With the US experiencing an increasing shortage of registered nurses (RNs), there has never been a better time to make the transition and join the nursing profession. This shortage can be put down to the growing medical needs of an aging baby boomer population that is living longer, and the current generation of RNs moving into retirement.
Due to the increase in chronic conditions such as diabetes and other obesity-related health issues, and the geriatric care requirements of an aging population, the country is also seeing a growth in specialized nursing roles. With the medical field being so vast, there are a lot of specializations to choose from. However, how can you become qualified as a nurse in the first place?
How do you become a licensed RN?
Before specializing in a particular field of nursing, you will have to become licensed as an RN. Although you can still become qualified through the traditional route of the Associate’s Degree in Nursing (AND), an increasing number of hospitals are favoring new nursing candidates who have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
If you are planning on a career change to become a nurse, don’t worry, you won’t have to spend another expensive four years at college: an accelerated BSN nursing program is designed for students who already have a Bachelor’s degree in another field. Although there are certain science and math prerequisites, you won’t have to retake the general education courses, focusing instead on the essential nursing skills you will need for your career.
Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing should leave you prepared to pass the NCLEX-RN, the certification you need to become a licensed RN in your state, after which you will be able to practice as a nurse. In order to become specialized in a particular field of nursing, you will have to go on to complete a Master of Science in Nursing.
This will allow you to develop your skills in a particular area, allowing you to provide nursing care to patients who have these specific conditions with care and expertise. Here are three nursing specializations you can go into.
- Nurse midwife
As a nurse midwife, you will help expectant mothers through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and any post-partum concerns. A specialized nursing field rooted in traditional birthing practices, many parents in the US are choosing to use the services of midwives to assist in the traumatic birthing process, rather than OB-GYN providers.
A midwife is with expectant parents at every stage of pregnancy and childbirth. Before birth, midwives perform regular tests on the expectant mother to ensure that her baby is developing well.
Midwives help to prepare the expectant mother for the birthing process, and remain with her during labor and delivery, being on the lookout for any complications that may require additional medical assistance. They also provide post-partum care for the mother and infant.
Another important role of the midwife is to provide new parents with education and training on how to care for their infant, such as breastfeeding and treating infant ailments such as colic. Though days as a midwife are often long and hectic, helping new parents through the joy of having a child is undeniably rewarding and uplifting.
- Palliative care nurse
At the opposite end of the lifespan, a palliative care nurse provides end-of-life care to terminally ill patients, while providing emotional support to their grieving families. As a palliative care nurse, your main task will be creating an atmosphere of calm for your patient and their family, allowing the patient to die with dignity.
This involves balancing medication to alleviate your patient’s physical symptoms (such as nausea and respiratory difficulties) and pain without over-sedating them. You will work in a variety of settings in which a controlled death can occur either in hospitals or hospices, or in the patient’s own home.
You can choose to additionally specialize in the palliative care of specific conditions, such as providing care to patients with advanced-stage cancer or geriatric patients. With death being an emotional experience for the patient and their family, you will need a great deal of empathy and compassion—as well as emotional resilience—to become a palliative care nurse. As such, it is not a job for everyone.
If you do decide you have what it takes to work in end-of-life care, you can be reassured that as a palliative care nurse you are indispensable in providing a calm, compassionate environment in which a terminally ill patient can die with dignity.
- Nurse anesthetist
If you want to be there for patients in the operating theater, then this is the job for you. A nurse anesthetist is responsible for administering anesthesia to a patient before their procedure, and overseeing their recovery process following surgery.
A nurse anesthetist’s daily duties include: working with a patient with an upcoming operation to develop a anesthetic plan for them, informing them of any risks and side effects; preparing and administering general, local, and regional anesthesia in a variety of forms, such as through injections, inhalants, and orally; and monitoring a patient’s vital signs both during and after surgery to help prevent and manage any complications that might arise.
In addition to being present during scheduled operations, a nurse anesthetist will also assist during other procedures such as childbirth, and respond to emergency situations by providing medication, life support, and airway management to patients in a critical condition.
As such, a nurse anesthetist must be able to keep calm and look for solutions during a crisis. As the administrator of anesthesia and other life support techniques, it’s fair to say that a patient’s comfort—and life—lies in the nurse anesthetist’s hands. To join this field, you will need to have at least one year’s experience in an acute care unit such as an ER or ICU before applying for you Master of Science in Nursing.
You should also gain additional experience in settings requiring anesthesia, from childbirth to open heart surgery.