A nursing career is one of the most sought-after professions in the medical field. Although many people think nursing is all about patient care, a nursing degree can lead to many diverse specialties. The nursing field is very broad, with over 100 subdivisions. It also has some of the highest paying careers, and was ranked by the U.S News and World Reports among the 100 Best Jobs in the year 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% increase in Registered Nurse (RN) roles by 2026.
If you want to become a nurse, you can start with an Associate’s Degree and later scale up to becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) after undertaking several nursing programs.
Nursing students have the opportunity to decide which path they want to take in their nursing careers. Some might not realize the true breadth of their career options while still in nursing school. More often, nurses choose a specialty midway through their nursing practice.
What can you do with a nursing degree? Let’s see!
Things You Can Do with a Nursing Degree
As mentioned, there are many potential applications for a nursing degree. Nursing education can open doors you might not imagine when you first enroll in a nursing program.
Below we discuss some of the things nursing graduates do.
Common Careers You Can Pursue With a Nursing Degree
- Public Health Nurse
These nurses visit and evaluate patients at their residences. They focus on educating patients at the family and community level about health and other risk factors.
- Pharmaceutical Nurse
Registered nurses in this specialty are responsible for monitoring and interviewing patients, documenting their trial processes, recording other vital signs, and reviewing lab merits.
- Occupational Health Nurse
Registered occupational health nurses offer health care at workplaces. They ensure employees are healthy and safe. They also create health plans for work events. Occupational health nurses also participate in regulatory audits and health safety committees in an organization.
- Emergency Room Nurse
As the name suggests, these professionals’ work is focused on stabilizing and treating illnesses and a variety of traumas that require emergency medical attention.
- Dermatology Nurse Practitioner
Dermatology nurse practitioners treat skin conditions. These may include skin wounds, ulcers, burns, and other injuries affecting the skin. They also advise on skincare and skin-altering procedures.
Nursing Jobs that Require Specialized Nursing Degrees
- Legal Nursing Consultancy
A legal nurse consultant has clinical experience, is RN-licensed, and mostly works for insurance firms. Key duties involve collecting, analyzing, and preparing graphs and visuals aids. They also keep records for legal purposes.
- Forensic Nursing
A forensic nurse works closely with legal teams in aiding them with scientific investigations involving deaths relating to abuse, criminal acts, accidents, violence, and liability. Such a nurse is equipped with knowledge of the law, has a BSN degree, and must be a registered practitioner.
- Nursing Informatics
Nursing informatics professionals possess a BSN degree and are trained in computer science and information technology. They work closely with other medical professionals in managing data integration, which helps organizations improve patient care. An RN license is a mandatory requirement for this career.
- Vaccine Research Nurse
A nurse researcher does not provide direct nursing care. This career requires advanced training to enable the nurse to carry scientific studies about illnesses, analyze data, and report their findings. A nurse researcher must have a valid RN license and a BSN degree.
- Nurse Anesthetists
These are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) who administer pain medication and anesthesia. They observe critical signs and make adjustments during surgical procedures and patient recoveries.
Settings you Can Work With a Nursing Degree
- Cruise Ships: Shipboard nurses travel the world responding to health emergencies, assessing and treating arising health conditions, and also transferring patients to primary medical facilities for specialized care.
- Flights: Each passenger aircraft employs a flight nurse, to give medical care to their patients in cases of medical emergencies. The nurse is an RN specifically trained for flight care-giving. Prior experience as an RN working in trauma and emergency settings is always a requirement by employers though not mandatory.
- Prisons: Correctional facilities employ nurses that evaluate, manage, and treat different forms of complications among the prisoners. Here, you’ll find mental health nurses with prior experience working in intensive care units.
Since navigating through a prison can be hectic, former prison warders make good prison nurses after acquiring a nursing degree- given their experience with prisoners. Any nurse seeking to work as a prison nurse needs to drop the hospital mindset and embrace the tough prison environment.
- Schools: School nurses are tasked with enhancing learners’ well-being to help them realize academic success. The National Association of School Nurses (NASM) works to ensure students have a full-time RN to respond to learners’ medical needs.
- Camps: Camp nurses work to ensure all campers are healthy for camping. They are also the caregivers in the camps in cases of injuries or other medical emergencies.
If you would like to get a nursing degree, here are some of the best schools that offer BSN programs.
Jobs You Can Do with a Nursing Degree Other Than Nursing
A nursing job does not restrict practitioners to hospital environments. A nursing degree can be combined with other certifications or even used independently to venture into other rewarding careers. Additionally, there are so many nursing degree types that those interested in nursing may choose from.
