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The career paths available to registered nurses

by Angelina

Being a registered nurse (RN) is one of the most rewarding, fulfilling and in-demand jobs in the modern world. If you become an RN, you are presented with a number of different career paths.

Becoming an RN requires a variety of education and skills so that you can provide a high level of care to patients. Fortunately, it is easy to get the training you need while working another job. You do not need to relocate to earn a nursing degree, meaning that if you are stuck in a job that you find unfulfilling, you should consider retraining to become an RN.

Degree programs

There are many degree programs available for those interested in becoming RNs. Elmhurst University offers a variety of nursing programs to suit the needs of working adults or those who are retraining for another career.

Accelerated BSN

An accelerated BSN is the perfect option if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline. You can earn your BSN in as little as 16 months, including your clinical placement. All coursework is completed entirely online, and clinical placement services are included in your degree program. After you graduate and gain your RN license, you can continue your education.

Holding a BSN and RN license will qualify you to work at any facility offering medical services. A BSN is often the minimum acceptable level of education you will need to be hired in medical practice. Therefore, if you want to maximize your hiring and earning potential, obtaining a BSN right away will give you the best opportunities regardless of where you might choose to apply.

Direct-entry MSN

With a Master of Science Nursing (MSN) degree, you have even more career options because you can qualify for higher-level positions. Achieving your MSN degree in nursing takes slightly longer than an accelerated BSN. In around 20 months, you can go from a bachelor’s degree in any field to an MSN degree, doing your classes entirely online.

Those with an MSN command a higher salary than nurses with a BSN. Regardless of what type of nursing job you might be applying for, holding an MSN will help you stand out.

Clinical placement requirement

All those wishing to become an RN must complete a number of clinical hours to qualify. Clinical placement services are included with better degree programs. Being enrolled in a degree program that offers this service means more than you might realize. Without clinical placement services, it can be difficult to find the positions and preceptors you need to complete your degree. In fact, students enrolled in programs that do not offer placement services sometimes pay for a service that helps them, making their degree cost more.

Clinical placement is your time to apply all the knowledge you have acquired while taking your courses. You will be working alongside a licensed and trained nurse who is known as a preceptor. This person will be your mentor and guide while you work in a real medical facility, helping to treat a variety of patients.

Your mentors and teachers in your chosen degree program can help you find a position that caters to your interests and where you see your future career going.

Other requirements

To become a nurse, you need to meet certain health requirements. A certain level of physical ability is required to qualify for a nursing degree program. The ability to be on your feet for extended periods is essential.

NCLEX exam

This is the exam that you must take to receive an RN license. Elmhurst University nursing students have a higher-than-average pass rate.

Continuing education credits

In many areas, you are required to obtain continuing education credits to maintain your license. Online and in-person courses are available and accepted, so it is easy to fit this into your schedule. Continuing education ensures that nurses stay up to date on medical practices and procedures so that patients are offered the highest level of care possible.


To work in a medical setting, you will need to be up to date on your vaccinations. The exact vaccine requirements for a specific medical setting may vary. You need to be certain that you can fulfill this requirement for your clinical placement and any future jobs.

Skills required for nursing

The following skills are required if you want to enter the nursing profession.

Excellent communication and empathy for patients and families

It is important to have strong communication skills not only for typing detailed notes and communicating with co-workers, but also to be the best nurse for your patients and their families. Patients and family members will ask you a lot of questions. Also, some patients like to talk to their caregivers more than others, especially if they have few people visiting them for a large portion of their stay. Nurses must offer empathetic responses and use good body language to show that they are listening and care about what a patient or loved one is saying.

Professional manner

Nurses must always remain friendly, cordial and professional even when times are very stressful or a patient is acting out somehow. The ability to remain calm under stressful conditions will serve you well.

If you want to become a teacher or nursing leader, professionalism is even more important. Speaking clearly and confidently and always treating everyone with the respect they deserve will take you far in the medical field.

Attention to detail

Nurses need to be very observant. Changes in patients need to be responded to as promptly as possible. Small details can say a lot about how well a patient is doing or if they need additional treatment or assistance. Nurse should pay strict attention to what patients say, and also make an educated analysis of the body language they are using.

Good attention to detail can save lives or keep patients from having emergency episodes leading to increased hospitalization.

A love for helping people from all backgrounds

As a nurse, you need to care about helping everyone. You do not get to pick and choose who you help. Throughout your career, you will meet and care for people from a variety of religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

You will need to be culturally aware and compassionate to all, regardless of your own personal beliefs. You must be professional, compassionate and caring at all times.

Where do RNs work?

While a lot of RNs find employment at major hospitals and medical centers, there are many other locations where RNs can find work. Here are the most typical placements and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.


Hospitals are one of the main employers of RNs. Working at a hospital provides ample opportunity to experience working in a busy medical facility. Various departments mean that it is a bit easier to find a position in a niche that you are most interested in or specialize in while earning a degree.

The disadvantage of hospitals is that you may have to work varying shifts, which will likely be 12 hours. You may be very busy almost all the time, depending on the facility. As so many jobs are available at hospitals all over the country, if you are willing to work at one, you can enjoy the flexibility of relocating to a variety of areas.

