Nursing is the lifeblood of the healthcare industry. Professionals in this sector tend to work closely with patients, collaborate with other healthcare professionals, and interact with patients to communicate necessary information and ensure the best possible outcomes.
The responsibilities of nurses differ significantly — mainly depending on the career specialization they decide to go for. Unlike some other professions, passion plays a critical role in the decision to become a nurse. According to an article from the National Library of Medicine, nurses are steadily exposed to psychological and physical risks that could potentially hamper their daily work and trigger burnout. However, nurses worldwide have admitted to coping with these risks by maintaining a positive psychological approach through passion.
Nursing offers an excellent opportunity to merge a passion for helping others with a career that provides significant job growth, security, and earning potential. With many possible specialization options in the nursing niche, professionals are open to massive career flexibility. This allows them to decide on a path and environment that perfectly complements their skills and competencies.
What do nurses do?
Nursing has been regarded as a steadily developing profession with a high specialization level. In most countries, the nursing profession encompasses four critical aspects of healthcare — adult, children, mental health and disabilities. The primary responsibilities of professional nursing range from direct activities that improve the health and recovery of patients to more administrative duties such as research, advocacy, education and management.
Nurses carry out a lot more than just primary responsibilities — however, the all-encompassing nature of the profession makes it difficult to create a boundary for a nurse’s duties. Each nurse is bound to specific assignments based on their specialization.
One thing however is certain, nurses utilize well-developed skills and a strong knowledge base to offer the best possible care to patients. They are also tasked with working personally with patients to improve their overall health. Some general responsibilities of a typical nurse in any healthcare setting include:
- Identify vital signs, collect blood and carry out other diagnostic tests.
- Carry out physical examinations and accumulate a patient’s health history.
- Deliver drugs and other treatments.
- Engage in counseling and healthcare education to foster health improvement.
- Often work closely with other professionals and specialists in a healthcare institution.
All nurses are not relegated to a hospital or clinic. Nurses can also engage in different forms of healthcare, be it direct or indirect. Aside from clinical activities, nurses can also utilize skills in schools, pharmacies, public service, hospice care, and even private homes.
Types of nursing fields
An unending issue in the healthcare industry stems from the formation of different fields of nursing. Discussions continue regarding what makes up a standalone branch of nursing and when a professional can choose a career specialization.
Today, most institutions and nursing bodies recognize four critical branches of nursing: adult, children, learning disability and mental health.
Registered nurses under this branch organize and provide care to adults with various illnesses or medical issues. Adult nurses oversee these adult patients’ treatment, recovery, and overall health improvement. Professionals in this field mostly work as part of a team incorporating doctors, therapists, and other health workers to address patients’ medical needs.
Over time, many adult nurses specialize in clinical fields such as ER nurses, surgery, public health, and cardiac nurses, among others. They can, however, grow to take on administrative positions. Some typical responsibilities of an adult nurse include:
- Developing care plans and documenting health records.
- Offering care before and after operations.
- Handling emergencies.
- Organizing workloads.
- Supervising interns and junior staff.
- Engaging in routine checkups and health improvement procedures.
Professionals in this field mostly work as part of a team incorporating doctors, therapists, and other health workers to address patients’ medical needs.
According to NHS, child nursing incorporates everything from caring for a sick newborn to an adolescent road accident victim. A pediatric nurse plays a critical role in assessing a child’s nursing requirements, while considering their medical records and socio-cultural background.
Caring for children necessitates using some well-developed skills, perhaps more than in other fields. Communication, empathy, and sensitivity are some of the competencies pediatric nurses must exhibit while caring for children. Some of the responsibilities required from are child nurse are:
- Evaluating, observing, and reporting on patients’ conditions.
- Ready patients for medical procedures and operations.
- Administer medications.
- Respond quickly to emergencies.
- Communicate treatment procedures to parents and caregivers to get their consent.
- Educate and support patients and their families.
- For senior professionals, organize other junior staff and create schedules to ensure shift cover.
Nurses specialized in this field must also consider the support required by the wider family, including parents and other caregivers.
Learning disability nursing
Nurses specializing in this field provide healthcare and support to individuals with learning disabilities to help include them in society and live fulfilling lives. As part of their responsibilities, learning disability nurses teach patients the relevant skills to look out for themselves, stay healthy, and participate in daily activities, including schooling and interaction with others. As a learning disability nurse, your primary responsibilities include:
- Build trust and engage with disabled people.
- Understand behaviors to develop specialized care packages.
