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From hospitals and clinics to long-term care facilities and in-home visits, the healthcare system includes many types of nurses making a difference in the lives of patients. Pursuing a nursing career in these unknown times may seem overwhelming, but you don’t have to make a decision right away. One of the many good things about a nursing career is that, once you’re a registered nurse, you can pursue a variety of career options. Some nurses focus on advancing their careers by advanced practice, leadership, or specialty roles in nursing, and nurses interested in changing their career path can always pursue additional education and certification related to a different role or specialty! To help you better understand the nursing field, below we introduce 5 common types of nursing roles.

Registered Nurse (RN)

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists registered nursing to be among the top healthcare occupations with the most significant job growth and projects that the RN workforce will grow by as much as 7% by 2029. Registered Nurses (RNs) work in a variety of healthcare settings, where they assess patient conditions and administer and coordinate care. They consult and collaborate with physicians and a full array of healthcare specialists and may oversee team members such as licensed practical nurses and nursing assistants. RNs also educate patients and their families as well as other members of their communities on taking care of and improving their health. With over 3 million RNs working in the US, registered nurses are employed in a range of nursing specialties including labor and delivery, travel nursing, pediatric nursing and more.

To become an RN, you’ll need either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a diploma from an approved nursing program. The BSN degree is the education currently recommended by industry leaders for entering the nursing field. This is because a BSN program offers a comprehensive and well-rounded education that teaches communication, leadership, and critical thinking and incorporates a variety of clinical experiences and clinical problem solving. Having a BSN degree potentially can also help you qualify for a wider variety of nursing jobs, including some with higher salaries and leadership responsibilities.

Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner is the most common type of advanced practice RN, with over 200,000 nurse practitioners in the US. Practicing independently or collaborating with physicians, nurse practitioners coordinate and provide primary, preventative and specialty healthcare. In most states, they can conduct physical exams, create patient care plans, prescribe medications, perform, order, and analyze diagnostic tests, and diagnose health problems. They also educate patients and families on staying healthy and managing illness or injury. Nurse practitioners usually have a nursing specialty such as a family nurse practitioner or adult gerontology nurse practitioner. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, national certification and state licensure is required for all nurse practitioner jobs.

Nurse Educator

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) states the lack of qualified nursing faculty across US nursing programs will limit the industry’s ability to meet the growing demand for healthcare. The demand for qualified nurse educators is growing and could continue to rise. Nurse educators can work in hospitals, schools, academic institutions, insurance companies, within the community and in other institutions. Nurse educators have the critical responsibility of educating our nursing workforce. They may teach people who are interested in becoming nurses, or they may lead continuing education for current nurses, helping them to expand and refine their skills. In addition to teaching and assessing student knowledge, nurse educators may develop, evaluate and revise curricula as well as conduct, publish and present nursing research.

Educational requirements for nurse educators vary by role. Nurses who teach in practice settings or serve as clinical preceptors or staff development educators may be expected to have a MSN degree. Some MSN programs and post graduate certificates offer nurse education specializations to help prepare students for this career choice. A doctoral nursing degree may be preferred for full-time senior faculty at four-year nursing schools.

Nurse Administrator / Leader

Whether running a small team or leading the nursing staff across an entire health system, nurse leaders and administrators are essential to the organizations in which they work. In their daily work, nurse administrators recruit and supervise nursing staff, coordinate workflows, make policy and financial decisions, promote improvements in patient care, and facilitate interactions between doctors, nurses, and patients. Executive nurse leaders also weigh in on and influence strategic organizational decisions for the benefit of both staff and patients.

RNs looking to take on more management responsibilities can grow their skills by finding an MSN program with a nurse administrator specialization. Nurse administrator programs may include courses on human resource management, organizational management, quality and performance improvement, and financial management of healthcare organizations. To further develop leadership skills, some nurses pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice after earning an MSN.

Informatics Nurse

Nurse informaticists combine nursing skills with information management knowledge to help increase nursing efficiency and the quality of patient care through the use of technology. Nurse informaticists collect and analyze patient data as well as evaluate, plan and manage healthcare information systems and process improvements. Nursing informaticists not only train others on the best way to use health information systems, they also can help to enhance electronic health record systems for the users’ experience, and assist with implementing new technologies.

As technology continues to advance in healthcare, the demand and need for nurses specializing in nursing informatics will likely continue to grow. To build expertise in this area, nurses should consider a MSN program with a nursing informatics specialization that allows them to take information technology courses on topics like healthcare project and database management alongside courses in nursing science and practice. Nurses who already have a graduate nursing degree can also pursue a post-graduate certificate in nursing informatics.

If you’re interested in starting (or growing) a nursing career, explore the Nursing programs at South University to see how we can help you to pursue your personal and professional goals!