Career Pathway: Nursing

Pathway Overview

Why Nursing?

  • High demand and low supply
  • Booming field due to aging population and increase in illness
  • Job security
  • Desirable payscale
  • Job satisfaction for those interested in healing profession

Nursing encompasses a wide variety of roles, such as registered nurses (RNs), nurse practitioners (CPNs), and certified nurse anesthetists (CRNA). Additionally, the field offers many levels and work environments. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics (BLS):

“Overall employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 45 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

While job growth depends on the role, work setting, and location, it is safe to assume that there is stability and growth opportunity in the healthcare field. Each subfield offers unique pathways; these resources review some of the potential opportunities.

Certifications and Licenses

Below are certifications and licenses in the nursing field. Most are associated with a particular role. For instance, to become a nurse practitioner, you’ll need to complete the requirements associated with that certification. 

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

CNAs are supervised by LPN’s or RN’s (see below) and must graduate from an approved training program. They assist patients with basic care, such as bathing and dressing, transporting, checking vital signs, and documenting health concerns.

Registered Nurse (RN)

RNs have either an ASN or a BSN in nursing. Patients often see a registered nurse in a hospital or doctor’s office.

Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP)

Certified nurse practitioners can diagnose injuries and diseases, prescribe medications, and create and initiate treatment plans. A master’s degree in a nursing specialty and RN experience are required. Passing an exam in a specialty is also required.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

A licensed practical nurse works under the supervision of an RN. Typically, this position requires a practical nursing diploma.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

CNMs specialize in family planning, delivering babies, and providing primary care. They must have a master’s degree, RN experience, and pass an exam.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

CRNAs administer anesthesia, provide pain management, and some emergency services. CRNAs must have a master’s degree, RN experience, and pass an exam. Additionally, there is a 2,000-hour/600-case minimum in the administration of anesthetics required.

In-Demand Skills

Ultimately, your ability to land a specific role rests on your experience and educational background, as well as your proficiency in the skills below.

Transferable Skills and Qualities

  • Detail-oriented
  • Critical thinking
  • Collaborative
  • Empathetic
  • Communicative
  • Adaptable
  • Flexibility
  • Observational

Field-Specific Skills

  • Intaking patients 
  • Providing high-quality patient care
  • Taking and monitoring vitals
  • Documenting family history 
  • Diagnosing illnesses and injuries 
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Collaborating with care team

Job Fields

Note: This is a basic guide to kick-start exploration, not a complete list of all paths. See specific job descriptions for more details.


Registered Nurse (RN)

A registered nurse (RN) has completed an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and passed a required test to earn RN credentials. RNs treat patients by assessing needs and vital signs, implementing physicians’ orders, administering medications, setting up IVs, performing treatments or procedures, ordering and interpreting tests, providing emergency care for injuries and illnesses, and collaborating with a nursing team or physicians to create plans of care, as well as other duties as needed. Their specific responsibilities depend on the setting and their specific patients’ needs.

Work settings include:

  • Physicians’ offices 
  • General medical hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers    
  • Offices of other health practitioners
  • Colleges, universities, and schools

Entry-Level Job Title Examples: Staff Nurse, Registered Nurse

Future Roles: Charge Nurse

Nurse Practitioner (CNP)

A nurse practitioner (CNP) has completed a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing (DNP) degree, and passed a required test to earn CNP credentials. CNPs treat patients by performing physical exams, ordering diagnostic tests, developing treatment plans, maintaining patient records, and in some states, prescribing medications.Their specific responsibilities depend on the setting and their specific patients’ needs. Nurse practitioners elect a speciality, such as family, women’s health, pediatrics, adult geriatric, neonatal, emergency, dermatology, and psychiatry. 

Work settings include:

  • Physicians’ offices 
  • General medical hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers    
  • Offices of other health practitioners
  • Colleges, universities, and schools

Entry-Level Job Title Examples: Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Practitioner – Adult Medicine, Telehealth Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Practitioner – Occupational Health, Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner

Future Roles: Director of Nursing, Clinical Nursing Director, Chief Nursing Officer


Nurse-Midwife (CNM)

A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) has completed a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, passed a required exam to earn CNM credentials, and acquired the necessary state license to practice. CNMs work with patients throughout their maternity cycle, including antepartum, intrapartum, postpartum, and gynecological periods, by monitoring fertility, developing birth plans, determining pregnancy status, performing gynecological exams, ordering appropriate laboratory and diagnostic tests, teaching and guiding individuals on their health, conducting vaginal deliveries, assisting medical doctors during Cesarean Section surgeries, supporting breastfeeding, and monitoring for postpartum depression. Their specific responsibilities depend on the setting and their specific patients’ needs.

Work settings include:

  • Hospitals (state, local, and private)
  • Birth centers
  • Private practices 
  • Public health clinics  

Entry-Level Job Title Examples: Nurse-Midwife, Certified Nurse-Midwife

Future Roles: Nurse-Midwife Clinical Educator, Director of Women’s Health

Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) has completed at least a master’s degree in nursing focused on anesthesia, in addition to extensive clinical experience in anesthesia, and passed the certification test to earn CRNA credentials. CRNAs are part of a surgical team that, depending on the state, work independently or in collaboration with an anesthesiologist to administer anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery. CRNAs carefully administer anesthesia, monitor reactions, identify possible issues or allergies, and educate patients about the effects of anesthesia before and after surgery. The certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is the highest paid nurse in 2021.

