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For those interested in working in a profession devoted to helping others, healthcare is a field that presents practitioners with many different avenues. Nursing, one of the most in-demand fields, is not only a rewarding career but also one that offers practitioners plenty of room to advance. Whether they are at the beginning of a career or mid-career, nurses have many options for progressing within their specializations through earning advanced degrees and taking other steps to further their career. 

With preparation and training, nursing can be quite a lucrative career with many opportunities for career progression. 

Devise a plan

The first step is to learn about the different career paths you’ll need to follow in order to work in your desired field. This research should also include looking at the different paths a nurse might take to work in a particular field of specialization. University programs and other online research tools provide nurses with clear directions for applying and completing a degree or training program. 

See if there is a demand

Before embarking on a new career path, determining job demand is an important consideration if you are planning to move up the ladder. An easy way to assess if there is demand for the job you want is to look at job boards, both online and hardcopy. Another approach is to speak with career counselors who always have the most up-to-date information on career opportunities and trends. 

If the job position you aspire to is in demand, research the job independently. Some of the questions a nurse might ask include:

  • What are the skills required for working in this field?
  • What is the average salary for this position?
  • What organizations are looking for professionals in this field?
  • What academic credentials are required to work in this position?


Nursing has expanded since the days when Florence Nightingale established a standard for caring for patients more than a century ago. Beyond working on the hospital floors with patients, nurses can also transition their career focus toward making decisions regarding patient care. Crucially, education plays a huge role for people who want to advance their careers. 

Nursing is one of those professions that offer degrees at various levels. The most basic nursing certificate is the LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), which teaches prospective practitioners basic nursing care. LPNs also work closely with registered nurses and physicians in various hospital settings (hospitals, nursing homes, doctor’s offices and urgent care clinics). 

LPNs sometimes work in the field for a few years before pursuing their registered nurse (RN) designation. Becoming a registered nurse can happen in one of two ways. The first is by attending a two-year program or pursuing an associate degree in nursing. These nurses are cleared to work in specializations such as neonatal intensive care units, oncology, acute care and pediatrics. The great thing about transitioning from being an LPN to an RN is some schools offer bridge programs, which allow nursing students to transition into the degree program easily. 

While it is possible to have a career in nursing with just an LPN or RN from an associate degree program, enrolling in a bachelor’s program that culminates in RN certification is becoming the educational standard by many healthcare organizations, especially ones that recognize the need to provide high-quality healthcare. Called a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN), this degree can also make a difference in terms of earning potential, with nurses who have a BSN earning more than those who do not. More importantly, this degree is a foundation for moving up the career ladder. 

The above degree programs are a part of an undergraduate suite of programs that prepare students to be healthcare practitioners. Typically, these degrees provide nurses with the foundation to function in their jobs, with some nurses taking on minor leadership roles. However, to move into healthcare administration, a nursing professional must enroll in an advanced degree program, and once earned, the door is opened to several career possibilities. 

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the next degree a nurse can pursue. Once earned, it allows nursing professionals the option to move into administration. Online degree programs such as the one offered at Spring Arbor University prepare students for careers in nursing management or specialties. With this degree, nurses can work as nurse practitioners, a role that covers working in health promotion and prevention, wellness and disease management. This degree also allows nurses to treat acute, episodic and chronic ailments. 

Earning an MSN allows a nurse to also become a nurse educator. What better way to learn about nursing than from a seasoned nurse with practical experience in treating others? This degree provides the nurse with the chance to teach future nurses the craft. Moreover, this field is in demand with colleges and universities, where there is a need for qualified professionals to teach a myriad of nursing classes. Plus, this degree affords nursing professionals opportunities to work in both clinical and academic settings. 

Nurses can also advance into nursing leadership and administration by earning an MSN. This area in nursing involves influencing and changing the nursing landscape by working in different management roles. Some of the areas a nurse might work in include serving as a chief nursing officer, healthcare manager or director of nursing, among others. 

Beyond the MSN, some programs offer post-master’s nursing certificates (PMC). This certificate is for nurses who want to increase their graduate education by attaining more specialized knowledge and training. This certificate also allows nurses to work in some educational roles.

