- Maintain a flexible schedule
- Manage multiple patients throughout a day
- Communicate with staff and medical teams
With so many options available, it can be difficult to identify the best places to work as a nurse. Thanks to a versatile skill set, RNs enjoy diverse opportunities in a variety of settings and locations. RNs can work in virtually any healthcare environment, from fast-paced environments like emergency rooms (ERs) to in-home care.
To determine the best places for RNs to work, we evaluated hours per week, average salary, job security, and available employment options, to identify the 11 best work settings to pursue as a nurse.
RNs can obtain certifications to specialize in certain fields and work settings. For example, certified pediatric nurses care for children in hospitals, schools, and family practices. However, all RNs share some common traits and skills:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60% of RNs work in hospitals. Hospital RNs work different schedules and perform slightly different tasks every day. An RN might care for multiple individuals on one night and monitor postsurgery patients the next. While most shifts are 12-16 hours long, hospital RNs enjoy more days off than those who work a 9-5 schedule. Hospitals often prefer RNs with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).
Typically located in hospitals, trauma units, or disaster areas, ERs house patients in life-threatening situations. ER nurses work in interdisciplinary teams to assess and treat critically ill and injured patients. ER nurses must hold authoritative experience in the field, and candidates might consider taking the Certified Emergency Nurse Exam to increase their earning potential. However, exam takers must complete an additional two years of work experience after obtaining RN licensure.
Legal nurses use their expertise to help attorneys in medical malpractice or personal injury cases. These RNs review medical records, offer testimonials, and arrange care cost documents. The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants suggests that prospective legal nurses hold five years of professional experience before applying for certification.
With the rise of telecommunicating, many RNs help patients from the comfort of home. There are various job opportunities for nurses seeking remote work, including advising for insurance companies or freelance writing for medical journals. Others offer telehealth consultations. These jobs require an RN to hold at least an associate degree in nursing and an active nurse’s license.
Nurses who work in physicians’ offices enjoy more structured schedules than their counterparts in other healthcare settings. Physicians treat regular patients who make appointments ahead of time. These nurses do not typically care for patients in life-threatening or stressful situations. Instead, they answer phone calls, schedule appointments, perform physical assessments, and assist physicians with their daily tasks.
Home healthcare nurses improve or maintain patients’ health within the client’s own home. Some work lengthy hours, stationed close to the patient for extended amounts of time. This subset of nurses makes up a large portion of RNs, with around 12% providing in-home healthcare services. Some RNs who provide in-home care choose to hold additional certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
RNs who work in nursing facilities generally hold more training and education than licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants, and many take on supervisory roles and responsibilities. These nurses can take the ANCC’s Gerontological Nursing Certification Exam though it is not required. Most healthcare providers do require nurses to have basic life support and advanced cardiovascular life support certification. Daily tasks in a nursing care facility include implementing treatments, organizing medical records, and reporting to patients’ families. They may work night or weekend shifts.
The term “outpatient services” refers to any healthcare center that admits patients on a short-term basis. Outpatient centers are typically connected to a larger facility. Nurses in medical outpatient facilities access patients’ symptoms and determine if they should see a specialist for further care. Some outpatient clinics employ mental health nurses to care for patients who are facing mental illness or emotional distress. Prospective mental health nurses have the option to hold a psychiatric mental health nursing certification.
School nurses follow the same basic schedule as teachers, including a summer break. Their role differs from those of other nurses because they are tasked with teaching young students the importance of good health. School nurses also treat children who become ill or injured during the school day. Aspiring school nurses can be certified in their specialty, though it is not required, and RNs who hold a BSN or master of science in nursing typically enjoy higher salaries in their subfield.
Also known as perioperative nurses, surgical nurses assist doctors before and after surgery. They clean surgical tools, prepare patients, and tend to wounds after procedures. These nurses, who hold a significant amount of professional experience, typically spend most of their time in the operating room and often treat back-to-back patients. Some surgical nurses pass an additional certification exam administered by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board, but it is not required.
Some RNs care for sick or injured inmates at correctional facilities. While each state maintains its own requirements for these RNs, most seek nurses with 1-2 years of experience, and some RNs earn certification from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care to gain a more competitive edge though it is not mandatory. Nurses in correctional facilities must stay calm in difficult situations and boast a thick skin. A correctional nurse’s daily duties include caring for inmates with chronic illnesses, keeping track of medical records, and performing drug screenings.
Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Clarke tired of the cold and snowy winters and moved to Coral Gables, Florida in order to complete her undergraduate degree in nursing at the University of Miami. After working for several years in the UHealth and Jackson Memorial Medical systems in the cardiac and ER units, Clarke returned to the University of Miami to complete her master of science in nursing (MSN). Since completing her MSN degree, Clarke has worked providing primary and urgent care to pediatric populations.
Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.
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