Is Nursing a flexible career? If so, what are the options?

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more flexible career than nursing. From different educational paths to work settings and nursing specialties, few careers offer more potential or the ability to find work when you relocate. The benefits of being a nurse extend beyond the financial aspects, although registered nurses can usually earn a good salary no matter where they work. In an era when many people have two or perhaps three different careers over a working lifespan, nurses are in the unique position of being able to have a dozen different careers while still being a nurse.

Flexibility in Education

Nursing’s flexibility begins with the educational path. Unlike many professions (think law or medicine, for example) which have a pretty much cut-and-dried educational requirement, a potential nurse can choose between an associate degree, a nursing diploma, a combination nursing diploma/associate degree or a bachelor of science in nursing. The associate degree is the quickest and often the least expensive. The hospital-based nursing diploma or associate/diploma programs often provide top-notch clinical experience but may be less available and can take three years. A BSN is the top of the line but takes four years and more money. All meet the licensing requirements in every state. If you choose an ADN or diploma, there are many RN to BSN programs or RN to masters degree programs if you decide to go on for more education at a later date.

Multiple Work Settings

After graduation, work settings offer the next set of paths. Although most nurses still work in hospitals — the US Bureau of Labor Statistician put the figure at 61 percent in 2014 — other venues are also available. Hospitals include general medical/surgical hospitals and specialty hospitals like rehab facilities, mental health, substance abuse centers and boutique private hospitals. Registered nurses might work in physician’s offices or clinics, outpatient surgery centers and in home health care, retirement homes or nursing care facilities. Nursing work settings include both public health and schools (both of which usually require a BSN) and other community organizations. Nurses work in community colleges, technical/vocational schools and universities as educators or nurse researchers. Other work settings include telephone triage or nurse advice positions, health care insurance or managed care organizations, the government and the military.

Shift Preferences

After the work setting, the next option for flexibility is work hours. In hospitals, 12-hour shifts tend to be more common than eight-hour shifts, but in outpatient, home care or other work settings, the eight-hour shift is often more common. Nursing is a 24/7 occupation, which means it offers day shifts and night shifts; some organizations still operate on eight-hour shifts, which means they offer the option of PMs — roughly 3 PM to 11 PM. Some organizations provide full-time or pro-rated benefits to nurses who work two 12-hour shifts every weekend. Others have four-hour shifts in certain units with well-known patterns of short-period high intensity workloads, like an emergency room. In a few work settings, nurses may spend a week or more on duty and then have an equivalent amount of time off.

Dozens of Nursing Specialties

Nursing specialties abound in today’s work world. A nurse might begin her career in medical/surgical nursing in a general hospital setting, then move into critical care or emergency care once she has the required experience. More specialized positions such as preoperative education for heart surgery patients or post-operative cardiac rehab are limited but still a possibility. Nurses can specialize in wound care, diabetic education, orthopedics, neonatal nursing, hospice, obstetrics, pediatrics and outpatient care (among many others). Less-common specialties include burn nursing, correctional nursing, environmental health, genetics, hyperbarics, nephrology and space nursing. In outpatient settings, nurses can specialize in ambulatory care or become parish/faith-based nurses. Some also work for disaster-recovery organizations like the Red Cross.


Student loans


Advanced Degrees


In addition to the flexibility of initial education, nurses can go on for more advanced degrees. Sometimes these lead into nursing management, education or research. For those who prefer clinical practice, however, additional education can help a registered nurse become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist or clinical nurse specialist. Family nurse practitioners in particular are in great demand, due to the current shortage of primary care physicians. Nurse practitioners also have the greatest flexibility as they can further specialize into family practice, pediatrics, geriatrics, or any of multiple specialties like mental health, orthopedics, neonatalogy, nephrology or cardiac care. However, nurse anesthetists are in high demand in rural areas and command the highest salary of the APRN group. All APRNs must have a master’s degree to become licensed and must be certified in most states.

Nursing Away From the Bedside

For whatever reason, sometimes a nurse wants to remain in the profession but step away from the bedside or clinical care in general. Advancing age, a back injury or a desire to expand into a completely new area may send the experienced nurse down a less-traveled path. Forensic nurses, for example, practice at the intersection between health care and the legal system. They act as expert witnesses, research medical standards of practice and provide advice to lawyers involved in medical malpractice cases. Case management and utilization review are two nursing specialties that require expert knowledge and clinical experience, but not hands-on care. Quality improvement and nursing informatics are additional areas where clinical knowledge provides a base for the work, but there is little to no patient responsibility.

Nurses are the backbone of the health care system, found in every nook and cranny and caring for patients at all stages of life and beyond. You might find a nurse at NASA, on a deep-sea oil rig, traveling across the country from one assignment to another, in a helicopter, in a tiny rural clinic or the most advanced of university teaching hospitals. Few careers can offer the challenges, satisfaction and tremendous flexibility you will find as a registered nurse.



Written by 3rd independent party

2016-28107 Exp. 10/18