15 Career Options For Nurses icon

15 Career Options For Nurses

| Courtney Smith-Kimble

15 Career Options For Nurses mini logo

Nursing professionals considering the next step in their career can use this guide to explore their options. Each role includes information about educational requirements, earning potential, and the benefit of choosing each career path. Also, this list includes both direct and indirect care roles.

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1. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner true

A pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) career makes a great profession for those who enjoy working with children. This role requires PNPs to care for patients from infancy until they reach adulthood. PNPs typically provide preventative care. However, this role also requires management of chronic conditions and acute illnesses.

Becoming a PNP leads to lucrative career opportunities. In fact, practitioners make an average $91,000 annual salary. PNPs can begin their career by earning an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Both career paths require experience before applying for a master of science in nursing (MSN). Students with an ADN should look for schools that offer a registered nurse (RN)-to-MSN bridge program, which allows them to complete BSN requirements. Aspiring PNPs must complete the nurse practitioner (NP) track when earning the MSN.

2. Certified Nurse Midwife true

Certified nurse midwives are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who specialize in caring for pregnant women and newborns after childbirth. However, premature babies and those with complications may require extended care. The best candidates aim to provide quality, holistic women's healthcare.

Midwives begin their career by earning an RN license in their state, which allows professionals to begin acquiring experience working with pregnancy. Practitioners go on to earn an MSN or a DNP and complete a licensing exam. Students should consider schools accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education. While multiple factors influence income, midwives generally earn $97,770 annually on average.

3. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner true

High-risk infants need exceptional healthcare providers who understand how to address complications related to premature birth, infection, or abnormalities. Nurses who excel under pressure and enjoy working with infants may want to consider a career as a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP). This role is rewarding as it allows practitioners to build meaningful relationships with families.

Aspiring NNPs must earn an ADN or a BSN to become an RN and begin acquiring professional experience. ADN graduates can go on to earn a BSN or apply for accelerated RN-to-MSN bridge programs. Practitioners with an MSN-NP degree qualify for the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam. While pay varies by state and job location, NNPs earn about $106,510 annually.

4. Oncology Nurse Practitioner true

Oncology nurse practitioners (ONPs) manage care for cancer patients by assessing their physical ailments, prescribing medication, and creating symptom care plans. However, this role also allows practitioners to help patients prevent life-threatening cancer through regular screening. The best candidates for this role possess excellent communication, critical thinking, organizational, and leadership skills. These professionals often work in hospitals, hospices, and extended care facilities.

Professionals considering a career as an ONP must earn an RN license by completing an accredited ADN or a BSN program. Graduates can continue in their education and training by earning an MSN-NP and accumulating 1,000 hours working directly with oncology patients before applying to take the Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam. ONPs earn $101,280 annually on average, according to PayScale.

5. Geriatric or Gerontological Nurse Practitioner true

Older patients need access to compassionate healthcare professionals who understand how to address often complicated mental and physical health problems. Geriatric or gerontological nurse practitioners (GNPs) promote health among the aging population in hospitals, private practices, and long-term care settings. Population Reference Bureau data also projects an increase in the elderly population who require GNPs' knowledge and skills.

Learners must complete an ADN or a BSN to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) licensing exam in their state. RNs must then complete an MSN-NP or an RN-to-MSN with NP track, acquire at least 500 clinical hours working with geratric patients, and pass the Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. GNPs typically earn about $98,210 annually.

6. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner true

Students considering the best nurse practitioner jobs may want to consider becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). This subfield demands highly skilled, empathetic healthcare professionals with excellent communication skills. PMHNPs prioritize patient-centered care. Responsibilities include assessing and diagnosing patients, managing treatment plans, prescribing medication, and educating patients' families.

Aspiring PMHNPs need to earn a BSN, complete and pass the NCLEX-RN licensing exam, and acquire about two years of field experience before moving on to earn an MSN-NP. Students who wish to begin working immediately can earn an ADN and explore accelerated RN-to-MSN programs. Graduates with an MSN from an accredited school can obtain Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification. PMHNPs earn an average salary of $110,070.

7. Chronic Pain Nurse Practitioner true

Patients experiencing acute pain often require strong medication, including opioids, which contain addictive properties. Chronic pain nurse practitioners specialize in administering treatment in a safe manner. Duties include assessing patients' medical histories, performing diagnostic studies, prescribing medications, and teaching patients how to manage their pain and medication usage.

Chronic pain NPs follow a similar educational path as other types of nurse practitioners, which requires an ADN or a BSN. Students take the NCLEX-RN exam, gain 1-2 years of experience in the field, and then apply for an advanced MSN-NP program. Students with an ADN can enroll into RN-to-MSN programs, while practitioners with a BSN can enroll directly into MSN programs. Pain management nurse practitioners typically complete a certification exam in pain management to become board certified and earn $99,570 a year on average.

8. Clinical Nurse Specialist true

Nurses looking to advance their career as an APRN can explore the career path to become a clinical nurse specialist (CNS). A CNS can choose a speciality by population, setting, disease, or form of care. A CNS can diagnose, treat, and manage patients. Other responsibilities include analyzing patient results, supporting RNs, and upholding use of best practices that lead to the best patient outcomes. A CNS focuses on improving the quality of nursing care and prioritizes patient satisfaction.