Nursing and assisted living centers

There are more nursing and assisted living centers being constructed than ever before. As a result, there are plenty of positions that must be filled. If you are a nurse who wishes to specialize in elder care, then the job market is very promising for the next few decades. The types of patients at assisted living and nursing homes range from those who need just a little help with daily needs to those who need full-time, specialized care.

Schools and universities

Nurses work at schools as well as larger colleges and university medical centers. These positions can be highly sought after because they offer a more standard daily work schedule. You are unlikely to have to work any evening hours, but there may be some weekend hours required at a college medical center.

School and university nurses also provide valuable education about health issues so that students can stay healthy and concentrate on their studies.

Nurse educators teach nursing school classes and medical classes for continuing education credits or certificate courses. Plenty of nurses find that they enjoy teaching part-time or full-time at some point in their careers.

Urgent care clinics

There are a lot of urgent care clinics, and more are being built every day to accommodate a growing population of people who lack a primary care provider or who need care fast. Urgent care clinics are a good alternative to emergency rooms being used for urgent but non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries.

Having an urgent care clinic in a community can reduce the cost of healthcare, especially for those who remain uninsured. Disadvantaged groups and areas lacking access to adequate medical care can greatly benefit from having an urgent care clinic in their community.

Working at a drop-in appointment clinic will allow you to help people from many different backgrounds and treat a wide range of common illnesses and injuries, from broken bones to colds, flu and urinary tract infections. Working hours are typically not outside the range of 7am to 7pm, but there may be some weekends required.

Traveling medical services

Plenty of nurses find that they enjoy gaining experience at many different medical facilities early in their careers, while others decide to try out traveling later in their careers. Traveling nurses work for medical staffing companies that provide highly qualified workers to hospitals and other facilities that need to fill in a lack of staffing. Sometimes, these positions are designed to allow a hospital to be fully staffed while a search is going on for permanent full-time help.

This type of position is also an excellent way to gain experience in a particular specialty, especially if you want to do a job that is somewhat competitive, such as neonatal nurse or labor and delivery nurse.

Private care

Although it is more unusual than the settings discussed previously, some nursing professionals find work as private nurses for individuals or families. These positions may be harder to find, especially if you are a new nurse. However, after you gain experience, you may be able to find a private position. While these positions mean that you will only be caring for one to two patients on average, they can still be quite demanding or even require that you live with the people you are caring for.

Major benefits of nursing

There a many benefits of being a nurse. Elmhurst University offers online accelerated BSN and MSN programs for working professionals. This is a great way to retrain for an exciting new career. Nursing students at Elmhurst enjoy clinical placement services and a team of educators who take pride in offering the best nursing instruction out there. In 16 to 24 months, you can have the career you always wanted.

Job security 

There is a major future demand for nurses. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 12% job growth rate through 2028. It is estimated that around 371,000 new nurses will be needed by then to meet demand. A large population of aging adults in the US has increased the need for healthcare. More adults are living longer and often spending decades managing chronic conditions.

Competitive pay and benefits.

Nurses are paid well for their services. In fact, due to the shortage of nurses, many healthcare facilities offer lucrative incentive packages to attract qualified nurses to their facilities. This can include sign-on bonuses after a minimum period of employment. This is typically just six to 12 months at most.

Health insurance, retirement plans and other benefits are typically included. Some medical facilities have even offered to help with relocation expenses to attract workers from outside the typical pool of applicants.

Room for advancement

Becoming an RN can just be the beginning of your medical career if you choose it to be. There are many opportunities for advancement throughout your career. In fact, now is a great time to train to be an RN. This is because you have time to gain your degree and then get some experience that will put you in a great position for moving on to a more advanced position due to the significant number of nurses retiring or aging out of their jobs.

Some jobs that were often held by nurses with decades of experience are being handed over to younger nurses with less experience because they are available to fill the role. This is not to say that these younger nurses are not very skilled – they are. It is simply that jobs that rarely went unfilled are more readily available.

You can have freedom in where you work

With nursing, you can find a job in just about any location you choose to live in. The salary and benefits may vary, but so does the cost of living. There are cases where you may be able to have a higher standard of living if you are willing to relocate for a position because facilities are having a difficult time finding qualified staff.

A feeling of achievement

You can rest easy knowing that you have met and overcome a lot of challenges, all while helping others to overcome illness, learn to cope and lead better lives, and more. While it may not seem as though every patient or family member is as appreciative as they should be, deep down, they are.

There will be plenty of challenges in your nursing career, but overcoming them will always leave you feeling as though you have achieved something and are stronger.


Nurses have a bright future ahead of them. If you are looking for a career with many opportunities and room for advancement, then nursing is the job for you.

It is possible to achieve your RN license by earning a degree online, except for your required clinical placement. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in any field, then your RN license may be just 16 months away. From there, you can gain even more experience and either pursue a more advanced degree while you work or take some time to realize what you like most about nursing before pursuing a more specialized advanced degree.