Industries People with Nursing Degrees Can Work in Non-nursing Positions
A clinical nurse educator works in academic settings to teach and mentor aspiring nurses. A nurse educator also facilitates lessons, administers tests, and oversees students’ internships.
A nursing educator may also be employed to work in a medical facility to train and develop newly absorbed nursing staff.
- Health Service Administration
Health service administrators can work as human resource managers in health facilities. Since they are knowledgeable in medical operations, these professionals do a great job in hiring the best nursing staff. They know what to look out for in a potential candidate. They also work in managing budgets and advising the management on policies and processes that can improve patient experiences.
- Consultancy Firms
Nurse consultants offer legal advice and consultation services relating to medical matters. They act as expert witnesses in cases involving medical malpractices, and they may also help legal teams in defining medical terms and evaluating charts.
Nurse consultants may be hired by a medical facility to help evaluate existing staff qualifications. They can also work in nursing homes where they offer consultation and recommendation services on treatment plans for individual patients.
- Medical Sales Companies
Medical sales executives work with medical products manufacturers and suppliers. They are highly experienced and apart from educating other doctors and physicians about the uses of drugs, they offer training on the uses of medical products.
Medical sales executives may from time to time meet other healthcare providers to present product samples and answer questions as a way of marketing.
- Health Writing
Health articles and publications require health writers who have deep knowledge and understanding of nursing topics. They possess BSN degrees obtained after extensive training. This makes their articles informative and accurate for the benefit of patients.
Health writers also work with health magazines and medical facilities whereby they write medical articles and newsletters.
Popular Second Careers For Nurses
- Wellness Coaching
Wellness coaching nurses should not be confused with nutritionists. These groups of professionals offer patients education about illness complications and treatment, disease prevention, and how to maintain good health.
These nurses may be hired by insurance companies to offer wellness coaching through the internet or via phone calls. They may also be hired for on-site wellness program coordination.
- Family Nurse Practitioner
Family Nurse Practitioners focus on giving family-based care. They offer a wide range of services including counseling and disease prevention. They do this by collaborating with other medical specialists such as physicians.
Nutritionists are medical practitioners who advise and consult with patients on proper nutrition to help them achieve certain health goals and encourage healthy living.
Nutritionists can also work in training facilities as gyms instructors and nutrition advisors for those seeking to live healthily.
- Medical Biller
Medical billers follow due process in collecting payments from patients and insurance companies. They do this by drafting medical bills that are sent to patients’ homes and may bill insurance companies by use of health codes.
- Hospice Nursing
A hospice nurse is a compassionate medical caregiver who takes care of patients diagnosed with less than six months to live. Such patients choose hospice care to live and hospice nurses offer individual care as per the unique patient needs until their last breath.
Size of Demand for Nursing Degrees in Non-nursing Industries
Healthcare is a vital sector in any economy. That’s the reason governments allocate huge budgets every year to educate and improve their medical services.
Nursing degrees will always remain in high demand, whether you choose to remain as a bedside caregiver or venture into other careers. That further explains the reason why so many nursing degrees are completely unrelated to hospital caregiving practices. For example, you may opt to become a virtual nurse if you don’t want to work directly in health facilities.
A report by Duquesne University School of Nursing indicates that there were 178,586 unique positions for registered nurses posted in the first quarter of the year 2017. Approximately 2.7 million registered nurses were employed in 2014, and this number is expected to shoot up by 16% by 2024.
Best Things to Do with a Nursing Degree
The nursing practice has a wide scope, and not all of its aspects will interest you. Here are some popular choices and top-paying nursing careers you can pursue.
Most Popular Careers for People with Nursing Degrees
- Diabetes Management Nurse: Global diabetes prevalence over the years has made a nursing degree in diabetes management among the most sought-after careers.
These nurses monitor and educate diabetes patients and their families about self-care in managing diabetes. The practitioner must be a BSN degree holder along with an APRN status.
- Psychiatric Nurse: Psychiatric-Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (PMH-APRNs) assess and diagnose patients with mental disorders or with the potential of developing such disorders. This is done by administering psychotherapy and prescribing medication after thorough analysis.
Psychiatric nurses can work in hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, among other places.
Highest Paying Positions You Can Achieve With a Nursing Degree
Registered nurses with BSN degrees are some of the best-paid professionals in the nursing field. Below are some of these high-paying careers.
