Whether you are satisfied with your career as it stands right now or you have greater ambitions, the benefits of advancing your nursing career for your personal and professional life are clear.
First, finding ways to advance your professional standing—either by seeking out a promotion, pursuing further specialization, or shifting into a new job—will inevitably have an impact on your salary. As you progress through your career and gain more experience, your salary will naturally increase to reflect this. However, by seeking out specific opportunities more aggressively, you can increase your potential compensation and overall earning potential.
In addition, pursuing career advancement can have a significant impact on your overall job satisfaction. Rates of burnout within the nursing profession have historically been quite high, and this has only increased in recent years with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. It has been exacerbated to such a great extent that we are now beginning to see the onset of a “global crisis in nursing”, according to recent reporting by the Financial Times.
Interestingly, however, it is not only issues related to pay and general working conditions that are a source of burnout among nurses. The academic literature on this issue has also identified reduced personal accomplishment and a lack of intellectual challenge as another major cause.
Nevertheless, pursuing specific career advancements can go a long way toward increasing your overall job satisfaction. Nurses experiencing burnout or a persistent lack of interest in their job might find happiness in pursuing more advanced roles or further specialization.
A third benefit of pursuing career advancement for nurses is that it can open new job opportunities. For example, a registered nurse can pursue further specializations, as well as leadership and management roles. By taking this path, you open yourself up to a whole new world of possibility for what direction and shape your career might take.
With these general benefits in mind, let’s take a look at some of the ways in which you can advance your career as a nurse.
Advancing your nursing career
With the above benefits in mind, there are a number of ways that you can advance your nursing career, whether you get certified, work on a specialization, leverage professional opportunities or further your education.
As a registered nurse, one of the ways of pursuing a specialization is through certifications. These allow you to work in more specialized fields and give you access to higher-paying positions. For example, certifications can be obtained to work in critical, urgent, and emergency care units, as well as in senior care facilities.
Consider your specialization
Specializing in a specific field of medicine can increase your expertise while also improving your job prospects and providing more fulfilling work. The specialties that are open to nurses include clinical specializations such as family medicine, critical care, or anesthesiology, as well as specialties related to management, administration, and leadership.
Leverage professional organizations
Another way to advance your career is by leveraging your membership in professional organizations to open up more job opportunities. Professional organizations are great networking tools and can be used to uncover new positions. As a member of a professional organization, you will often receive invitations to events and lectures, in addition to receiving discounts on training programs and other similar events. Joining a professional organization is also a great way of keeping your knowledge up to date—which is also important for advancing your career!
Further your education
Among the many options for career advancement that are available to you as a registered nurse, one of the most popular is pursuing new educational credentials. Higher education can allow you to specialize in new fields, pursue new job opportunities, and ultimately increase your salary. It can also help you achieve higher levels of professional satisfaction.
Continuous education is one of the most important professional responsibilities you are charged with as a registered nurse, and enrolling in a further education program is a great way of doing this in a structured environment.
Using further education to advance your career
As you can see, there are several different ways that you can advance your career as a nurse. One of the most popular approaches is pursuing further education. Here is a closer look at some of the different ways that you can do this.
There are a number of different options available to you if you choose to pursue a further education program as a nurse. Although there are a wide range of options on offer, they can broadly be broken down into the following main categories:
- Master’s of Science in Nursing
- Doctor of Nursing Practice
- Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Degree
For registered nurses, pursuing any of these educational programs will qualify you for many of the most lucrative executive nursing positions. However, there are significant differences between each of them. With this in mind, let’s take a look at what each of these further education options are and which career opportunities they open up.
Master’s of Science in Nursing
For registered nurses who have some professional experience behind them, a Master’s of Science in Nursing is a multifaceted degree that can open up a wide range of specialty positions. These span clinical tracks, educational tracks, administrative tracks and leadership tracks.
For example, nurse practitioner programs prepare nurses to provide a range of different preventive and acute healthcare services to patients. Further specialization as a nurse practitioner can be pursued through certification, such as a family nurse practitioner.
