Choosing the Right Nursing Pathway for Your Career

Jul 10, 2020 by

Nursing is a noble career, but it is only when you push yourself to continue your qualifications after becoming a Registered Nurse that you can finally be recognized for your efforts and expertise. High-level nurses frequently make over $100,000 per year, with some roles even reaching up to $200,000 per year. When you are committed to your goals and continue to push forward in your nursing career, the sky is the limit, but direction is the key.

Without that direction, you could make a misstep that ends you with red-tape barriers towards your next goal. It is okay to not have a clear-cut idea on what role and what working environment you want to commit to as the pinnacle of your career, but you need to build up the right qualifications that will allow you to make good decisions later on.

Choosing the right nursing pathway for your career can feel daunting, especially if you have only just surpassed the first hurdle and achieved your BSN. By keeping your eye on the horizon, however, and knowing your options, you can build the foundations of an exceptional career.

Choosing the Right Pathway for Your Career

After you become an RN, your options branch out considerably. For a career that was up until this point fairly linear, this choice can cause many people to falter. All options require you to specialize, even if they require similar base qualifications. As all different nursing credential types require a different exam and certification, they require slightly different education requirements too.

There are specialist degrees available for every nursing role. Choosing that right role when you are unsure can feel like a gamble. To avoid a bad bet, simply ask yourself these questions first:

What are Your Passions?

You have been working as a nurse for years now. You know what you are most passionate about simply because you enjoy doing it the most. At the very least, you need to know what type of environment you want to work in. This can be deduced with negatives. For example, if you absolutely do not want to work in the emergency room, or if you don’t want to work with elderly patients or with children.

Give yourself space and explore the different areas of medicine available, so that you can see what you are most interested in and passionate about.

What are Your Salary Expectations?

If you want to make a lot of money as a nurse, the highest-paid position is as a Nurse Anesthesiologist or CRNA. They consistently make over $150,000 per year and, in the top, percentage of earners, even make over $200,000 per year.

What Work/Life Balance Do You Want?

Most people, however, are willing to take a pay cut if it means enjoying a healthy work/life balance. Considering even the lower-level wages for APRNs are still over $70,000, you can comfortably live and work in a position that you enjoy. If you want a lot of vacation days, to be able to go home at night and don’t want to deal with patients directly, then look towards research or education.

If you love the fast-paced challenge of working in a hospital, then finding a great hospital that compensates you well for your efforts is a must.

Know the type of work/life balance that suits you best and work towards a role that will help you enjoy it.

Know Your Options

With these prerequisites in mind, it’s time to explore your options. Nurses that want a 9-to-5 can work in a clinic, or in an office as a nurse recruiter. They can work at a university or at a school. Nurses that want to have the same prestige and responsibility as many doctors should look to work in hospitals or even work towards taking over the nursing department as a whole.

There are so many different options for nurses both within healthcare and out. Know your options so that you can work towards your dream role from the start.

The Four Nursing Credential Types

It’s easier to think of your options as branching choices. For now, all you need is to know which of the four nursing credential types would serve you best to get you in the general vicinity of your dream position.

  1. Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs)
  2. Nurse Practitioners (NPs)
  3. Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs)
  4. Nurse-Midwives (CNMs)

Degrees to Pursue your Nursing Career

After you have your BSN, you will have three main options to further your education and your career. There are technically more (for example, you can opt for a Ph.D. in nursing rather than a DNP) but for most your options will range from these three options:

Master’s of Science in Nursing

An MSN is the most popular option, and with a specialization (like MSN-FNP), you can learn everything you need to pass the exam and become an APRN.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

DNP is the clinical, hands-on version of a Ph.D. in nursing, but you don’t need to have an MSN to achieve it. The only difference is the higher clinical hours and hands-on practicums necessary as a prerequisite before you graduate. DNP is the best degree if you want to keep your options open, as DNPs work in almost every setting, from hospitals to clinics, universities, and even in policy-making.

Doctor of Education

For those who want to focus their career as an educator, a Doctor of Education in Nursing Education is the ideal path for you. Tens of thousands of qualified applicants are turned away every year because there is a shortage of nursing educators — your Ed. D in Nursing will give you everything you need to fill a position in academics.

What to Look for in Higher Education

As a nurse, what you look for from your institution will vary drastically compared to those in different industries.

High Satisfaction Rate

It is always a good idea to choose a university that is highly regarded by its own graduates.

High Exam Pass Rate

A high exam pass rate indicates that the coursework and teaching styles are more than sufficient to help you achieve the next level of qualifications.

Online and Part-Time Syllabus

You need a university like Marymount University, which is well ranked for satisfaction, pass rate, and its ability to be completed while working as a nurse. Online and part-time syllabuses are an absolute necessity to achieve this level of satisfaction and will allow you to spread out the cost of your education as well as customize it to best suit your career.

Affordable and Good for Value Money

Higher education can be costly. Being able to spread out your costs though online and part-time education is good, but if you don’t feel you are getting value for your money, your education is going to be soured. Good value for money is a must, as it means your education is precisely what you need to succeed in your career.

Placement Provided

All top universities will provide placement for the necessary clinical hours.

Your Future Outlook

Nursing is a very good career to get involved in simply because the shortage is pervasive throughout the country. You will be able to find a job once you complete your certifications and have the right license. Push further beyond being an RN, and your job prospects look brighter every day.

With an expected shortage of 1 million nurses by 2030, and a job growth rate of 28% for all APRNs, there has never been a better time to invest in your future no matter which path you take.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse Practitioners are highly ranked across the board. They are the 7th best job in the nation and 5th best job to have in healthcare. On average, Nurse Practitioners also make a very healthy income, averaging around the country at $98,564. Nurse Practitioners also have options when it comes to where they want to work, allowing them greater control over their work/life balance.

Nurse Anesthetist

When it comes to the best paying nursing position, a Nurse Anesthetist is the role that is right for you. On average, a Nurse Anesthetist will earn $174,790 per year, with some states paying upwards of $200,000 to $250,000. These higher limit wages are only provided from the top employers, yes, which means competition for these $200,000 wages will be higher.

Nurse Specialist

Nurse Specialists around the country earn an average salary of $106,695. Due to the nature of their work, however, they also typically bring in overtime. This overtime bumps up their salary to an additional $16,250.


Nurse-Midwives make between $87,070 and $124,240 per year, with a median salary of $103,770.

Nurse Educator

Nurse educators only make an average of $75,176 per year, but the benefits greatly outweigh the drop in pay. The position is highly in demand, and due to the nursing shortage, more educators are increasing pay to attract more nurse educators to their doors.

To put this into perspective, in a single year, an average of 65,000 qualified applicants will be rejected simply because there are not enough nurse educators on board to teach them. Nurse educators also benefit from much better work/life balances, including having summer, winter, and spring breaks.

For those who want to slow down later on in their career, becoming a nurse educator is the ideal position.

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