- Nurse Administrator
Nurse administrators are tasked with all administrative tasks and performance reviews in an organization. This may include managing nursing staff at all levels.
These professionals report directly to company CEOs. According to the Registered Nursing Website, an advanced RN administrator commands a median salary of $81,033 annually. This figure may, however, vary by location.
- Nurse Anesthetist
A nurse anesthetist is a highly ranked professional who provides pain relief medication during and after surgery.
The U.S. Labor and Bureau Statistics reports that the median salary for a nurse anesthetist in 2019 was $181,040. This figure is different from one state to the other.
- Physical Therapist
The aging population is rising so fast across the U.S. This means the demand for physical therapists is expected to grow further in the coming years.
According to Teach.com, there were 247,700 practicing physical therapists in the U.S in 2018. Their salary ranges are reported by the same website to be between $54,900 and $107,900 across different states.
- Pediatric Nurse
Pediatric nurses work in surgical centers, doctors’ offices, hospitals, community centers, and public health communities. They offer comfort to parents and young children in acute care settings including PICU, neonatal departments, pediatric oncology departments, and pediatric critical care units.
ZipRecruiter reports that as of February 2021, the average annual salary for a registered pediatric nurse in the U.S was $78,800.
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
Despite being the least pursued career in the nursing field, neonatal nurse practitioners are among the top paid nursing degree holders. A report by Salary.com indicates that the median salary of a neonatal nurse in the U.S is $106,083. This figure may vary by state.
Practical Skills Future Nurses Learn in a Nursing Degree Program
We’ve discussed some of the major nursing degrees offered in different universities. Let’s now shift the focus to some practical skills future nurses can learn in nursing degree programs.
- Acute Care
As advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs) specialize in taking care of mildly injured or acutely ill patients. An acute care nurse works in emergency centers and hospitals.
A traveling nurse is encouraged to take this unpopular nursing program during the nursing degree studies. It is important to note that traveling nurses, like flight nurses, will always encounter cases of emergency or acute illness that are best responded to by an acute care nurse.
A telemetry nurse cares for patients with heart complications or related health problems requiring telemetry monitoring. Some of the telemetry nurse duties also include caring for patients recovering from a cardiac intervention like coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery.
A telemetry nurse, however, does not work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where cardiac patients are always cared for. A patient under a telemetry nurse is always stable and has been transferred from the ICU but requires telemetry monitoring.
Registered nurses who have passed the NCLEX-RN Exam can work as telemetry nurses. Registered nurses seeking to become telemetry nurses are first required to:
- Train on how to use an electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) machine that is used to monitor a patients’ heart.
- Have Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) training to help them react to cardiac arrest cases.
- Be a registered nurse with a BSN degree.
This is the study of the mental characteristics of people. It’s a vital program for any nursing student that will enable them to understand how to communicate with their patients.
Some of the major nursing degrees that actively incorporate psychology studies in their programs include:
- Psychiatric nurse
- Mental health nurse practitioner
- Substance abuse nurse
- Intensive Care Unit Nursing
Intensive Care Unit nurses, also referred to as Critical Care Unit nurses, work in an ICU room. They closely monitor patients, note specific medications, help doctors in patient assessment, and administer treatments.
Entry into ICU nursing requires a registered nurse to have some prior experience working as a nurse. This is a mandatory requirement as nursing students can undertake this program while pursuing their BSN degrees.
All these skills can be learned while undertaking a nursing degree and a nursing student might not necessarily need to register separately for the programs. To fit the schedules of different nurses, most schools offer both online RN programs and in-person class attendance systems.
Things to Do with a Nursing Degree Without a License
The nursing profession is a demanding career that requires years of training to practice. Most roles will require a valid RN license and up to 4 years of training. An RN license usually acts as a minimum entry requirement to protect the public from possible risks.
There are, however, other short nursing degrees that you can pursue to gain entry into the nursing profession.
Careers Open to People With Nursing Degrees But Without License
- Medical Records Technician
Medical records technicians can qualify with just a nursing degree, although they may require some form of training to execute other demanding tasks. They work closely with other health professionals to make sure health records are accurate. Electronic record-keeping is fast taking over the manual practices, which means the demand for more skilled medical record technicians to keep up with evolving technology is expected in coming years.
- Medical Assistant
A Medical assistant has very little to no direct interaction with the patient. They mostly work as physicians’ assistants in health care facilities. Some purely deal with administrative work.
Others may perform light clinical roles like recording patients’ health histories, preparing laboratory tests, and giving injections.
