While the medical industry in the United States is experiencing an unprecedented increase in demand for health care services, graduates of allied health programs are finding jobs in this industry to be both secure and satisfying. The allied health profession that employs the greatest number of health care workers is also one of the most rewarding: nursing.
A career in nursing may open doors to opportunities in a wide variety of working environments and allows these professionals to work with many different population groups with very different and often highly specialized medical needs. Those interested in learning what it takes to become a nurse will find they are able to select from many different levels of training and education, as well as countless specialized forms of practice in a variety of different settings.
What are the general educational paths towards careers in nursing?
All nurses need to pursue challenging courses of study that cover the principles of care delivery and treatment, but an aspiring nursing student must first decide how much time to invest in his or her education. Someone keen on entering the field quickly can become an LPN/LVN (licensed practical/vocational nurse). These professionals need only one to two years of study, which will prepare them to work under the general supervision of an RN (registered nurse). An aspiring nursing student can also choose to pursue an advanced nursing degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing in order to become a nurse practitioner and work more independently. Some people choose to pursue their LPN license, and then continue to advance their educations while they are working. This allows them to keep their career in health care moving forward while maintaining a steady income stream. The treatments and activities that nurses are allowed to do correspond to their levels of education and licensure, so an RN can do more than an LPN in terms of rendering care or administering treatment, but less than a nurse practitioner.
Where do nurses work?
Population and work environment are also things to consider when thinking about a career in nursing, and in some cases these choices will influence the type of education and licensure necessary. People sometimes think of nurses as the people they meet in the doctor's office, but there are countless combinations of work environments in which nurses perform specialized jobs both in and out of the clinical setting.
A nurse might work in a hospital, a doctor's office, an ambulatory care center, a specialized treatment clinic, a skilled nursing facility or an occupational health center, to name only a few. Some environments – hospitals and surgical centers, for instance – will be more interested in nurses with more advanced training and licenses, since state-imposed limitations on the types of treatment an LPN can provide can make hiring them less practical. However, other more general environments, occupational health clinics or skilled nursing facilities for instance, deliver less intensive medical services, which allows LPN/LVN level nurses to deliver most of the care necessary.
The US Bureau of Labor statistics puts nursing into one of the highest growth categories of any industry. The only work environments in which nurses work that is not predicted to reach 20%+ growth are hospitals. As more and more procedures can be done in freestanding clinics, skilled nursing facilities and outpatient surgery centers, growth in hospitals is not quite as rapid as it once was. The need for nurses continues to grow rapidly, but the work settings in which nurses are in the highest demanded are shifting along with new advancements in medical procedures and technology.
What types of patients do nurses work with?
While an environment like a doctor's office will see patients of all ages and types, other settings, such as specialized clinics, often draw more specific types of patients more exclusively. Pediatric medicine is specialized and requires unique training and a more clinically focused education. Geriatric medicine is another high-need area, as a large portion of the U.S. population enters older adulthood, so many medical settings are seeking practitioners with specialized training specific to geriatrics.
Some aspiring nurses find themselves compelled to help people suffering from specific types of ailments, or find certain treatments the most interesting. Clinical specialties are too many to list, but a few include cardio-pulmonary (heart and lung specialties), oncology (cancer), orthopedics, gastroenterology (the digestive tract), psychiatry, neurology and wound care. Advanced training and education are required in order to participate in these highly specialized nursing jobs, so if an aspiring nurse finds one of these areas particularly compelling, he or she should research the educational requirements for licensure in order to make a good decision about the appropriate educational pathway.
After establishing a nursing career, advancement into management positions is possible with advanced degrees and additional training. Case managers, unit managers, nursing managers and administrators, as well as nurse educators are all positions that a nurse who wants continued growth in his or her career can pursue.