Students can begin their educational journey by earning an ADN and then enrolling into an RN-to-MSN program, which often requires about three years to complete. Students with a BSN can enroll directly into an MSN program, which requires about two years to complete. The average CNS earns $91,300 annually with full-time employment.

9. Nurse Advocate true

Nurse advocates serve as a bridge between physicians and patients. These practitioners help their clients make informed decisions by teaching patients about their medical condition. Common responsibilities include discharge planning, risk management, and patient care coordination. In some cases, patients may want to challenge the doctor's orders, and nurse advocates need to find alternative treatments.

Nurse advocates do not need an MSN. Students can begin by earning an RN license through their state, which requires an ADN or a BSN from an accredited school. Graduates need to acquire up to two years of experience before considering an advanced program. Students who earn an ADN should consider bridge programs when applying for an advanced degree. The average salary for nurse advocates is $72,240 annually.

10. Nurse Researcher true

Students hoping to impact future trends in nursing can consider a career as a nurse researcher. These professionals strive to increase patient care and services by identifying areas of healthcare that require scientific research. Nurse researchers conduct investigations to uncover information about vaccinations, medications, and medical procedures.

Students just starting out can begin by earning an ADN, taking the NCLEX-RN exam, acquiring professional experience, and then enrolling into a bridge program. Students who earn a BSN can apply directly to MSN programs. Nurse researchers act as subject-matter experts and may want to consider earning a DNP, as it is a terminal degree. Nurse researchers earn an $81,500 salary on average, according to PayScale.

11. Dialysis or Nephrology Nurse Practitioner true

Dialysis or nephrology NP work with patients across the lifespan suffering from chronic or acute kidney disorders. Nephrology NPs often work in hospitals, dialysis facilities, physicians' offices, and nursing homes. While responsibilities vary by environment, these practitioners typically provide treatment, educate patients, and identify risk factors.

Becoming an NP requires an advanced degree. Students can begin their career with an ADN or a BSN before earning an MSN, which qualifies practitioners to take the licensing exam. The Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission requires applicants to hold a valid RN license, an MSN from an accredited program, and at least 2,000 hours and two years of experience working with nephrology patients. While earning potential varies by employer, practitioners earn an average salary of $93,210.

12. Nurse Anesthetist true

Students considering the best APRN jobs may want to consider becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). These professionals play an important role in the healthcare system administering medications, including anesthesia. CRNAs work with patients across the lifespan. Responsibilities include conducting evaluations and identifying allergies and prior health conditions.

Students with a BSN and valid RN license can become a nurse anesthetist in about two years by earning an MSN with CRNA specialty track, while students with an ADN should anticipate earning their degree in about four years. Practitioners who wish to advance further and earn a DNP may need to commit to an additional 3-4 years of study. Both MSN and DNP graduates must pass the National Certification Exam administered by the Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. CRNAs earn among the highest average salaries at about $158,590.

13. Nurse Case Manager true

Nurse case managers coordinate care for patients dealing with severe illnesses, chronic diseases, or injuries. These professionals play an important role in making administrative and medical decisions. Responsibilities include reviewing treatment plans, educating patients and their families, promoting the best patient outcomes, and collaborating with patients' care teams.

Nurse case managers need a BSN at minimum to qualify for this position. However, employers typically seek candidates with a master's degree. Students pursuing a career as a nurse case manager can begin by earning an ADN, which takes two years to complete. Graduates can begin acquiring professional experience while earning a BSN. Students who earn a BSN can complete their degree in four years with full-time attendance. On average, nurse case managers earn a $73,330 salary.

14. Pediatric Endocrinology Nurse Practitioner true

Pediatric endocrinology NPs diagnose and treat endocrine disorders in children from birth to adulthood. Illnesses include diabetes, thyroid disorders, hypoglycemia, and other hormonal imbalances. Pediatric endocrinology NPs prescribe treatment, administer medication, and consult specialists. Practitioners often work in the pediatrics ward of hospitals or in physicians' offices.

Students can begin their career in just two years by earning an ADN, while other students may prefer to earn a BSN in four years. Graduates need to take the NCLEX-RN exam to receive their license. RNs with a valid license and 1-2 years of experience can apply to MSN-NP programs. Students with an ADN should apply to RN-to-MSN bridge programs. While earning potential varies by facility and employer, pediatric endocrinology NPs can earn an $83,470 average salary.

15. Public Health Nurse and Nurse Practitioner true

Nursing professionals interested in promoting the health of communities through wellness education and homecare may want to consider a career as a public health NP. These advanced nursing professionals work in multiple facilities, including health departments, clinics, schools, and patient homes.

Applicants must hold a valid RN license in their state of employment. Students with an ADN should look for bridge programs or consider completing a BSN before applying to an MSN-NP program with a public health track or a general MSN degree with a public health focus. Employers may also accept candidates with a BSN and master's in public health. Programs typically require two years of experience and around 2,000 hours working in public health nursing. Public health nurses and NPs typically hold board certification in advanced public health nursing. These professionals earn an average salary of $86,950 each year, according to PayScale.

Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who provides primary and urgent care to pediatric populations. She earned a BSN and MSN from the University of Miami.

Clarke is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.

Featured Image: Ariel Skelley / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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