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Thinking Outside the Box in Your Nursing Career


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By Jennifer Larson, contributor

June 12, 2014 - If you’re a nurse, the chances are good that you’re either currently working in a hospital or you’ve logged at least part of your nursing career in one.

There were more than 2.7 million registered nurses working in the United States in the 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The majority of them, or 61 percent, were working in hospitals.  The next largest employers of RNs accounted for much smaller percentages: about 7 percent were employed in physician’s offices, with another 7 percent working in nursing or residential facilities.

Perhaps you’ve envisioned yourself working in the same unit of your hospital for the rest of your nursing career, either climbing the management ladder or staying in bedside care. But there are other possibilities. Have you looked into other areas of interest? Do you know what’s out there?

Andrea Higham: Nursing career options are growing.
Andrea Higham says that the career options for nurses continue to grow.

Andrea Higham, director of Johnson & Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future, is pleased by the expanding developments in career options for nurses. The campaign’s Discover Nursing site currently lists 104 nursing specialties, and the number continues to expand.

“I continue to be amazed at the breadth and depth of opportunities individuals can have within their nursing careers, and how often one role may serve as a building block to another phase in one’s career,” she said. “From roles as nurse educators, executive nurse leaders and policymakers, to nurse entrepreneurs, retail clinic nurses, nurse informaticists and researchers--to name a few--we have seen how nurses have been able to parlay their clinical backgrounds and health care skill sets into entirely new realms.”

Peter McMenamin, PhD, senior policy fellow for the American Nurses Association (ANA), suggests that nurses looking for career paths with a great deal of potential also consider geriatric nursing and nursing informatics. The aging of the baby boomers means that more elderly people will need health care, and as technology evolves, nurses can play a critical role in applying nursing informatics knowledge to facilitate better patient care.

“I would encourage people to have an open mind,” he said.

Here is a closer look at a few outside-the-box nursing careers:

Forensic nurse. If you’ve ever wanted to help solve crimes, this may be the job for you. Forensic nurses develop expertise in assessing the effects of trauma, violence and crime on victims and perpetrators. They are trained to collect evidence and testify in court. Many become sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), while others choose to become death investigators. For more information, visit the International Association of Forensic Nurses’ website.

Corrections nurse.  Nurses who specialize in correctional facility nursing provide care for patients in a variety of settings, including prisons, jails, penitentiaries and juvenile detention centers. They may need to provide emergency care, preventive care and care for chronic medical conditions--all in the same day. A nurse interested in this career path should pursue certification through the correctional health professional exam, and can later choose to become a certified corrections nurse or manager.

Hospice nurse. If you have a strong affinity for helping people during times of serious illness or near the end of life, a career as a hospice nurse is something to consider. Hospice nursing is one type of palliative care nursing in which nurses provide emotional, spiritual and physical care to patients at a very vulnerable time in their lives. You can help patients with pain and symptom management, as well as important psychosocial issues that they and their families may be grappling with. “Knowing that you were able to provide comfort and care to seriously ill or dying patients can be a very affirming experience for nurses,” said Sally Welsh, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, chief executive officer of the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association.

Travel nurse. Ready for a new work environment and a little adventure, too? Travel nursing enables you to choose where and when you want to work.  You can use your current nursing skills in a new region of the country or stay close to home. Plus, you’ll gain valuable experience to enhance your nursing career working at different facilities, including academic medical centers, specialty hospitals and more. Your housing is either provided by your travel nursing agency or paid for in a stipend during your assignments, which can vary from 4 to 26 weeks (13 weeks is the most common).  Visit NurseZone’s Explore Travel Nursing page to learn more.

School nurse. School nurses do far more than conduct vision screenings and apply bandages. They are working to help set up children for academic success, according to the National Association of School Nurses, by providing access to care during the most important years of cognitive development. For many children, school nurses may be the frontline of care and early intervention. Most work in public school districts, but the settings vary from rural to urban to suburban. Some work in one school, while others may be responsible for students’ well-being in a series of schools.

Legal nurse consultant. These nurses play the role of medical expert on a legal team. You may find yourself doing medical research, acting as a consultant to attorneys and helping legal professionals interpret records and understand medical terminology.  To practice in this field, you’ll need to get certified by the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board.

Flight nurse. Critical care experience is a must-have for this specialty. Nashville nurse Keela Dement, BSN, RN, CEN, EMT, spent a decade working in hospitals before becoming a transport nurse. She was working in the trauma ICU of a busy Level 1 trauma center when a member of a flight crew suggested she consider applying. Dement was intrigued, even though she had never planned to pursue that path in her nursing career.

“But I am sure glad that the opportunity found me that that I was ready for the challenge,” she said. Ten years and 1,200+ patient transports later, Dement still loves her job, including the ongoing challenge and the opportunity to help patients.  She suggests checking with your state and employer to see what the minimum requirements are for becoming a flight/transport nurse.

Telehealth nurse. It’s not just about the telephone anymore. Technological developments have greatly expanded nurses’ ability to work with off-site patients, improving efficiency and access to care. They may use technology to remotely monitor a patient’s data such as blood glucose levels and blood pressure, and they may conduct patient consultations via a live video feed.

Parish nurse. If you have a strong background in community nursing and an interest in working with faith communities, this may be the perfect place for you. Since parish nurses work with people in churches and other faith-based organizations, it’s useful to have a familiarity with those spiritual beliefs and practices in addition to your nursing education. Visit ParishNurses.org for more information.

There are several more possibilities for your nursing career, including the advanced practice nursing route, which requires a master’s level education and can be a pathway toward careers such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist. Pursuing a doctoral degree can open up even more doors.



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