4 Advanced Practice Career Options for Nurses

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

4 Advanced Practice Career Options for Nurses

Photo : 4 Advanced Practice Career Options for Nurses

The field of nursing is seen by many outside the medical community as one that is fairly one-dimensional and limited in career progression. Most people have the perception that nurses only work in direct patient care roles under the direct supervision of a physician. While this is a common career path for many registered nurses (RNs) who have either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, there are actually a multitude of career options that RNs can pursue that are quite different from the traditional role. 

The options available to an RN regarding career progression change drastically when they choose to earn an advanced degree. Certain graduate degrees qualify an RN to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). This means they can practice more complex areas of medicine based on the merit of a greater knowledge based obtained through higher education as well as a greater number of clinical hours. In some cases, an APRN is even able to practice in an autonomous fashion without the necessity of being under the direct supervision of a physician.

APRNs also tend to earn higher salaries on average across the nation. Most APRNs will be able to earn above $95,000 a year, with certain nurse practitioners earning upwards of $115,000 per year. The job security that is associated with such jobs that an APRN can pursue is also a great selling point for choosing this career path. With a growing need for qualified physicians across various different medical specialties, APRNs have been stepping up and stepping into the roles that need to be filled. With the great amount of education and experience that they possess, they are more than qualified to do so in many cases.

The decision to become an APRN isn't an easy one for many nurses, though. Even with the job security and higher earning potential, the path to becoming an APRN is not an easy one. It means going back to school to earn a graduate degree and earning a significant number of clinical hours. Most nurses must also do all of this while working full time in their current role as an RN. 

The good news is that there are options available for nurses dedicated to earning their advanced degree. Online nursing programs are a much more feasible alternative to the traditional classroom setting for most nurses. Through online nursing programs, you can continue to work while earning your degree at the same time in a more flexible manner.

If you are an RN who is interested in taking your career to the next level by becoming an APRN through any number of accredited online nursing programs, here are five advanced practice career options that would become available to you if you choose to pursue an advanced degree in nursing.

1. Nurse Midwife

One career option that an APRN might wish to pursue is that of the nurse midwife. In this role, a nurse works in the field of women's healthcare in order to administer all essential healthcare to expectant mothers throughout their pregnancy. A nurse midwife is also responsible for helping mothers through the labor and delivery process. There is also a great deal of postnatal care that a nurse midwife administers to newborns and mothers.

Although it is a challenging role and one that has been primarily handled by physicians in the United States for some time, the rewarding job of nurse midwife is one that is seeing a great amount of growth in recent years. This is generally attributed to the fact that nurse midwives tend to provide a different approach to the labor and delivery aspect of childbearing than most OB-GYNs do, since it is more focused on allowing things to progress naturally without surgical or medical intervention unless absolutely necessary.

This approach to childbirth tends to trend more towards the recommendations by the WHO in regard to surgical interventions in delivery. While the current rate of C-section deliveries in the US is somewhere around a third of all births, the target percentage should be somewhere closer to 10-15% overall. OB-GYNs tend to recommend surgical intervention when things progress at a certain rate while nurse midwives are more comfortable allowing labor and delivery to continue naturally.

It would appear that many expectant mothers are more comfortable with the latter approach belonging to the nurse midwife as the percentages of those who opt for a midwife over an OB-GYN is growing rapidly. This provides a great deal of job security and growth for an APRN who wishes to work as a nurse midwife.

Those looking to pursue this career path will need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a concentration in midwifery. Online nursing programs make the pursuit of this career path more manageable for the working RN. Many online nursing programs for aspiring nurse midwives take approximately two years to complete. Some nurse midwives might also choose to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree in order to obtain better earning potential and more job opportunities. Similar to the MSN degree, there are a number of great online nursing programs designed to help a nurse earn a DNP degree.

Upon completion of your degree, you will need to obtain the correct state licensing for the state in which you wish to work. You will also need to become certified through the American Midwifery Certification board. Once you have the necessary license and certifications, you will be fully qualified to practice as a nurse midwife.

2. Nurse Practitioner

Many people who are not within the medical community might not know what a nurse practitioner is. Essentially, this is a type of APRN who administers a range of medical care to patients of varying ages, conditions, and who have a variety of illnesses. Because of the amount of education and experience that a nurse practitioner possesses, they are even permitted in some states to practice independently of a physician. Such nurse practitioners might even wish to set up their own family practice and work much as a family doctor would.