- Home Health Care
Home health caregivers offer assistance to patients with disabilities, those with chronic illnesses, or other forms of impairment. They may assist them in areas like feeding, bathing, dressing, checking for vital signs, and even administer medicines.
Home caregivers work in community healthcare homes and offer time to time visits to individual patients’ homes. As the aging population keeps rising according to the U.S Labor Statistics Bureau, job prospects are expected to go up in this profession.
- Medical and Clinical Lab Technicians
Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians may require an Associate’s Degree or a Bachelor’s Degree to perform. A lab technician’s key duties include collecting bodily samples like tissue and blood for testing and analyzing before passing them to physicians.
The results are then used by a physician or a clinical nurse specialist to establish abnormalities and administer proper medication. Job prospects are good, although the growth is slower compared to nursing assistant positions.
Health-care Jobs That Don’t Require Licensed Nurses
- Nuclear Medicine Technologists
These healthcare professionals work in hospitals, imaging clinics, or physicians’ offices. Their job is to create body part images using radioactive drugs and scanners. This profession focuses on human anatomy, radioactive drugs, chemistry, physics, and computer science. At least an Associate’s Degree in Nuclear Medicine Technology is required to get admission.
- Respiratory Therapist
These are professionals who are skilled in helping patients with breathing difficulties such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, and emphysema. They use aerosolized medications and chest physiotherapy, among other methods, in diagnosing these difficulties. Classroom lessons and at least an Associate’s Degree are required to be a respiratory therapist.
- Surgical Technologist
Also referred to as operating room technicians, surgical technologists work closely with surgical doctors by preparing operating rooms for surgical procedures. They disinfect incision sites, arrange and sterilize the necessary equipment, get surgery patients ready, and remain on-site to supply the surgeon with instruments.
Surgical technologists possess a post-secondary certificate and an Associate’s Degree. Knowledge of anatomy and medical terminologies is required.
- Vocational/Practical Nurse
A Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) is tasked with providing nursing care such as wound assessments, checking blood pressure, and ensuring patients’ comfort. This is distinct from a registered nurse (RN) who offers medication and medical advice to the patient.
Entry into this profession requires a Vocational/Practical Nurse Diploma. This will enable you to further train in pharmacology and other nursing skills.
- Radiation Therapist
Radiation therapists work in health facilities as administrators of radiation treatment- a technology that directs high-energy X-rays towards specific cancer cells by use of linear accelerators. These professionals work closely with oncology nurses, radiation oncologists, and radiation physicists who make up the cancer treatment team.
An associate degree in radiation therapy is a requirement to gain entry into this profession.
- Patient Care Technician
An elderly or nursing care assistant is another name for a patient care technician. They work in residential care facilities, hospitals, and nursing homes to provide patient care.
A post-secondary degree may not be a requirement for this job. You may, however, need training in anatomy, medical terminologies, physiology, and phlebotomy to have a competitive edge when applying for this job.
- Massage Therapist
Massage therapists work in hospitals, spas, fitness centers, and private offices. The service is meant to ease pain, rehabilitate injuries, enhance general body wellness, and promote relaxation.
This is a profession that requires training in hygiene, health, anatomy, hydrotherapy, and massage techniques. Depending on the location, massage therapists may be required to register or acquire a license to operate.
- Medical Billing and Coding Specialist
These are healthcare and medical records information technicians. They work to ensure all patient records and insurance health data are accurate for billing purposes.
This position requires completion of post-secondary education and training on topics covering medical terminologies, diagnostics coding, health information management, and medical office procedures. An associate degree in Medical Billing and Coding Specialization will position you well to take up this job.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers use imaging equipment to generate images used by physicians to treat different conditions. These may include abdominal sonography, neuro sonography, obstetric sonography, and breast sonography.
To enter this profession, one is required to have a postsecondary certificate or an associate degree. Some employers may require more professional certification.
Why You Might Choose Not to Renew Your Nursing License
A nursing career is a sensitive profession that impacts human life in many ways, even if not directly. The U.S government has for this reason ensured that all those seeking to practice as nurses, either directly as bedside caregivers or in other related careers acquire an RN license.
Different states across the U.S have varying requirements regarding nursing license renewal. It is required that all RN licenses remain active for the entire period as a medical nurse practitioner.
The only exemption of staying with an inactive nursing license would be when you have a pending disciplinary action in law courts or in any case you decide to revoke your practice as a nurse, which is usually unlikely.