earn as a nurse. The first, and most commonly required, is a bachelor’s degree, also known as an undergraduate degree. Undergraduate degrees are essential, as they form the foundation upon which nurses build advanced knowledge and techniques. Your performance while pursuing your undergraduate degree will have a direct impact on where you earn your more advanced degree, so make sure that you work hard and do your best to maximize your time studying.
Once you have completed your undergraduate degree, which should take between two and four years depending on the program in question, you have a few different options at your disposal. First, you can apply for your license, begin working in the area of nursing that most interests you, and earn your advanced degree while gaining experience in the field. You can also move directly from your bachelor’s degree program to a master’s degree program, also known as a graduate program. Either way, expect to spend another one to three years working on your graduate degree.
Note that while your bachelor’s degree focuses on general nursing knowledge applicable to a wide variety of common situations, graduate programs are more highly focused on specific jobs or areas. If you want to work with pregnant women, for example, you will likely spend your graduate years learning more detailed information about pregnancy and how it impacts women (and their families) on a number of different levels.
So, what is the value of a master’s degree in nursing? Your master’s degree opens the doors to careers that would otherwise be entirely out of reach. By studying with a respected education facility such as Elmhurst University, you can specialize in an area that interests you and move toward your ideal job soon after graduating. The degree programs at Elmhurst, as well as being academically rigorous, are designed to be flexible, giving students the best chance of succeeding in their chosen career paths.
While a degree is an important and useful qualification for nurses, it’s not everything. Your degree is a key that opens certain doors for nurses, but things such as hands-on experience are still vital. The flexible nature of many master’s courses, such as the ones offered at Elmhurst, allows students to gain relevant work experience alongside their education, giving them important preparation for any future roles they might move into.
Are you interested in nursing? Not only is nursing an incredibly important and satisfying career but the many different health needs around the country guarantee a vibrant nursing community where a wide variety of skills and experiences are valued.