How to Plan a Nursing Career Path and Keep Advancing

Nursing is a profession that keeps you moving, engaged, and performing highly throughout your work week. You’ll connect meaningfully with patients and families, offer support at the most critical times in their lives, and see firsthand the effects of your efforts and skill. 

It provides many opportunities for nurses as well, including flexible schedules, travel opportunities, professional development, and career advancement. In fact, the job outlook for nurses is expected to grow by 6% from 2021 to 2031. If you’re wondering if healthcare is a good career path for you, then continue reading for more insights.

Nursing is a lucrative and dependable career, especially if you take the necessary steps to progress toward and exceed your goals. But it can be hard to create a plan when you don’t know what health professions are available.

How Do I Keep Advancing My Nursing Career?

As a new nurse, you must complete an accredited nursing program and pass the NCLEX exam to become licensed. Once you’ve passed the NCLEX exam, it’s time to celebrate! No more studying, no more tests… right? Not so fast. 

To maintain and grow your nursing career, you’ll need to: 

  • Take continuing education courses required to maintain your state RN license 
  • Keep credentials current with relevant continuing education and research
  • Consider additional training to support moving into specialized fields

A nursing career that keeps you advancing higher in responsibility and pay often includes a specialty. To specialize in a medical field, you may need a postgraduate degree, especially if you plan to become a nurse practitioner or acquire a role in education. 

But for most areas, targeted job experience is top priority. 

An ideal path to gain exactly the experience you need without gaining a disorganized job history or settling for less-than-ideal pay or workplace situations is to partner with a travel nurse staffing agency like MAS Medical. You’ll be able to select experiences and disciplines you need to move ahead, experience new locations and settings, and earn premium pay, travel and housing benefits, and job bonuses.

Take control of your career. Learn more!

15 Nurse Specialities to Consider

Successful nursing career paths often include working toward one or more areas of specialization. But before we look at specialties, let’s start with a baseline for a registered nurse (RN): 

  • Education: Four-year bachelor’s degree 
  • Credential: State license as a registered nurse (RN) 
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

RNs care for and educate patients, record medical history, and administer medications and treatments. That said, if you’re looking to advance in your career, consider the following specialties. 

1. Pediatric Nurse

Pediatric nurses work with children from early childhood through the age of 18 in a variety of clinics, offices, and hospital settings. 

  • Required experience: 1,800 hours as an RN in a pediatric setting prior to certification
  • Credential: Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

2. Informatics Nurse

Informatics is the use of software and technology to facilitate nursing, particularly in the management, integration, and analysis of healthcare data. An informatics nurse may act as a consultant to healthcare providers, facilities, and organizations, or be employed directly by larger hospitals, networks, insurance agencies, or public health agencies. 

  • Recommended education: MS in health informatics or information or computer science
  • Recommended credential: Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC) 
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

3. Family Nurse Practitioner

From a patient’s perspective, visiting with a nurse practitioner is equivalent to seeing a doctor for many needs. FNPs can diagnose illnesses and conditions, order medical testing, and write medication prescriptions for patients.

  • Additional education: Master of science in nursing degree (MSN) with APRN track
  • Credentials: Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) state license 
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 46%

4. Infection Control/Prevention Nurse

Ever more critical since the COVID pandemic, infection control and prevention nurses work to identify, monitor, and manage communicable viruses, infections, and diseases. In addition to direct patient care, they may focus on the education, prevention, and monitoring of infection across facilities, networks, or communities. 

  • Required experience: 2 years as an infectious disease RN prior to certification
  • Credential: Certification in Infection Control (CIC)
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

5. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nurse

NICU nurses provide direct practical care for babies, usually over the first month of life, who are born prematurely or with health complications. 

  • Required experience: 2,000 hours working in a neonatal specialty environment
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

NICU nurse credentials often include:

  • Neonatal Resuscitation Certification (NRC)
  • Low Risk Neonatal Nursing (RNC-LRN)
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC)
  • Registered Nurse Certified in Neonatal Intensive Care (RNC-NIC)

6. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

As with any nurse practitioner role, NNPs can diagnose, order testing, and prescribe medication, but their focus is on newborns with critical health concerns. 

