There are many paths for nurses to take to achieve their professional goals. Determining your desired role or specialization will help point you in the right direction. There are many paths that lead to advanced practice for nurses unsure of what specialization to choose. The first step is to determine what you want your day-to-day experience to look like by understanding role responsibilities and the required education level, licensure exams, and state licensure.
Professional and personal commitments, finances, and geography all play a role in determining which nursing career path is attainable and right for you. Read on to gain insights on which degree is the most appropriate for you based on your career aspirations and professional goals.
Types of nursing degrees
A career in nursing typically starts with earning an associate or bachelor's degree, sitting for and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), and becoming a registered nurse (RN).
RNs looking to then become advanced practice nurses typically pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program and may become a nurse practitioner (NP), but this isn't the only pathway to advanced practice. Nurses who desire to pursue graduate education have a variety of programs available to them. Some options include:
- Direct bachelor to doctoral programs resulting in either a terminal practice-based Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree or terminal research-focused nursing PhD
- Master’s degree programs that lead to specialized practice roles
- Programs specifically designed for entering academia and becoming nursing faculty
Nursing career pathways
There are many paths nurses can take to achieve their career goals. Nurses interested in becoming advanced practice registered nurses typically first pursue a specialty program at the master's or doctoral level, before sitting for specialty-specific licensure. Below are some common specialty pathways advanced practice nurses can take.
- To become a Nurse Practitioner (NP), you must first pass the NP certification exam, and then apply for NP state licensure.
- To become a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), you must first pass the CNS certification exam, and then apply for CNS state licensure.
- To become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), you must first pass the CRNA certification exam, and then apply for CRNA state licensure.
- To become a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), you must first pass the CNM certification exam, and then apply for CNM state licensure.
- To become a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL), you must pass the CNL certification exam. Becoming a CNL does not require acquiring state licensure.
What can I do with a nursing doctorate?
Nurses educated at the doctoral level are sought after for leadership roles, healthcare administration, policymaking, and more. For aspiring nursing leaders, earning a doctorate in nursing will help you foster the skills and knowledge needed to step into these roles.
Career outlook for nurses is steadily growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of nurses is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2028.
RNs who attain a doctorate in nursing practice are suited for the following advanced practice roles:
- Chief operating officer, president, or vice president of a healthcare system
- Chief nursing officer or assistant chief nursing officer of a healthcare facility
- Clinical researcher
- Healthcare insurance or association administrator
- University administrator or faculty
- Healthcare consultant
- Healthcare business owner
- Health policy director/advisor/consultant
RN to doctor of nursing
Many nurses earn their BSN before becoming an RN. Those who wish to advance further typically earn an MSN to become advance practice registered nurses. Those who are looking to step into further leadership roles seek advanced practice programs, such as the DNP. In addition to enhancing clinical practice, DNPs are perfect candidates for executive roles, advanced clinical educators, policymakers, and more.
Whether your career goals are to advance to an executive position or to enrich your current practice, the online Doctor of Nursing Practice program at ATSU will provide you with the foundation necessary to become an influential nursing leader.
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