Nursing is a gratifying career to get involved in, but you need to expect long hours of grueling work and low pay. That’s because, though the upper levels of nursing pay very well in the United States and elsewhere, entry-level jobs don’t. That means you need to do the worst jobs for the worst pay, but at the same time, every nurse needs to do this.

Nursing means helping people who need it the most, and with a clear career path, it is easier than others to move up the promotional ladder. Rather than just apply and hope for a promotion, there are certifications, degrees, and specializations that you need to invest in. If you don’t get that dream position at your current job, then you can look to apply elsewhere. Regardless, your experience and talents are needed, and with the right drive, focus, and knowledge, you can obtain a very reputable, well-paying job within the healthcare industry – all without taking time off to go to medical school.

Preparing for a Career in Nursing: A Guide - volunteering, specialize, registered, path, nursing, nurse, love, licensed, help, education, certification, career, assistant

Ensure that Nursing is the Right Career Path for You

Nursing is not for everyone, which is why getting past your time as a nursing assistant is so telling. If you can manage the tasks expected of a nursing assistant – like cleaning out bedpans and dealing with other assistive work – then you know you have what it takes. Moving up the career ladder will take time, and you will need to put a lot of hours of work in, but if you feel invigorated and alive when you are helping others, working as a nurse is one of the best fields out there for you.

Some key things to consider before investing in the time and effort to become a nurse include:

You Understand What it Means to be a Nurse

Nurses don’t work the standard 9 to 5 jobs. They work nights, they work long hours, and yes, your social life will probably take a hit. You need to be prepared for the hospital to very well become your life, where your friends are, your work is, and where all your time and energy is spent. This is not to say that you cannot have a life outside of work, but don’t expect things to continue as they are. Sacrifices will need to be made and compromises negotiated.

You are Ready to Undergo Ongoing Training and Education

To qualify to become a nurse at even the first level, you will need to acquire a certificate. The highest levels of nurses, the ones that are making $100,000 or more, will need Masters in Nursing Science and even further specializations.

You Truly Love to Help Others

Most of all, you need to love to help others as much as you can. You will be working with patients that are sick or dying, and these people will be scared, panicked, depressed, angry, and so much more. They will not be at their best, and therefore you won’t get them at their best. You need to be willing to care for others even if they don’t seem to appreciate it. This doesn’t mean you deal with harassment or physical assault – this is dealt with by the entire department or even by a security guard – but you need to be ready for people to be rude, angry, scared, catty, and more.

Getting Started with Your Nursing Career

To get started with your career, there are two main steps that you will want to take:

Test the Waters by Volunteering

Volunteering at a hospital will give you a good sense of the pace and working life you can expect. You won’t be given any truly difficult tasks, but you will understand more of how the hospital works and what jobs the nurses accomplish. Volunteering will later be great for your career, but for now it is a good place to start to work out whether the role is truly right for you.

Obtain a CNA Certification

Once you have decided that nursing is indeed the right job for you, then you will need to work towards a CNA certification. It takes between 3 to 8 weeks to complete depending on whether or not you take it on full-time or part-time. You can complete this certificate from a variety of institutions, and you are sure to find an option near you. The Red Cross, for example, offers a CNA program.

Having this certificate is not enough, however. You will need to take an exam offered by your state in order to achieve State Certification. Once you have this, you can then start to apply. A good place to begin the application process is at the hospital you have previously volunteered at. They will know you by now and know your quality of work. If you took the full-time option, the difference will only be by a month or so as well so their memory of you will still be fresh in their minds.

Your Career Path in Nursing

It is essential to know the career path options in nursing from the start so that you can focus your efforts on achieving your dream job.

1. Certified Nursing Assistant

The first job you will get is as a Certified Nursing Assistant. These assistants make, on average, $27,000 per year. You will be dealing directly with patients and their aftercare. This means changing bedpans, bathing, checking their vital signs, and listening to the patient and any complaints that they may have, which you would then pass on to an appropriate staff member. In some states, you may even be allowed to dispense prescribed medication.

2. Licensed Practical Nurse

An LPN makes approximately $45,000 per year, but you won’t automatically be able to qualify. Before you work your way to this level of nursing, you will need to achieve a practical nursing diploma. This can take up to 12 months to complete. Just like with your CNA certificate, however, you won’t be able to apply for this position until you have passed the state license exam.