- Organize appointments to discuss progress levels with patients and their families.
- Teach patients skills to carry out everyday activities.
- Work with patients to overcome apparent issues such as anxiety, problem-solving, and behavior management.
- Help carry out tests, observations, and evaluations.
Like pediatric nurses, these professionals also offer support to the families and staff team of patients.
Mental health nursing
Often referred to as psychiatric nursing, this field involves caring for people with mental health disorders to help them recover to some extent and improve their quality of life.
Mental disorders can affect any individual, regardless of age, biological identity, or ethnic origin. As such, psychiatric nurses work with a team of other professionals to provide the best patient outcomes. The responsibilities of a psychiatric nurse comprise the following:
- Oversee and evaluate the mental health of a patient.
- Create treatment plans.
- Documentation of patients’ mental records.
- Consult with other members of the team for the best treatment plan.
- Discuss progress with patients and caregivers.
- Offer psychotherapy treatments.
Nurses in this field specialize in advanced knowledge of evaluation, diagnosis, and care of mental disorders.
Qualification requirements to pursue a career in nursing
Different specializations and career paths require different minimum qualifications. However, regardless of which path an individual chooses, there are some critical requirements — formal education and field licensing. These credentials are pivotal in breaking into the nursing sector.
Individuals seeking to become practicing nurses are required to become licensed. Vocational schools and higher institutions offer licensed practical nurse (LPN) programs. These programs cover disciplines in biology and pharmacology, and students also get quality experiences.
The minimum educational requirement for registered nurses in every country is an undergraduate degree in nursing, which can be completed in about three to four years. Professionals looking to qualify for top positions can also engage in graduate degrees such as master’s and doctorate.
A nursing license is another qualification requirement for anyone wishing to become a practicing nurse. This mandates professionals progress through a competency exam. Throughout the nursing sector, there are significant examinations nurses engage in to get licensed:
Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
Certified nursing assistants are nursing assistants or patient care assistants that work closely with patients and nurses and engage in responsibilities that foster patient care. For most nursing professionals, becoming a certified nursing assistant helps prepare for a career in nursing and healthcare management.
With CNA being an entry-level position, it does not require major qualifications. The requirement is typically a CNA certification where individuals learn basic medical skills and healthcare ethics. The CNA certification comes in the form of a National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) examination that tests an individual’s competency.
National Council Licensure Examination
National Council Licensure Examination is reserved for professionals pursuing better positions. It comes in two stages — the NCLEX-PN, reserved for prospective licensed practical nurses, and the NCLEX-RN, for prospective registered nurses.
Firstly, licensed practical nurses have more extended responsibilities than nursing assistants. As such, the NCLEX-PN comprehensively covers the skills and knowledge required to engage in the added responsibilities. A prerequisite for this is an individual’s understanding of fundamental nursing theories.
A role as a registered nurse is one of the independent positions in this sector. Hence, it necessitates individuals to engage in an extensive examination of knowledge. Typically, this program incorporates different categories and disciplines to ensure an individual is qualified enough to be registered and practice as a nurse.
Niche careers in nursing
There are many nursing specialties that cater to specific populations or needs. These include:
A perianesthesia nurse is a professional responsible for caring for and monitoring patients that are fresh out of sedation or anesthesia. A patient coming out of sedation could experience different side effects, with some of the primary cases being disorientation and nausea. However, on rare occasions, these side effects could be much more severe, such as respiratory issues or extreme reactions.
Due to how complex and critical this responsibility is, a perianesthesia nurse must exhibit extensive knowledge and skills relevant to addressing serious medical emergencies during and after surgery. This includes overseeing essential vitals such as temperature, blood pressure and heart rate.
Subacute care nurse
In some settings, these professionals are also regarded as inpatient rehabilitation nurses. A subacute nurse is typically assigned to patients that require round-the-clock care and treatment. Professionals are needed to offer short-term care to these patients until they are stable enough to be moved or discharged.
Aside from a healthcare facility, subacute care nurses can also help chronically hospitalized patients in their homes. They are responsible for treatment such as medications, physiotherapy, speech therapy and psychological evaluation. The time frame for treatment depends on the patient’s condition.
These registered nurses care for and treat patients in a clinical setting. A clinical nurse is tasked with all responsibilities of a typical registered nurse, including administering medications, evaluating a patient’s condition, updating records, and providing a personalized care plan for both parents and their caregivers.