Educational tracks provide nurses with the skills necessary to train the next generation of nurses in higher education and clinical settings. This might include staff development, health education, or the general preparation of nursing students. Often, nurses pursuing the educational track will seek further specialization through research degrees.
Administrative educational tracks are a great choice for nurses who are interested in pursuing managerial or executive positions. This could include positions such as a nurse manager or a director of nursing.
Administrative-focused programs will provide training in the fundamentals of clinical, administrative, and evidence-based practice experiences with more general business skills. Instruction in financial planning, human resources, management, and organizational leadership is often provided in these types of programs.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is the highest achievable degree in the field of nursing practice. Graduates of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree are prepared to practice at the highest levels of clinical expertise for nurses. These graduates are highly sought-after, particularly for nursing leadership positions.
Graduates of the DNP degree program are qualified to work in clinical settings and leadership roles within the healthcare sector. They have been trained to plan and implement strategies to improve patient health in a more thorough or holistic sense.
Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees typically pursue two tracks: advance nursing practice and executive leadership. The latter is focused on aggregate health or system needs and working with stakeholders to meet specific health-related targets, while the former is focused on training students to be effective clinical leaders.
The primary focus of the DNP degree is on patient outcomes and leadership. Nurses with a DNP degree will be tasked with leadership in a wide range of clinical practice settings, with their primary focus being the improvement of clinical practice systems.
DNP programs can be pursued both in person and online through recognized online nursing degrees programs. The online option is particularly popular with mid- to late-career professionals as it can be undertaken flexibly alongside their existing roles.
Doctor of Philosophy of Nursing
In contrast to the practice-based, clinical focus of DNP degree programs, a Doctor of Philosophy of Nursing (PhD) is a research-focused program of study. The primary aim is the scientific study of nursing itself, with a focus on conducting studies and publishing the results in academic journals. The primary purpose of the PhD is producing knowledge to improve systems in general, rather than applying principles to improve specific systems.
While the DNP has a clearer clinical, practice-based focus, the PhD is focused on the production of knowledge about nursing as a field. It also provides opportunities to develop academic and teaching skills.
What educational program should I choose?
With these different types of further and higher educational nursing programs in mind, it is clear that nurses who wish to advance their career to the highest levels of the profession have a number of different options available to them.
However, each of these options has a very clear, specific focus that might not suit every prospective applicant. Therefore, it is important to have a clear idea of what you want to get out of a program of further study before choosing an online course or enrolling.
With so many options on offer, how can you figure out what the right course of study is for you?
- Figure out your motivation: An obvious, but no less important, question to ask yourself is why you want to study a particular degree. Do you want to pursue it as a challenge, or do you have a specific career path you want to open up? Figuring out your motivation will give you a good sense of what you hope to get out of it.
- Consider how you plan on learning: The mode of delivery is an important consideration as it may close off certain further education programs. Figure out whether you want to learn in person or online. This is particularly important if you plan on continuing to work while also studying, in which case online study will likely best suit your needs and work-life balance.
- Research or clinical focus: Another important question to consider is whether you want to have a more clinical focus or would prefer to focus on undertaking research on the practice of nursing.
- Consider the practicalities: You need to devote a considerable amount of time and energy to further education programs. They will also require you to commit financial resources. You should only pursue one of these programs if you are truly ready to do so. Thinking about the practicalities of funding your studies and committing the necessary time to complete them are important steps in figuring out if you are ready. Remember to choose a course of study that suits your lifestyle, rather than the other way around.
Although these are just a sample of the different questions you might ask yourself when trying to figure out what type of program you want to pursue, they should nevertheless give you a general idea of what you might prefer.
Is further education worth it?
As we have seen, there are a number of different ways that you can advance your nursing career, with further education being just one of these options.
Nevertheless, further education can have a transformative impact on your life and career and can open up new opportunities for personal and professional advancement. This is particularly important in a profession that tends to struggle from high rates of burnout and feelings of professional stagnation, particularly among mid- to late-career nurses.
If you do intend to continue working as a nurse, pursuing further education can help to improve your relationship with your chosen profession and with options to study online, you can fit courses around current commitments. If you are ready to take this next step, there is no better time to start exploring the different options that are available to you.