Healthcare has become the number one employer in the USA, and this is a trend that is likely to continue. Business writers now refer to healthcare and services as the new steel for the American economy and for the first time in the history of American economic records healthcare became the largest source of jobs in the US. There are now more jobs in healthcare than in manufacturing, retail and even technology. It’s a massive shift in focus and will not slow as the American population ages and the spending on health and heath related services increases.
It is thus imperative that the healthcare and nursing employment opportunities and career pathways are understood by those who are interested in pursuing a career in this field.
What is a Career Pathway?
A career pathway is a series of structured and connected educational programs or in-service training that allows employees to advance to better jobs and higher levels of education and training. Various subjects and courses of study offer a clearly determined study and career pathway. This pathway offers a route that is accepted as the best way to achieve a particular end goal and meet specific career goals.
A few career path examples:
- “Elderly Care” is a path within the “Health” career sector
Home Health Aide → Nursing Assistant → Licensed Elderly care provider
- “Administration support” is a path within the “economy and business” career sector
Receptionist → Office Clerk → Office Manager
- “Security and Protective Services” is a path in the “Public Safety” career sector
Security Guard → Fire Fighter → Fire Inspector
The idea is to be able to plan and implement these pathways to provide for a sustainable career.
The first step in developing your own career pathway is to be aware of the options and determine a suitable end career and then simply work towards this.
Nursing Qualifications and what to do with them
With the number of online nursing programs on the increase to meet the ongoing and expected long term demand for nurses, one of the frequently asked questions is how to improve or how to take the basic BSN or RN to the next level. There are more nursing qualifications out there than some students know what to do with; however, there are the basic and accepted qualifications that all those interested in a career in nursing should be aware of and able to understand.
Finish your current qualification and get registered
The first step towards using your nursing qualifications in the best way that you can and developing a sustainable career with and for such qualifications is to complete the course and attain a qualification. The US nursing qualifications below present as a study path and in essence would form the initial part of the career pathway.
The introductory course to take
The introduction to nursing that can be achieved quicker than any of the other courses is the Certified nursing assistant, CNA which will require approximately 75 hours to complete and then will allow the holder of the qualification to assist registered nurses in their practice.
Licensed practical nurse
This will be a one-year vocational course and will provide the learner with the opportunity to become a licensed practical nurse, which is a step up from the CNA and is able to prepare patients for surgical procedures as well as maintaining patient records.
The registered nurse is the most popular nursing qualification and the one that is also most in demand. There are more Registered nurses in the American healthcare set up than any other profession. To qualify and become a registered nurse you will need to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing, the BSN or Associate of science, AS. Which will take anywhere from 3-4 years, depending on whether you are part-time or full-time. This qualification will enable you to do the work of the LPA and CNA as well as to supervise their work as well.
Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner
The ARNP is a step above the RN and will require a postgraduate qualification that may allow you to specialize. The work that can be undertaken and specialized in will include nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialist and nurse anesthetists.
Doctor of nursing practice
At the top of the tree is the Doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and this will require additional postgraduate work, and research. The DNP is generally involved primarily in nursing academia and community projects.
These are but a few of the standardized pathways and options for nursing in the USA. Being flexible and keeping an open mind however will allow for other options to become available. Healthcare management, emergency care and disaster management are all those areas of nursing that are possible and can be accessed as part of this career pathway depending on what it is you would like to be doing.
Remember that the qualification is not the end point, and you will need to be registered to practice as a nurse in your specific locale. Determine which of the exams you need to take and where they can be accessed. The institution where you have completed your nursing studies should be in a position to advise as to which registration exam you need to take and where.
Once qualified the next step is to ensure that you use the qualification to get experience in the field or in a ward. Having the practical nursing experience to support what you have studied is the only way to build your career. It is not as easy as it sounds and the following will help you in this regard:
Ensure your resume is up to date: Whether in a role or looking for a role, ensure that your resume is always up to date and can be sent out at the drop of a hat, should you hear of an opportunity.
