What types of nursing roles are available?

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The field of nursing is always evolving, with seemingly endless career paths to pursue. Do you want to assist surgical teams, specialize in oncology, or support patients and their families at home? Regardless of your interest, there’s a nursing role out there for you.

If you’re keen to forge a career in health and care, it’s worth knowing that nursing is the largest profession in US healthcare (according to the AACN). With the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting a growth of 6% through 2031, qualifying in a specialized role can really help you take advantage of fast-growing employment opportunities – as well as unlocking career development.

Types of nursing roles you can specialize in

The large number of options can leave both new and experienced nurses wondering which avenue is right for them. So, to give you an idea of the kinds of careers out there, we’ve compiled some top nursing professions – plus some information on their requirements, salaries and responsibilities. Furthermore, Walsh University has a number of online degree programs to equip you with the relevant skills and qualifications to pursue them.

Registered nurse

Registered nurses (RN) form the backbone of healthcare provision in the US. The frontline of the medical workforce, not only do they offer care and emotional support to patients and their families, but they also educate the public about various health conditions.

Why choose this role? If you’re interested in working in a team and would like to kick-start your career only after two to four years of education, this could be the path for you.

Required qualification: Associate’s or bachelor’s of science degree.

Average salary: $77,600 – the median annual wage for RNs was $77,600 in May 2021.

ER nurse

All nursing positions are demanding, but the role of an emergency room nurse stands out for its fast-paced setting. Working as part of a larger team, these nurses are responsible for a host of tasks once patients have been evaluated and stabilized. ER nurses are expected to assess, diagnose and treat patients almost simultaneously!

Why choose this role? Do you think that you would thrive in a high-pressure environment? If so, pursue a challenging but rewarding career in ER nursing.

Required qualification: Associate’s or bachelor’s of science degree, RN license.

Average salary: $62,010 average annually – salaries can range from $46,710 to $92,815. Like other elements of nursing, your location can also affect your earnings.

Family nurse practitioner (FNP)

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) give primary healthcare for patients of all ages. This particular nursing role involves diagnosing illnesses, performing examinations and prescribing medications. Although FNPs cover a broad scope, they can also get certified in areas such as diabetes or obesity.

Why choose this role? Do you enjoy working with diverse communities? Are you passionate about empowering others to maintain their healthy habits? If your answer is yes, then why not consider a role as an FNP?

Required qualification: Master’s degree in nursing (MSN), RN license.

Average salary: $123,780 – this is the median annual income for nurse practitioners reported by the BLS in 2021.

Mental health nurse

Nurses are an invaluable part of the mental health workforce, “making up 44% of the total number of specialist mental health workers worldwide”, according to the Nursing Times. Today, there are over 26,000 mental health nurses employed in the US, and these nurses provide care to some of the most vulnerable members of society. As well as treating patients with various psychological disorders, counseling is often an essential aspect within this role.

Why choose this role? Excellent mental health nurses are compassionate, sensitive and have excellent communication and relationship-building skills. Could this be the role for you?

Required qualification: Master’s degree, RN license.

Average salary: $71,000 median annually, according to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey.

Nurse midwife

There’s more to midwifery than delivering babies! Midwives specialize in the care of pregnant women and new mothers – from prenatal appointments, to assisting in birth and offering care outside of the delivery room. Nurse midwives also play an important role in educating and supporting new mothers on how to adapt to life with their newborns.

Why choose this role? Are you interested in obstetrics or gynecology, as well as working one-on-one with new mothers? If so, consider a career as a nurse midwife.

Required qualification: Associates or bachelor’s of science degree, RN license.

Average salary: $114,210 average annually – according to the BLS, midwife salaries continue to rise. The average annual wage for nurse midwives was $114,210 as of May 2021 – up from $106,910 three years earlier. In addition, the BLS projects that the number of nurse midwives could increase by 12% from 2019 to 2029.

Cardiac nurse

With a rise in cardiac health issues across the US, the need for cardiac nurses is also on the upswing. Providing care for patients with cardiovascular diseases, these nurses often assist surgical teams with procedures – such as heart bypass, angioplasty or pacemaker surgery.

