Back in the day, nurses were generally considered the support help of doctors, and our role as caregivers was confined to a limited, uncelebrated universe. In the 21st century, though, nurses have truly come into their own, and the nursing profession has never before experienced such breadth and depth of professional opportunity.
If you're considering a career in nursing, there hasn't been a better time to examine the expanding array of choices within the profession. While many of those outside the profession may still not fully understand the actual scope of nursing practice, anyone interested in nursing would benefit from knowing what the actual opportunities are today.
Do I Have to Work in a Hospital?
Ask almost anyone where nurses work, and they're likely to mention the hospital. But that's truly just the tip of the iceberg.
I've been a nurse for 18 years, and when I mention my occupation to strangers, the majority respond by asking, "So, what hospital do you work at?" I, then, take it upon myself to educate them about the many roles in which nurses can serve, explaining that I've never worked in a hospital, but rather choose to focus on home health and community nursing.
When a student nurse is enrolled in nursing school, most professors focus on the supposed fact that everyone seeks their first nursing job on a hospital medical/surgical unit in order to gain the necessary experience to work in other areas of nursing.
While many employers do indeed still expect newer nurses to have at least one year of "med/surg" experience, it's becoming increasingly clear that not all newly graduated nurses are able to find hospital-based employment. As a result, a gradual shift is occurring as prospective employers realize that newer nurses can contribute to nearly any health care environment. For nursing students and new graduates to benefit from this change, it will require a concerted effort on the part of current nurse professionals to provide mentorship that will help less experienced nurses hone their craft as highly skilled professional clinicians in a variety of settings.
Yes, the hospital is a great place to work as a nurse, but it's not the only game in town.
What Other Settings Can I Explore?
As highly trained and skilled health care professionals, nurses can serve in many environments. To list just a few:
- Acute care hospitals
- Long-term care facilities
- Psychiatric facilities
- Ambulatory surgery centers
- Insurance companies
- Integrative/holistic health clinics
- Prisons and jails
- Home health and hospice agencies
- Municipal public health departments
- K-12 schools (including public, private, boarding, and colleges and universities )
Nurses can also "hang out their own shingle," opening private duty nursing agencies, nurse consulting firms, or other businesses where they serve the public within their legal scope of practice.
Meanwhile, as the role of the Nurse Practitioner/Advanced Practice Nurse expands in many states, those with advanced degrees and training can often provide primary care to patients without the supervision or oversight of a physician.
What Other Roles Are Open to Me?
Nurses can, of course, focus their careers on providing direct care to patients and clients, but the world of nursing has become significantly more varied in recent years, and the professional possibilities are extensive. Some other roles that nurses may choose include:
- Legal Nurse Consultant
- Nurse Researcher
- Nurse Manager or Executive
- Nurse Educator
- Nurse Case Manager
- Nurse Consultant
- Nurse Writer
What Do You Want to Do?
According to Gallup polls for more than a decade, nurses enjoy enormous trust among the general public. Our ability to serve in increasingly wider roles and settings makes nursing a career pathway with opportunities for depth and growth that few other professions afford. As a nurse, you can always choose a hospital-based career if that's where your heart leads, but remember that the world of 21st-century nursing is broad and varied.
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Swift, A. (2013, December 16). Honesty and Ethics Rating of Clergy Slides to New Low. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from Gallup.