The highest professional degree a nurse can earn after their initial licensure is a doctorate degree. There are various types of doctorates in nursing, such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice, which prepares professionals to take research and put it into practice. Other degrees that a nursing professional might earn are the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing and the Doctor of Nursing Science. 

Without a doubt, today’s nursing field has made strides in giving practitioners a choice beyond the LPN and RN credentials. With so many choices available, it may be overwhelming at first to sort through. However, it’s important to consider a few factors when determining which degree program to pursue. 

Earning the requisite degree is important but not the only important thing

Degrees only make it possible to perform the duties of the job. The degree makes it possible, but activities such as finding mentors, joining nursing organizations and conferences, and getting involved are also ways to transition into an advanced position within nursing. Finally, when considering career advancement, make sure to scour resources to see the types of jobs available. 

Seek mentors

Enrolling in a degree is only part of the work needed to advance to a new career. You can make the transition into a new position a lot easier by engaging in activities such as finding mentors within the specialty. Mentors provide nurses with a network of other professionals who can be a bridge to career opportunities, and they are also a resource to the nursing profession. 

Because the mentor has years of experience in the area, they are a cauldron of best (and worst) practices. A mentor also offers objective, invaluable advice when navigating difficult parts of the profession. Moreover, mentors play a role in showing nurses how to achieve their dream job simply because they traveled this road before them. Plus, they can be a source for finding future employment opportunities. 

While earning a degree gives nurses the requisite skills to perform the job, joining nursing organizations and attending conferences can supplement this knowledge. The American Nurses Association, Sigma Theta Tau and the International Council of Nurses are some of the more well-known organizations that provide nurses with great networking opportunities. In addition to networking, nursing organizations are a resource in and of themselves.

Nursing organizations either host professional development or conferences to support nurses in becoming better at their craft. They are also a great resource for seeking out information about trends in the field, like the ones related to which professions are highly sought after. Finally, belonging to a nursing organization provides you with a community of like-minded professionals.

Volunteer or contribute your time

Volunteering is a good way to give back to the community while obtaining information about the job to which you aspire. Volunteering has another central benefit for nurses in that it can be the deciding factor in pursuing a new career. Again, it also reinforces any support the nursing professional might have and can be an opportunity to forge new professional relationships and meet mentors. 

Read nursing blogs specifically

Online nursing blogs are great sources of information. In many cases, these blogs provide readers with a more panoramic view of the specialization. More importantly, because they offer a diverse array of viewpoints, nursing professionals get balanced information. Blogs can also be a source of information in terms of figuring out how to move from one position to another. 

Keep searching 

Wonderful! You have landed your new job and are well on your way to advancing in your career, but now what? Do not stop there. While working in this new capacity, always try to see where this new position might take you. Take time to review and revise current goals once in a while at work. 

Whether you are at the beginning of a career in nursing or at the tail end, the profession provides a multitude of options for nurses. However, as with everything in life, planning plays a huge role in walking out this journey to a new position, and this planning does not stop because you have landed the position. Throughout your career, review and revise this plan to make sure you remain in step with lifelong career goals. 

In planning, make sure to keep in mind the various degree programs now available in nursing.  A nurse with an LPN degree might find through the life of their career that earning a doctorate and influencing the decisions made about healthcare and patients is a career aspiration. The field of nursing has advanced to the point where nurses might find themselves working in three or four different positions as they ascend the ladder into nursing administration. Additionally, today’s educational programs allow nurses to advance laterally by providing coursework in specializations, such as pediatrics, oncology or obstetrics. 

Education is only part of the career advancement equation, because to land the perfect role, you must also hone soft skills to advance in your chosen field. Mentoring and joining professional organizations are ways to connect to the overall nursing community. Mentors and organizations provide networking and educational opportunities as well. 

A crucial part of landing any job is doing well during the interview, and naturally nurses must also spend time preparing for this part of the hiring process. Visiting a career center is one of the best ways to get help with resumes and cover letters as well as tips for interviewing. However, if pressed for time, the online community is another go-to source that can provide guidance on how to get noticed by employers and how to get hired. 

Once you have landed your new position, do not stop searching for new pathways. In fact, leveling up provides you with the chance to use your new position as a platform for seeking out new avenues for growth within nursing. Even if this search takes you in lateral directions, you will continuously find opportunities for personal growth in your chosen vocation. 

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