The job of a nurse practitioner is one that is in high demand. Furthermore, that demand is expected to grow over the coming five to ten years. This is generally attributed to the fact that there is a lack of qualified physicians who are able to provide general healthcare to certain communities. This is a problem that mainly affects rural communities that aren't located near major cities and hospitals. The education and clinical experience that a nurse practitioner has makes this type of APRN fully qualified to step in and fill the void.

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires that an RN with a BSN earn their MSN degree. Since there is such a need for nurse practitioners, there are a number of online nursing programs that are designed to provide the necessary education for aspiring nurse practitioners in a more accelerated fashion. With online nursing programs offering all the education that a nurse practitioner needs, you might think that the road to becoming one isn't terribly long. However, this depends entirely upon your situation.

Many online nursing programs and other MSN programs require that an RN first earn a certain amount of clinical experience before being eligible for enrollment. The number of years of practical experience working as an RN will depend on the program that you are interested in and the state that you are working in, but you can expect to need at least two years, likely more, if you wish to become a nurse practitioner.

Furthermore, if you want to work independently of a physician, you will very likely need to go on to earn a PhD in nursing. A DNP will qualify you to work as an autonomous nurse practitioner in some states, particularly those that are suffering from a lack of qualified physicians in the family practice niche. The proper licensing and certifications are also required in order to practice as a fully qualified nurse practitioner.

3. Nurse Anesthetist

You might have heard about the job of a nurse anesthetist because of its reputation as having the highest earning potential in the world of nursing. While this is true, the type of salary that a nurse anesthetist can potentially earn varies greatly by state.

For instance, nurse anesthetists in Montana have a median salary of around $245,000 per year, placing this state at the top of the list for potential earnings for nurse anesthetists. The overall median salary of nurse anesthetists in the United States overall, though, is more in the neighborhood of $165,000 per year. Either way, though, the earning potential associated with this nursing role is something that makes this career path incredibly appealing to many.

The high salary of a nurse anesthetist is not without its reasoning, though. The road to becoming this type of APRN is a long and arduous one. This is because the nature of the work that a nurse anesthetist must do is incredibly sensitive and important. It takes years of education and experience to understand the nature of anesthesia and the best and most appropriate methods of administering it.

A nurse anesthetist is responsible for first performing evaluations on patients who are about to undergo surgery or other medical procedures for which they will need anesthesia. The nurse must take into account a patient's medical history and be on the lookout for any red flags that might indicate that the patient would be unable to tolerate a certain type of anesthetic. Once the evaluation is performed and all considerations taken into account, the nurse anesthetist will then need to discuss risk factors with the patient and obtain consent.

The nurse anesthetist is then responsible for administering the appropriate anesthetic to the patient, whether that be a type of general anesthesia or a local anesthetic. They will then monitor the patient throughout the surgery or procedure and work with the physician to make sure that all goes according to plan.

In the post-op side of things, the nurse anesthetist will monitor the patient and ensure that they recover from their anesthesia correctly. Further medication might be necessary in which the nurse anesthetist will administer to the patient.

As far as the necessary education requirements for becoming a nurse anesthetist, there are some key changes taking place. In order to qualify for licensure to work as a nurse anesthetist, an RN once only had to earn an MSN degree in this discipline. However, by the year 2025, all aspiring nurse anesthetist will need to have a DNP in order to practice. Even though this will require more coursework and a significant amount of time, any RN looking to become a nurse anesthetist can opt to do so by exploring their options for online nursing programs in this specialty.

Once your experience and education requirements are met, you will need to sit for a certification exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. Upon certification, you will need to then obtain a license to work as a nurse anesthetist in your state. Once all is said and done, you will be able to work and practice as a fully certified nurse anesthetist.

4. Clinical Nurse Specialist

The job of a clinical nurse specialist is one that, due to the complex nature of healthcare, is difficult to define. Generally speaking, though, an APRN who works as a clinical nurse specialist will practice in a particular area of medicine by providing a combination of direct patient care, managing other healthcare staff, educating patients and staff, and participating in new research. Because of the varying roles that a clinical nurse specialist must be prepared to work in, a minimum of an MSN degree is required in order to pursue this career path.

Essentially, clinical nurse specialists deal with the inner workings of healthcare in many ways. This is why the advanced education and greater clinical experience are required if you wish to go this route.

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