While my years of experience in nursing have exposed me to many successful and happy nurses, I have also encountered many colleagues who regretted studying this career and many others who felt “stuck”. So to avoid disappointment, I suggest you consider the following while building your career road map:
- Check your reasons for becoming an RN. Some call this profession a calling and I do believe there is some truth to this. You need to have a desire to help others and be able to deal emotionally with all you will encounter. There are amazing days of hope and positive outcomes which balance out the sad days. I read many patient satisfaction surveys and for the vast majority of positive experiences, it was always a nurse who made the difference.
- Get experience before you commit. I would recommend spending time in a health care setting to see how you adjust. You must feel comfortable with all the sights, smells and sounds you will encounter. Some people just can’t work in this environment and you might as well figure that out before all the hard educational work begins.
- Select your path to getting licensed. You can choose a two-year AAS (Associate in Applied Science) degree or a four-year BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree. In addition, there are many bridge programs for transitioning from RN to BSN or MSN (Master of Science in Nursing), many of which are available online. Your decision will depend on availability of programs, personal choice, time commitment, and finances.
- Choose your specialty carefully.All degree programs will expose you to Medical, Surgical, Psychiatric, Maternal/Child, and Pediatric Nursing as these are the basis for the licensing boards. As you experience these rotations, pick an area that fits your personality. This may take time, but it is worth it in the end. For example, I could not work in Pediatrics because I was too emotional to be of much help to my patients and/or their families.
- Keep learning to advance. Most hospitals offer tuition re-imbursement and you should leverage this benefit. You can take courses over time and as you complete each level, you will be qualified for advanced practice. This will open doors to advancement, such as management and education positions.
If you like direct care and shift work (weekends, evenings and nights) then you will probably be satisfied with an Associate’s degree and there is always a need for this level of care.
But if you want to expand your options, you need to obtain an advanced degree. Most managers in hospital settings have their BSN or MSN. To teach nursing, you need a minimum of a Master’s Degree but a PhD is required to teach at the Master’s level. Nurse researchers typically hold a Master’s or a Doctorate degree.
I started with an Associate’s Degree and over the years added to my education, providing many opportunities that have made for a rewarding career. I have never regretted my choice to pursue nursing and I wish you the best as you continue along your career path. I hope that you will feel as satisfied as I do, even after all these years.