Why choose this role? If you’re interested in issues related to the heart and want to assist in surgeries or the development of treatment plans for patients, this could be the specialism for you.

Required qualification: Associate’s or bachelor’s of science degree, RN license.

Average salary: $77,600 median annually – the BLS data shows that RNs made a median annual salary of $77,600 in 2021. However, cardiac nurse salary increases correspond with higher education levels.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) 

A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) is a highly trained nurse, specializing in assisting surgery teams with anesthesia. Due to their high demand and advanced training, CRNAs account for some of the highest-paid nurse specialties in the field.

Why choose this role? If you want to become highly trained and work in a hospital or surgical setting, then follow a career as a CRNA.

Required qualification: Master’s degree (MSN), RN license, one year in an acute care setting.

Average salary: $195,610 median annually, according to the BLS in 2022. Nurse anesthetist salaries are some of the highest in the field.

Critical care nurse

Being a critical care nurse involves high-stress work, calling for more in-depth attention to a smaller pool of patients. These nurses work in fast-paced environments and are often required to tackle stressful challenges, including caring for those with gun-shot wounds or other life-threatening injuries.

Why choose this role? Do you have a calling to work in high-stakes nursing? Could you thrive in a high-adrenaline environment? If so, critical care nursing may be just the right fit.

Required qualification: Associate’s or bachelor’s of science degree, RN license.

Average salary: $77,810 average annual salary, according to Payscale in June 2022.

Nurse educator

Nurse educators play vital roles in teaching nursing students about patient care practices. If you follow this path, you could opt to teach comprehensive lessons about nursing in general, or focus on specific areas of interest.

Why choose this role? Do you dream of inspiring others? If so, following a career in nurse education could mean that you play a part in shaping the next generation of nurses.

Required qualification: Master’s degree, RN license.

Average salary: $77,440 median annually – according to the BLS, states with the highest number of employed nurse educators include Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. This field is projected to see 22% growth between 2020 and 2030.

Oncology nurse

Oncology is an ever-growing field and the demand for specialized nurses is following suit. It comes with its own unique requirements that can be taxing, both professionally and emotionally. However, it also offers huge rewards and can be fulfilling for those who enjoy building ongoing relationships with patients and their families. Oncology nurses play a key role in helping patients navigate treatments and manage symptoms and side effects.

Why choose this role? If you pride yourself on resilience and you want to make a huge difference to the lives of patients, pursue a career in oncology nursing.

Required qualification: Master’s degree, RN license.

Average salary: $78,000 median annually, according to Payscale data from June 2022.

Orthopedic nurse

Orthopedic nursing is about far more than treating broken bones. This diverse field focuses on helping patients who suffer from a variety of musculoskeletal injuries, diseases and disorders. Orthopedic nurses work with patients recovering from injuries or surgery and may even work in operating rooms.

Why choose this role? As an orthopedic nurse, you must be empathetic and have excellent communication skills to ensure that patients’ needs are met. If this sounds like you, then it’s a career worth pursuing!

Required qualification: Bachelor’s of science degree, RN license.

Average salary: $76,282 average annually, according to Registered Nursing data. Many things can affect salary, however, including experience, location, certifications and education. The setting that an orthopedic nurse practices in can also cause wage fluctuations, as orthopedic nurses can work in a variety of medical settings.

Travel nurse

Travel nurses are unique in that they can move from place to place. Depending on their contract, these nurses temporarily fill shortages at hospitals and other units, spending days, weeks or months working in one place before taking on an assignment somewhere new.

Why choose this role? Do you love the idea of living and working in different locations? Do you want to gain both professional and life experience? If so, a career in travel nursing could be the one for you.

Required qualification: Associate’s or bachelor’s of science degree, RN license.

Average salary: Salaries vary depending on contract or location.

Conclusion

Nursing offers the chance to make a real difference to lives on a daily basis. Whatever your interest, you’re certain to find a specialized role that fits you. With a world of opportunity to progress throughout your career, becoming a nurse is only the beginning.