A graduate degree is often needed to qualify for this position, along with about three years of experience in specialized clinical duties and responsibilities. Alternatively, a professional can obtain a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) certification in a specified specialty area. This minimum requirement is necessary to acquire the relevant skill set required for the position.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as with most registered nurses, clinical nurses earn an average annual salary of $91,720.
Diabetes is a major concern in the healthcare industry, and healthcare professionals identify the need to provide quality and consistent care to patients suffering from this ailment. As a result, diabetes nurses specialize in looking after such patients by offering good treatment and self-care management. While these professionals specialize in diabetes care, they could function in different healthcare settings.
Aside from formal education, diabetes nurses must also possess a recognized qualification in diabetes management. An effective way to obtain this is by engaging in a master’s program specializing in diabetes care — this serves as evidence to prove a nurse’s competency in primary diabetes care and specialist diabetes services.
The salary structure of a diabetes nurse is also competitive. These nurses earn an average income of $93,225 annually.
Nurse anesthetists is a type of advanced practice registered nurse tasked with the primary responsibilities of providing anesthesia during critical medical procedures. However, this career should not be confused with a perianesthesia nurse. Nurse anesthetists consider different factors and decide on the most appropriate amount and type of anesthesia needed, and how it should be administered.
Nurse anesthetists have a high possibility of autonomy, with most professionals working independently. They could also collaborate with other healthcare workers carrying out procedures that require anesthesia. An individual pursuing a career as a nurse anesthetist primarily works in a clinical setting.
A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse charged with every facet of patient care, including consultations, diagnoses and treatments. A career as a nurse practitioner offers professionals considerable flexibility. Firstly, they can work with any type of patient within any healthcare setting. Additionally, they can also function as part of a team or independently.
The responsibilities of nurse practitioners vary depending on their specific specialty. However, some primary roles include administering medication, developing and implementing treatment plans, and managing various health problems, among others. A graduate degree gives a professional a better chance to become an NP. Alternatively, clinical perioperative experience is also essential.
Oncology nurses are practitioners specialized in offering healthcare and support to patients diagnosed with cancer. Oncology nurses incorporate technical skills, an extensive knowledge base, and empathy in delivering aid to people living with cancer and their families. They function in all aspects of cancer care, including diagnosis, treatment, survivorship and end-of-life care.
Oncology nurses are licensed nurses and must be formally educated. They also learn specific cancer care skills through clinical practice and varied coursework that comes with a certification program. After gaining sufficient competency, knowledge, and experience, a nurse can engage in an examination and become a certified oncology nurse.
This career path covers professionals specialized in helping people living with disabilities and other chronic illnesses. Through the care of rehabilitation nurses, patients can adapt to an altered lifestyle while also living a fulfilled life. Some primary functions of rehabilitation nurses include helping patients attain independence through achievable goals and treatment plans.
The minimum requirement for nurses specializing in rehabilitation is formal education. They are also required to be certified by any registered association for rehabilitation nurses in the state they practice. Rehabilitation nurses are also not restricted to the confines of a clinic — they can work in various settings.
A nurse educator is another popular niche career in the nursing field. Educators are responsible for developing curricula and teaching guides for lecturing students and evaluating their progress. They also engage in other educational roles, such as authoring or reviewing educational materials. These professionals often have a background or passion for teaching and possess current knowledge in the nursing field.
Breaking into a career as a nurse educator requires a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, as well as certifications and licenses. These requirements are necessary since educators must have a comprehensive working knowledge of the theories in clinical procedures and protocols.
Certified nurse midwives are professionals who work closely with pregnant women, assist in the birth process, and offer post-pregnancy healthcare to mothers and infants. A nurse midwife engages in prenatal care, labor, delivery and postpartum care. Additionally, they can also provide procreative care and education to patients.
A nurse midwife primarily requires extensive knowledge of reproductive concerns. As such, the requirement includes formal education in the form of an undergraduate, master’s or doctorate degree. A registered nurse license is also mandatory.
Many different career paths are available to professionals looking to break into the nursing industry. Hence, these paths can be selected based on specific career goals and passions. Additionally, nursing offers plenty of flexibility and career growth opportunity. However, most top positions are reserved for professionals with graduate degrees.
In line with this, Rockhurst University offers graduate programs for nursing professionals looking to explore more career advancement opportunities. One such initiative is the AGACNP post master’s certificate online program. Rockhurst University’s Online Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Post Master’s Certificate Program offers professionals the chance to become certified to care for adults with acute and complex conditions.
This four-semester program features a curriculum focused on scholarship, leadership, and ethical practices essential in broadening career opportunities.