A Guide to Starting and Advancing Your Nursing Career

Aspiring nurses may be wondering what to expect from their chosen career path. What will your selected nursing program involve? When will you be able to start applying for jobs at medical facilities? And how can you specialize in a specific area after racking up a few years of experience? You will find a comprehensive guide to starting and advancing your nursing career below. 

Your studies 

If you are an undergraduate with no history of studies at any college or university, you will have three main options to consider when entering the field of nursing. You can either obtain your nursing diploma, your Associate Nursing degree (ADN), or your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN)

If you intend to specialize further down the line, it is definitely worthwhile pursuing your BSN right from the get-go. If you obtain a nursing diploma or an ADN instead, you will still need to obtain your BSN before you can apply to study towards a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP). 

If you are a graduate student or you are an undergraduate with some credits to your name, you might be eligible to apply to study an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (ABSN). Accelerated BSN programs usually make it possible for you to obtain your BSN within the period of a year. 

What’s next?

Unfortunately, there is further action to take upon completing your diploma or degree and receiving your qualification. You will need to take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam, which consists of 119 questions and takes about six hours to work through. You will also need to obtain a state license based on the specific state in which you wish to practice. Once you have done all of this, you will have everything that you need to start looking for a job as a registered nurse. 

Choosing to specialize 

As you spend time nursing and gaining work experience, you might discover that you have a special talent for a specific aspect of your job, or that you enjoy certain duties more than others. For example, you might find that you absolutely thrive when working in the intensive care unit or in the emergency room, or you realize that you love working with children or infants. 

If you decide that you would like to specialize, the first course of action to take is to find a mentor who can help you navigate the next steps and further develop your skills. The requirements for specialization vary significantly based on the area in which you hope to specialize. For instance, in order to become a neonatal nurse, you will need a BSN degree and a neonatal resuscitation certification. On the other hand, in order to become a nurse anesthetist, you will need to obtain your MSN in nurse anesthesiology. 

Remember to keep reminding yourself of your career goals as you progress from your studies to working and to specializing. While it is sure to be a challenging path, the reality is that you are unlikely to find another one that will be anywhere near as rewarding.