Shaping your future: advanced career options for ambitious nurses

The future can be a scary concept. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and a lot of it is outside of our control. However, one aspect of our lives in which we can take a more active role is our education and career. For those of you who are nurses, you’re in luck – you have a hugely varied range of job paths open to you if you’re dedicated enough to put in the time and hard work necessary to achieve them.

Moving up as a nurse

Nursing is a broader field than many people realize, and there are all sorts of study programs out there to help you carve out the exact career that best suits your interests and skillset. Of course, the flip side of this is that it can be a little overwhelming when you’re just starting out and trying to decide which direction to move in.

In order to help you break out of your decision paralysis or current career rut, this article outlines some of the most popular and interesting advanced job roles for nurses – as well as gives some advice for choosing between them. Hopefully, this will inspire you and also help you to narrow down your options a bit. Towards the end, you’ll also find some tips and tricks for succeeding as a mature student in case you need to go back to college and boost your qualifications in order to achieve your dream nursing career.

Different types of high-level nursing roles

Rather than jumping straight into the specific jobs you can aim for as a nurse, it might be helpful first to draw a rough division between two different types of roles:

  • Direct patient care – involves working with patients face to face and providing them with direct, personal healthcare services
  • Indirect patient care – involves providing nursing services that are indirectly related to patient care and has much less face-to-face contact time

There is some overlap between these two. However, this separation can be a helpful place in which to start. Within both categories, there are, of course, numerous further divisions, so be sure to do plenty of your own research!

Roles involving direct patient care

Direct patient care roles span all different patient groups, healthcare conditions and medical settings. Some of the positions that might appeal to you include:

Nurse Midwife

A nurse midwife assists expectant mothers throughout the pregnancy, labor and delivery of their babies. In addition, they continue to support new parents after their infant has been born by advising them on topics such as postpartum healthcare, breastfeeding and childcare. Many also provide gynecological services and healthcare for women going through the menopause.

Pediatric Nurse

A pediatric nurse works with children of all ages, from infancy right up through their teenage years. It’s a great choice for those who love working with kids, plus they have bags of patience and a good sense of humor! You’ll need to be able to reassure little ones about potentially scary medical procedures, treat a wide range of healthcare conditions, and educate both children and their parents about living a healthy lifestyle.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Also known as an FNP, this role involves providing primary healthcare to patients across their entire lifespan. This makes it an extremely varied job, as you’ll see people of all ages and backgrounds and with all sorts of medical conditions. Health education and disease management are a big part of the position, in addition to administering medication, running diagnostic tests, assisting with surgical procedures, and developing treatment plans.

Geriatric Nurse

A role that is only increasing in importance as the population ages, geriatric nurses care for the most senior members of society. This involves treating medical conditions related to aging (e.g. dementia and arthritis), assisting patients with daily tasks such as washing and dressing, administering medication, and addressing psychological concerns like loneliness and social isolation. The job requires plenty of patience, compassion, and positivity.

Oncology Nurse

There are a great number of nursing jobs that specialize in treating one particular medical condition, and oncology nurses specifically work with people suffering from cancer. The role involves conducting screening tests, administering treatments such as chemotherapy, managing any side effects patients experience, and also providing crucial emotional support for them and their families.

Psychiatric Nurse

Those who have an interest in mental health and psychology may be well suited to a role as a psychiatric nurse. This involves working with people who are experiencing mental health conditions as varied as depression, addiction, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders and schizophrenia. Having high levels of empathy, adaptability, creativity, communication, and personal emotional stability is vital.

Nurse Anesthetist

This advanced position sees you take responsibility for administering anesthesia to patients before medical procedures and then monitoring them both throughout the surgery and during the recovery period. You could assist with both scheduled and emergency surgeries and will need strong analytical skills plus great attention to detail.

Roles involving indirect patient care

Indirect patient care roles are arguably even more varied than direct care roles and are perfect for people who would rather have less contact time with patients. Some of the most interesting options include:

Nurse Educator

For those with an interest in academia and a passion for teaching others, a job as a nurse educator might be ideal. You can work in colleges or teaching hospitals and will train up the next generation of students to become the best nurses they can be. As well as teaching, the work involves designing, updating and evaluating curriculums to keep them fresh and effective.

Nurse Informaticist

This fascinating field blends nursing with computing and information science. It involves analyzing data in order to improve patient outcomes, for example, by implementing new technology in a healthcare setting and monitoring the results of the rollout. As an added bonus, this job can sometimes be done remotely, which is great if you’d like the option to work from home. You’ll need to be a strong problem solver and analytical thinker to do well in this position.