Volunteer: internships and holiday jobs are a fantastic way to gain experience and build a reputation for professional care in your field and among your professional networks. Volunteering is also a terrific way to practice the skills you have learnt and begin to lean new ones.
Secure a professional mentor: look for a senior member of staff and approach them to mentor you through the preliminary stages of your nursing career. By having someone who knows the ropes so to speak, you will be able to acknowledge your shortcomings and accept guidance to rectify these.
Look for internal staff development opportunities and keep applying for additional training or opportunities to specialize.
Hard work: nothing will suffice for dedication and commitment to the role at hand and hard work will form the basis of this. Ensure that you work as if you would like to be in the role for a long time and to move up the career ladder. It will be this arduous work and the attitude and behaviors related to it that will make your supervisors take note of you and begin to value your skills and experience. It is also worth keeping in mind that nursing skills and demanding work are but a small part of the employment and career puzzle and for you to be truly noticed and pinpointed for further development, you must have the right attitude. Nurses work with and for people and as such being able to competently interact and relate to people of all levels of society, creeds, cultures and races. Kindness, a caring nature and a love for the role will soon be noticed and recorded to advocate for your advancement.
Once you feel that you have mastered your current role and are comfortable with both the experience and the knowledge base that you have developed it is essential to look to the next possible step. Performing market research at this stage is advised to provide a clear understanding of the type of roles that are available and where these are. Speak to recruitment agencies and companies that work in the healthcare sector as well as the internal Human resources at your current place of employment, the idea is to determine where there are jobs that relate to your current skill set and qualifications and whether there are opportunities that you could consider taking you to the next level on your career pathway.
Read industry newsletters and speak to those in the know who can advise what the next trends are in healthcare and where you could be looking for opportunities and career boosting positions using your nursing qualifications.
One of the main aspects of using your qualifications and skills to the best of your ability is to remain as flexible as possible. The jobs that you are able to do may very well not be in nursing or healthcare per-se but could be just for you. Become a medical billing agent, health writer or health service administrator. These roles will also benefit from you nursing qualification and as such will provide you with various career options off the beaten career path should you wish to take the detour.
Some of the best non-medical careers that will be great with a nursing qualification are noted below:
Health Information management and security: the rise of big data in healthcare has seen an increased demand for those who firstly understand the health data and then are able to access, store, manage and analyses such data. The security of such health data has become one of the most important aspects of healthcare itself, in that the misuse or theft of patient demographic data can lead to huge financial and reputational losses.
Clinical nurse educator: with the right experience and qualifications you will readily be able to move into a nurse or healthcare educator role. The remuneration of a nurse educator is better than that of a practicing nurse, and there is no frontline clinical management of patients.
Nursing consultant: advising as to the processes required and systems to be included for improved nursing practice and healthcare is big money and with a wealth of experience in the field this will be an option for anyone who is strategic and able to present options for improvement and quality control.
Retrain for a different pathway.
After going through this process of qualifying, gaining experience and becoming more au fait with the countless opportunities in and outside healthcare and nursing, it is critical for a sustainable career development to be able to retrain. The idea is that you continue with your personal and professional development as an ongoing process. The qualifications mentioned herein will allow for a clear study pathway, but unless your research shows opportunity in these areas then it may be that you study in a related but non health field such as information technology or big health data analysis.
Retraining and capacity building must be ongoing and continuous if you are serious about a sustainable career, or you will be left behind as others become better trained and better prepared for the opportunities that will exist.
It is extremely difficult to understand that although there is a high demand for qualified nurses and nursing staff in the States, there are still those who are unemployed or who feel that they are not making the best use of their nursing qualifications. The main reason for this has been given as the fact that not all of those who have these qualifications are aware of the opportunities and how to make the best use of them. This article has looked to explore and discuss how you can make the most use of a nursing qualification and how to progress upwards along the career pathway in what is a well-paying and sustainable career sector. It can seem a somewhat circular route, as you have been advised to study, gain experience and then possible study some more and repeat and the process; however by doing so you will end up in a post that speaks to both your qualifications, your experience and your ambition.