  • Additional education: MSN with APRN track, neonatal specialty
  • Credential: APRN state license, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP-BC)
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 46%

7. Travel Nurse

Is it a specialty or a way of life? Being a travel nurse can be a temporary part of a long career in a fixed location, or for some, it is a long-term vocation. Whether combined with a nursing specialty or working as a general RN, travel nurses develop high levels of communication, assertiveness, empathy, and flexibility, along with deep expertise in core practical nursing skills. Explore available travel nursing jobs and start your journey today.

  • Required experience: Minimum of 2 years is ideal
  • Required credential: None, unless applying for specialty assignments
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

8. Nurse Midwife

A nurse midwife can directly provide gynecological exams, family planning services and prescriptions, and prenatal care to pregnant women, in addition to assisting with labor and delivery. 

  • Additional education: MSN or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) with APRN/midwife track
  • Credentials: APRN state license, Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM) 
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 7%

9. Labor and Delivery Nurse

Labor and delivery, or maternity, nurses monitor contractions, mother and baby vitals, and labor progression. They may also provide care for pregnant women, teach childbirth classes, and coach new parents on nursing and newborn care. 

  • Required experience: 2,000 hours of general experience as an RN prior to certification
  • Credential: Inpatient Obstetric Nursing Core Certification (RNC-OB)
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

10. Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists work with patients undergoing surgery and other medical procedures. They administer anesthesia, pain medication, and related care prior to, during, and following the treatment.

  • Additional education: DNP with APRN/anesthesia track
  • Required experience: 3,000 related clinical hours prior to certification
  • Credentials: APRN state license, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) 
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 12%

11. Dialysis Nurse

Dialysis nurses work with patients who require dialysis, a process of cleaning blood in lieu of adequate kidney function. They operate dialysis equipment, monitor vitals, and provide coaching and aftercare for patients. This may be in dedicated dialysis clinics, hospitals, outpatient clinics, or patients’ homes, particularly in rural areas. 

  • Optional credential: Certified Nephrology Nurse (CNN) or Certified Dialysis Nurse (CDN) 
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

12. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric NPs evaluate mental health conditions including mood disorders, dementia, phobias, and psychotic disorders. In addition to prescribing medications and providing therapy, they may facilitate crisis intervention or provide other types of patient assistance. They may also work with patients with addictions and substance abuse. 

  • Additional education: MSN or DNP with APRN/psychiatric focus
  • Credential: APRN state license, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 46%

13. Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses focus on patient care for those undergoing cancer treatment and may focus on a particular patient demographic or cancer type. They may administer chemotherapy, monitor symptoms, and coach and support patients and their families. 

  • Required experience: 1,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice prior to certification
  • Credential: Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) or further specialty credentials
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

14. Charge Nurse 

Working as a charge nurse means providing on-the-ground leadership of a shift or unit. Rather than an administrator at a remove, they’re hands-on with patient care and provide immediate leadership to other nurses on duty. 

They may also handle other various tasks, such as monitoring supplies or scheduling shifts.

  • Required experience: 3 years minimum in the specialization or type of unit you’ll lead
  • Credential: Relevant certification only if you work as a charge nurse in a specialized field
  • Projected job growth, 2021 – 2031: 6%

15. Nurse Educator

Nurse educators teach new and experienced nurses in either initial degree programs or ongoing training. They may work for academic institutions, continuing education providers, or hospital nurse training programs. 

In addition to teaching, they may mentor and advise students, participate in research activities, and design or evaluate curriculum. 

  • Additional education: DNP with a focus on education or a Ph.D. in nursing
  • Credential: APRN and Certified Nurse Educator (CNE)
  • Projected job growth for epidemiology, 2021 – 2031: 26%

Partner With MAS to Grow Your Career

Ready to consider a change? MAS Medical Staffing has openings and opportunities to fit your needs, and we’d be delighted to partner with you to discover short- and long-term travel assignments to meet your career goals.

Whether you’re looking to increase your earning potential, strengthen your resume, or embark on an adventure in a new place, our agents will listen, identify opportunities, and support you through every step of your journey.

We pair nurses with employers across the spectrum of industries, facilities, and specializations. Learn more today about how we can help you find your next dream job or gain specialized experience to support your career growth.  

Sources: 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Registered Nurses. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm

Payscale. Salary for Skill: Nursery. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Skill=Nursery/Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm

Nurse.org. Career Guide Series: Charge Nurse. https://nurse.org/resources/charge-nurse/

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Epidemiologists. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm

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