Work settings in a hospital include:

  • Operating rooms
  • Emergency rooms
  • Intensive care units (ICUs)
  • Outpatient surgical clinics

Job Title Examples: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist – Cardiac

Future Roles: Senior Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Anesthetist II

Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

A clinical nurse leader (CNL) has completed a Master of Science in Nursing Leadership (MSN) and certification as a CNL by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). CNLs take a big-picture view of care and are responsible for overseeing the care for a group of patients. CNLs often implement evidence-based best practices for improving patient care and outcomes and may provide direct clinical care in complex situations. The CNL role is not administrative or managerial, but requires collaboration with many clinical and administrative professionals. CNLs have clinical decision-making authority to change a treatment plan if necessary. Their specific responsibilities depend on their place of work and the needs of the hospital and patients. 

Work settings include:

  • General medical hospitals, including Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers    
  • Community health centers
  • Public health organizations

Entry-Level Job Title Examples: Clinical Nurse Leader

Future Roles: Director of Clinical Nursing, Clinical Nurse Leader II

 Nurse Administrator

A nurse administrator has completed a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing administration and has received Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC). Nurse administrators are leaders in the hospital, managing a team of nurses. Nurse administrators oversee nurses, manage budget and daily operations, ensure procedures are followed, as well as compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. Nurse administrators develop business acumen and management skills through their advanced degrees. 

Work settings include:

  • Hospitals
  • Residential care facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Outpatient clinics

Entry-Level Job Title Examples: Skilled Nursing Administrator, Administrative Nursing Supervisor, Assistant Manager RN 

Future Roles: Director of Nursing – Administration, Chief Nurse Executive, Chief Nursing Officer

Nurse Educator

A nurse educator holds a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and has significant experience working as a registered nurse (RN). Nurse educators teach students to become nurses. They also design curriculum, develop lessons, oversee students’ clinical experience, evaluate student process, and assess outcomes of their educational programs. Nurse educators must remain up-to-date on research, best practices, and clinical skills to serve as effective mentors for future nurses.      

Work settings include:

  • Teaching hospitals
  • Colleges and universities
  • Technical schools

Entry-Level Job Title Examples: Nursing Instructor, Registered Nurse Educator, Clinical Nurse Educator 

Future Roles: Director of Clinical Education, Professor/Director, School of Nursing, Manager of Nurse Education

Informatics Nurse  

An informatics nurse is a registered nurse (RN), who usually has a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and advanced skills in technology. They often complete continuing education in clinical informatics or hold a Master’s in Nurse Informatics. The nurse informaticist combines knowledge in nursing with technology to manage communication and IT systems, train new users on health information systems, improve workflows through communication and IT, improve patient safety and outcomes by improving data and visual display, and encourage evidence-based best practices related to informatics. 

Work settings include:

  • Physicians’ offices 
  • General medical hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers    
  • Offices of other health practitioners
  • Colleges, universities, and schools

Entry-Level Job Title Examples: Nurse – Informatics, Nurse Informatics Specialist, Clinical Informatics Nurse 

Future Roles: Director of Nursing and Clinical Informatics, Senior Manager of Nursing Informatics, Nursing Informatics Director

Nurse Researcher 

A nurse researcher is a registered nurse (RN), often with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing with extensive research experience. A nurse researcher helps design research studies, creates research questions and study protocols, develops SOPs and necessary documentation, provides hands-on treatment, and monitors clinical analysis of patients participating in research. The research nurse may also lead communication with research participants and participate in data analysis. A nurse researcher typically works on a specific research team, and their responsibilities usually vary from team to team. 

Work settings include:

  • Research institutes 
  • Clinical research organizations
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient speciality clinics 
  • University hospitals 

Entry-Level Job Title Examples: Clinical Research Nurse, Clinical Trial Research Nurse, Protocol Coordinator RN

Future Roles: Clinical Research Nurse Manager, Research Nurse II

Nurse Consultant  

Nurse consultants are registered nurses (RN) with significant experience that apply their nursing knowledge to another field. Legal nurse consultants prepare medical chronologies, summarize medical records, conduct medical literature reviews, screen expert witnesses, locate evidence for trial, and educate attorneys regarding medical issues. Nurse consultants working in insurance may review medical claims, identify evidence of fraud, coordinate with customer and medical providers to ensure appropriate medical care, and conduct analysis to identify trends in claims. A quality assurance nurse consultant may coordinate quality, accreditation, regulations and licensing, and patient safety and risk management activities for a medical center. 

Work settings include:

  • Law and legal firms
  • Insurance companies
  • Hospitals
  • Healthcare organizations

Entry-Level Job Title Examples: Legal Nurse Consultant, Quality Nurse Consultant, Claims Case Manager RN, Nurse Case Manager – Workers Compensation

Future Roles: Nurse Director of Quality Management, Senior Associate – Disability Nurse Case Manager, Director of Risk Management, Senior Risk Control Specialist  

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