What you will do as a Licensed Practical Nurse will vary. You will be monitoring health, taking blood pressure, inserting catheters or IVs, and so much more. Another key task you will be conducting as an LPN is informing the families of what they need to do for their loved one after the patient goes home. Advising the family of after-care procedures is a big job, and as a licensed practical nurse, it will be your responsibility.

3. Registered Nurse

Registered nurses are the most typical type of nurse. In fact, when you went in with the goal of becoming a nurse, this is the position you were thinking of. In order to apply to become a registered nurse, you will need to obtain a Bachelor in Nursing Science (BSN) or a degree in nursing (ADN). Though you can become a registered nurse with an ADN, this route will restrict your future options. If you wish to become head of nursing one day, or you want to become a specialized nurse, for example as a Nurse-Midwife, then you will want to obtain a BSN.

Registered nurses earn on average $70,000 per year, and this is because the BSN, which can only be completed in many cases when you already have experience and an LPN license, takes up to 33 months to complete. You will also need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination.

Registered Nurses will oversee the duties of LPNs and CNAs. They will also record patient history, and can even act as a medical professional, meaning that they can diagnose and treat some ailments and administer medicine. They are the nurses that will work alongside doctors, and will even create a plan of care for patients.

4. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses work even more closely with doctors. They will be taking on all the work that a Registered Nurse does, though they do have a few extra privileges that mean they earn, on average, $110,000 per year.

APRNs, for example, are able to order diagnostic tests to be conducted and will have the knowledge and expertise (as well as the ability) to refer patients to specialists as required.

This role is not easy to obtain. You will need to achieve a Master of Science in Nursing beforehand and then again apply for state certification. You must achieve this role, however, if you wish to further specialize in specific areas of nursing, like midwifery or anesthesiology.

Specialize Your Nursing Career

You will want to specialize your nursing career in order to provide even higher levels of care for patients (and to improve your income and reputation). An example of how you can specialize your nursing career is by becoming a DNP Nurse-Midwife. There are online midwifery schools in Texas that you can attend that will allow you to obtain a doctorate of Nursing practice (if you have already obtained an MSN). You can still apply for the Nurse-Midwifery track, however, if you have a BSN degree, an RN license, and a minimum of a 3.0 GPA. That is why it is so essential to get the BSN over the degree in nursing.

How to Maintain a Steady Progression in Your Career

Knowing the career path you would take as a nurse is one thing, but living it in practice is far different. There are years and even decades between the start of your career until you finally achieve the ADRN specialization you always wanted. That is why it is crucial to maintain a steady, healthy progression throughout your career. Your practical experience is going to be just as important as your degrees for your career, and rushing through can mean burning out or not enjoying your job as you should.

To help you keep a steady pace and to improve your quality of life, you will want to follow these steps:

Learn and Work At the Same Time

Aside from the initial CNA certification, you will want to opt for part-time learning so that you can work and study at the same time. These periods are going to be tough, yes, but practical experience is going to be just as important as your degrees and certifications. More to the point, it can be difficult to afford living if you take off work entirely and you might not have your job when you finish your degrees.

Take Advantage of Opportunities as they Arise

If there is a chance to work in a different area of the hospital, take it. You might be surprised by which department suits you best, and getting experience early on can help you direct your career accordingly.

Be Clear With Your Career Goals

Knowing your career goals will help you direct your actions towards your dreams. If you want to work in midwifery, for example, then working in the maternity unit at the hospital is going to give you the practical experience you will need to qualify for the top midwifery degrees and later on senior positions in the midwifery center of your choice.

Practice Healthy Living at Home

Whatever you do, try to eat well and get some exercise in at home. Though yes, you will be on your feet all day, improving your flexibility and getting your heart rate up is going to help you feel energized throughout the day.

Improve Your Working Environment

You will be spending a lot of time at your work, and therefore, it is vital to play a hand in the environment. This could mean working with your superiors to provide better amenities in your break room, or it could mean organizing a social group for the nurses that helps everyone get out and socialize outside of the hospital.

Nursing is a difficult job but done right, it can be so very rewarding, and it can pay well. It will take you a while to get there, however, so focus on building up your skills, relationships, and improving your working environment as you go.