Health Policy Nurse

Many nurses dream of making large-scale changes to the healthcare system – and this is the job that will enable you to do it. You’ll review and revise policies, have input on laws and regulations that relate to healthcare, and lobby legislators for change in order to improve patient safety, healthcare services, and protection for those in the medical field. You’ll have to be confident, articulate, and passionate about the cause to succeed.

Nurse Researcher

If you have an interest in science, academia and data, a career in research is an excellent choice. You’ll be able to design and run your own studies, gathering data and analyzing it before publishing your results. The ultimate aim is that your findings and the insights you gain will go on to improve patient care outcomes. Of course, it goes without saying that strong research and academic writing skills are crucial!

Legal Nurse Consultant

Another unique option is to use your nursing expertise within the legal field. This involves consulting with attorneys and offering expert advice on medical issues as they relate to the law. This might be by translating healthcare jargon for laypeople, reviewing medical literature, or identifying expert witnesses to appear in court. The sort of cases concerned range from product liability to medical malpractice.

Chief Nursing Officer

Are you an ambitious nurse aiming for the very highest roles out there? Look no further than the chief nursing officer. This top-level executive position involves carrying out leadership and administrative tasks such as managing budgets, attending board meetings, overseeing the hiring and training of nurses, and advising on best practices. You’ll need to be extremely organized, good at cultivating relationships, and very driven.

How do I decide which career path is best for me?

Having seen just a selection of the career options that are open to you, you might understandably be wondering how to decide which path to choose. In some cases, one job description simply jumps out at you as ‘the one’. For most people, however, the decision involves a little more soul searching. Most options include returning to college and following one of the many advanced practice nursing degree paths on offer, so it’s important to take the time to ensure you pick the right career before diving in.

Some key questions to consider include:

  • Do you want to work with patients directly or indirectly?
  • What age group would you prefer to work with?
  • What type of health condition are you most interested in treating?
  • What healthcare setting would you like to work in?
  • What hours and days of the week do you want to work?
  • Are you willing to go back to college and gain a graduate qualification?
  • Do you enjoy training others?
  • Are you good at working with numbers and data?
  • Do you enjoy managing other members of staff?
  • Are you good at finance?
  • Do you enjoy conducting research?
  • Would you like a job that involves travel?

One helpful technique is to list the sorts of tasks you enjoy and those you would rather avoid. Then, combine this with a list of your strengths and weaknesses, and see if a direction emerges. Remember that these lists are not set in stone – you can always work on your weaknesses and develop new strengths if that will help you to get to where you want to be in your career.

Having drawn up a shortlist of a select few positions or areas you’re considering pursuing, it can be helpful to reach out to people who are already working in those roles. This is the best way to get a firsthand account of what a particular job is like, as well as some insider advice on how to succeed in it.

If you don’t know anyone personally who you can approach, try reaching out to someone online. This can be a little intimidating, but most people are friendly and genuinely happy to help those who ask. Offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for a chat in a cafe or see if they’d rather connect via video call or email. The worst that will happen is they say no! Meanwhile, the best outcome is that you make a lifelong friend or mentor who helps you achieve your career goals. As you can see, it’s definitely worth the risk!

Top tips for undertaking college courses as a mature student

As mentioned above, almost all of the top-level jobs in nursing will require you to return to formal education. Most ask you to have a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), a post-MSN nursing certificate, or even a doctoral qualification like the DNP.

It’s understandable if you find the prospect of going back to college as an adult a little daunting, especially if it’s been a long time since you first qualified. However, rest assured that mature students are not a rare sight on campus these days! More and more people are choosing to boost their credentials later in life, and your age certainly won’t put you at a disadvantage.

Here are some top tips to help you ace your studies:

  • Set up a dedicated area to study in, whether that’s a home office or a desk in the dining room. You want to choose somewhere with good lighting, quiet surroundings, and enough space for everything you need. Investing in an ergonomic chair will help stave off back pain during long study sessions.
  • Plan out a study schedule that fits your existing commitments – then make sure you stick to it. Generally, studying in shorter but regular chunks is more effective than one long block once a week.
  • Prioritize sleep, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet – your brain is part of your body and will function at its best when you’re in peak health
  • Figure out what your preferred learning style is before the semester begins. For example, do you remember information better when it’s presented visually or via audio? Does writing notes out by hand help you to recall them more easily? Lean into your strengths!
  • Connect with other mature students at your college. This will help you to see that you’re not alone and will be a great way to make some friends who are in a similar position to you.