Promising Nursing Careers Beyond the Bedside

Federal and state governments are struggling to get health care right. Nurses can play a role by looking out for the people on the receiving end of new laws and policies.
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Tell people that you are pursuing a nursing degree and most of them will conjure up an image of you, in your scrubs, happily caring for patients at the bedside. Yes, this is still the core of the profession, and always will be. But the plentiful opportunities that come with a nursing degree are as unique as you are. The degree simply adds another layer of understanding to everything you already know.

Michelle Katz, a graduate from Georgetown University's integrated health systems management program, gained experience in a variety of different fields, from media and nursing to administration and public relations, and applied them to her current profession as a health care advocate.

"I really don't think there is a typical career path. You can mold your career into what your interests are," Michelle tells her fellow nurses and nursing students.

What's really exciting about modern nursing is that many of the jobs once restricted to physicians have opened up to RNs. It used to be that the career track to Chief Nursing Officer represented the only path available for moving up the ladder in a hospital setting. Today, RNs are working in administrative roles directing the overarching strategy for health care operations.

That's just one example of where nurses are moving into non-traditional roles outside of unit-based patient care. Informatics is another area where the nerdy nurse can make a mark. If you love technology, this can be a lucrative path to follow. Data-driven, evidence-based nursing care is not only tied to patient outcomes, it's also tied to profitability. Not to mention the mandates of health care reform.

Katz explains, "Right now with Obamacare, there are a lot of changes. The other thing is technology is changing at a rapid pace, so you have to stay on top of that as well."

Health care reform has also created a cottage industry for consultants to work with businesses trying to figure out what they need to do to be in compliance with the new laws. The insurance industry is also a great place to put your nursing degree to work to helping patients, providers and employers with disease management, wellness initiatives, health assessments and more.

Nurses are in demand for opportunities in case management, utilization review, telephone consulting and patient advocacy as well. Take Katz as an example. She's appeared on ABC TV segments with Diane Sawyer, helping real-life families reduce their medical bills and cut costs as much as possible.

Patient advocacy is a big deal, and your nursing degree can help pave the way for you to be a policy maker. If you've never thought of yourself as an agent of change, think again. Federal and state governments are struggling to get health care right. Nurses can play a role by looking out for the people on the receiving end of new laws and policies.

You can be an advocate for others by using your nursing expertise in other ways as well. Imagine yourself on the stand, working as a court-appointed expert for cases with health care ramifications. Or maybe you belong out in the community, supporting outreach initiatives. This can include working in a clinic for the under-served, participating in disease-specific education and support groups, or going into schools with a message about health care and health care careers.

If you like to teach, you could consider a role where you can help the next generation of nurses get a good education. Like to talk? Go on the speaking circuit, giving lectures and leading sessions at health care conferences. You could also consider a sales career, representing health care systems vendors, device makers or pharmaceutical firms.

Maybe your calling is not about personal profit, but to serve others along a spiritual path ministering to patients, families and health care employees. Or perhaps it's excitement that you crave? Go be a travel nurse, work on cruise ship, or dedicate your skills to an international relief group that is working in war-torn areas or communities impacted by natural disasters.

The right path for you is totally up to you. Some nurses want to stay at the bedside for their entire careers. This is what they love. We can all be thankful for that, knowing that there will be a skilled clinician available when we need their caring, compassion and support. Other nurses want to spread their wings and fly to new places, literally and figuratively.

Now is the time to explore what nursing means to you, what you want to do with your knowledge, what you love to do outside of nursing, and where you see yourself making the greatest impact. Read about the areas that intrigue you most. Join professional associations. Attend conferences and lectures. Ask questions. Build your network.

"You can try out different internships until you find the right fit," Katz reminds nursing students. "Don't wait until you graduate. Start early!"

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