Nurses serve all segments of society in many different settings. Because there is a shortage of nurses, particularly registered nurses, a qualified candidate has a lot of career options from which to choose. The type of job you get also depends on the nursing degree or certification you have.
Nurses can be loosely categorized according to the positions they hold, types of patients they treat, medical issues they specialize in, and settings in which they work.
Registered nurses perform a wide range of duties in various settings. While under the supervision of a doctor, RNs are responsible for taking vital signs, administering injections and medication, developing patient care plans, assessing patients, and more.
Head nurses or nurse supervisors manage the nursing activities, usually in a hospital. The supervisor arranges schedules, assigns duties, monitors nurses’ interaction with patients, and makes sure there are adequate supplies and equipment.
Nurse Practitioners are the most advanced. They are able to see patients, diagnose illnesses, and write prescriptions independently. NPs can also concentrate in specific areas, such as family care, neonatal care, women's health, and midwifery.
Nurses may specialize in a particular field and help treat patients with specific illnesses or needs.
Acute care nurses work with patients suffering from acute illnesses, such as heart attacks, respiratory distress, or shock, and may perform advanced diagnostic procedures. These nurses typically work in hospitals and as part of their duties, care for pre- and post- operative patients. Similarly, cardiac rehabilitation nurses work wherever patients are recovering from heart problems.
Oncology nurses work with cancer patients in hospitals, cancer centers, hospice programs, homes, doctors’ offices, extended care facilities, and pharmaceutical companies. Within the oncology field are several areas in which nurses can specialize, such as chemotherapy, breast oncology, radiation, and more. Advanced oncology nurses have a minimum of a master’s degree. They can become further qualified by becoming an oncology certified nurse (OCN), advanced oncology certified nurse (AOCN) or a certified pediatric oncology nurse (CPON).
Psychiatric nurses care for patients with psychiatric disorders, medical issues, or substance abuse problems in hospitals and community health centers. They assess patients, create treatment plans, and manage the patients’ care.
Other nurses work with specific segments of the population, such as pediatrics, gerontology, home and nursing home health, and women’s health.
Pediatric nurses care for children from infancy to 21 years of age in hospitals, primary care facilities, and critical care facilities, among others. Their work focuses on health promotion, disease prevention, diagnosing common childhood illnesses, and treating injuries.
Gerontological nurses work with the elderly population in hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors’ offices. They specialize in implementing treatment plans for chronic illnesses and provide support for both patients and their families. Nursing home nurses also work with elderly patients, as well as some younger ones. Ailments extend from fractures to Alzheimer’s, strokes to head injuries. These nurses assess patients and develop treatment plans, as well as perform administrative duties.
Home health nurses work with a wide variety of patients, including people recovering from accidents, childbirth, or illness. The nurses provide instruction for patients and family members.
Nurse practitioners who specialize in women’s health work mostly in primary care settings. They provide services for women beginning in adolescence and through old age. Women’s health needs are different from men’s, as are their responses to wellness and disease. Nurse practitioners in women’s health focus on health promotion and disease prevention. They also manage chronic health conditions affecting women.
Nurses perform their duties in a variety of locations: most common are hospitals, offices, and schools. The nurses already mentioned may work in any of these settings.
Hospital nurses can be further categorized by where in the hospital they work.
Nurses are in integral part of the operating and emergency room staffs.
ER nurses are the first ones to take care of patients when they come in with acute pain.
OR nurses care for patients both before and after surgery, assist the surgeon, chart recovery, monitor vital signs, and help manage pain. Often they are the first faces you see when you wake up after an operation.
Nurse anesthetists also work in the OR. They are RNs who have received extensive training and have passed a national exam in order to become certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA). They perform duties similar to the anesthesiologists, who are doctors.
It is also common for nurses to work in doctors’ offices. There, they help with examinations, administer injections, and dress wounds, to name a few duties.
Nurses are a staple of every school. They have numerous responsibilities, including health services, counseling, physical education, nutrition, staff wellness, and parent/community involvement. School nurses also have to follow individual students’ health plans. Qualifications vary widely in the school nurse field. There are nurses with LPNs through PhDs, with different licensing and certifications in between.
Nurse educator is another important job nurses can hold. These educators train students to become LPNs and RNs. They can also teach at the graduate level (master’s and PhD) to prepare nurses to become advanced practice nurses, nurse educators, nursing administrators, and other leaders in the field.
Educators who teach LPN, associate’s and bachelor’s programs, must hold a master’s degree. To teach graduate level courses, most colleges and universities require a master’s at minimum and prefer a PhD.
Two more locations in which nurses are in demand are community-based programs and industrial settings.
Community health nurses work to improve the overall health of the entire community. They develop and carry out plans for immunizations, blood pressure testing, and other screening processes. These nurses, who can work in clinics, schools, retirement communities, camps, prisons, insurance companies, health departments, and homes, focus on prevention of illness, nutrition, and childcare.
Occupational nurses, also called industrial nurses, work at construction sites and manufacturing companies, as well as other work settings. They attend to employees, customers, and others with injuries. They are trained to provide emergency care, prepare accident reports, and arrange for further care if needed.
Occupational nurses also focus on preventative measures to improve workplace safety by offering health counseling, exams, and inoculations. They assess the work area for potential hazards and health issues.
A relatively new discipline for nurses to pursue is in forensics and law.
Forensic nurses provide care to victims of crimes and collect DNA evidence. They can investigate aspects of a crime and often have to testify in court as to their findings. They may also work within the prison healthcare systems.
Legal nurses consult with attorneys on matters relating to health. They may review records to help determine if negligence occurred in a particular case and if disability or workers’ comp cases are genuine. These nurses familiarize the lawyers with medical terminology and may appear as expert witnesses in court.
Nurses are a key component of the health care system. They provide valuable services to their patients in hospitals, offices, communities, and workplaces. Nursing is a challenging and rewarding career, with a lot of room for advancement and variety.
There are jobs within the nursing profession that will suit your interests and career needs, and because of the nursing shortage, job prospects are good and will continue to grow.
Bill Long is an administrator of HealthSchoolFinder.com, a website offering resources for students interested in nursing schools and healthcare schools.