Nursing Career Paths You Can Pursue with a BSN

Submitted by Jay Borenstein on Thu, 04/11/2024 - 13:44
An advanced practice nurse consulting with a patient.

Healthcare employers are searching for compassionate professionals to fill nursing positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 193,100 registered nursing vacancies annually from 2022 to 2023. The most common entry point into nursing career paths is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

If you are considering a nursing career, it is worthwhile to consider options for nursing specialization. Nurses provide care across every aspect of healthcare from birth through old age. Before exploring potential career paths, let’s first look at why specialization is beneficial to nurses and patients.


Why Specialize in a Specific Area of Nursing?

Newcomers to the nursing profession typically start their careers as staff nurses in general medical surgical clinical environments. This generalist role provides care across different departments that serve acute but stable patient populations, providing valuable exposure to many areas of nursing. While some registered nurses stay in staff nursing roles long-term, many focus on specific conditions and patient populations. Nursing specializations honed through BSN courses, experiences, and professional certifications confer a few benefits.


Rising Employer Expectations

Nurses who seek certifications within their specialties are viewed in higher regard by employers than their non-certified counterparts. An American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) survey found that 86% of nurse managers preferred certified applicants in hiring. This level of trust means that specialists with certification are more competitive in the job market.


Better Patient Outcomes

Pursuing specialization in any area of nursing shows a commitment to the latest techniques and best practices. Recent studies show certified nurses measurably improve patient glycemic control and fall rates. Improved health outcomes and patient satisfaction are significant returns on investment for those seeking specialization.


Higher Salary Ceiling

Nurses specializing in in-demand areas of healthcare find opportunities for improved compensation. The BLS reported the top 10% of earners among registered nurses earned more than $129,400 in 2022, far exceeding the median salary of $81,220 for the profession. Clinical and leadership skills shaped by years of nursing specialization make career advancement possible.


Nursing Specialization Options for BSN Graduates

BSN studies and on-the-job experience shape nurses’ decisions on their preferred care areas. Nursing specializations cover different types of healthcare facilities, conditions, and patient ages. Here are in-demand areas of nursing available for specialization.


Charge Nurse

Charge nurses oversee staff nurses and manage unit operations while working while sometimes also working with assigned patients. They also coordinate with nurse managers to maintain high standards for patient care. Additional responsibilities for charge nurses include:

  • Monitoring patient admissions and discharges
  • Scheduling nurses and other personnel
  • Training new personnel

Charge nurses typically work in high-traffic medical facilities like hospitals and in-patient clinics. This nursing specialization is ideal for those with strong leadership and communication skills. There isn’t a specific certification for this area of nursing, with charge nursing roles filled by experienced professionals.


Emergency Nurse

Nurses evaluated and treated patients during 139.8 million emergency department visits in 2021. Emergency nurses triage patients based on the urgency or severity of their medical conditions. They also administer medications, treat wounds, and work with emergency physicians on treatment plans.

Nurses in this specialization encounter new challenges and types of patients every day. They also learn about ailments and conditions not found in other nursing career paths. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing offers a certification process for professionals in this area of nursing.


ICU Nurse

Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses provide care following serious health issues in critical care ICUs or specialized units for neonatal, surgical, and pediatric patients. They work with fewer patients than other nurses because they provide very specialized and in depth care to the most vulnerable patients Their daily responsibilities include:

  • Comparing current assessments and previous shift reports to identify patient changes
  • Documenting vital measurements and medicine administration
  • Maintaining IV drips, tubing, and monitoring equipment

ICU nurses get to work closely with patients requiring complex needs. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offers certifications in neonatal, pediatric, and adult critical care that are helpful for advancement in this nursing career path.


Geriatric Nurse

Geriatric nurses work with patients 65 and older in hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. Patients may experience two or more medical conditions requiring ongoing care as they age. Registered nurses in this specialization also:

  • Educate family members and caregivers on treatment plans
  • Encourage patient independence through exercise when possible
  • Track changes in physical and mental health during exams

There will be consistent demand for this nursing specialization, with a projected 47% increase in Americans aged 65 and older from 2022 to 2050. Nurses focusing on senior patients can demonstrate competency with the ANCC’s Gerontological Nursing Certification.


Home Health Nurse

Home health nurses reduce readmission rates and cost of hospital stays by providing care where patients live. They regularly visit patients for examinations, wound care, and therapies. Professionals in this area of nursing coordinate with social workers, palliative care specialists, and physicians as necessary.

Nurses interested in working with patients outside clinical environments may find home health nursing satisfying. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated a 121% increase in home health patients from 2000 to 2020, highlighting this area’s growing importance. Certification in home health nursing from ANCC can amplify a nurse’s credentials to employers.


Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse

Psychiatric mental health specialized nurses work with patients of all ages in settings ranging from hospitals to outpatient treatment facilities. Their role in the treatment process includes:

  • Coordinating care with counselors and other specialists
  • Educate patients on self-care and other techniques for rehabilitation
  • Managing patient intake based on symptoms and medical history

There is a significant need for nurses in this specialization, with one in five adults and one in six children facing behavioral health disorders. Newly licensed RNs can show their commitment to this area of nursing with certification in psychiatric-mental health nursing.


Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses care for patients with cancer and who are often in an immunocompromised condition. They manage complex medications and conduct cancer screenings and educate patients on cancer prevention. They also support patients with cancer diagnoses as they deal with the physical and mental toll of treatment. Care providers in this nursing career path typically work in hospitals and oncologists’ offices.

The ongoing threat of cancer translates into a steady demand for newcomers to this nursing specialization. RNs can further their careers in this area with certification by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC).


Pediatric Nurse

Nurses who want to work in the early stages of human development can specialize in pediatric care. This area of nursing combines preventative care like regular check-ups with treatments for ailments like sore throats or ear infections. They also educate parents about developmental milestones and potential health issues based on exam results.

Pediatric nurses play significant roles in children’s health and lifelong comfort in clinical settings. The ANCC and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) offer certifications in this nursing specialization.


Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses apply their clinical and research skills to community-level health challenges. They oversee community immunization efforts and monitor data trends in infectious diseases. This nursing specialization may also be responsible for:

  • Coordinating services for low-income households and seniors
  • Monitoring social media and dedicated voicemail boxes for community questions
  • Shaping public health campaigns with marketing and communications staff

RNs can serve their communities as public health nurses with nonprofits, local health departments, and health centers. Recent BSN graduates can expand their knowledge in this nursing career path with certification from the National Board of Public Health Examiners. 


Surgical Nurse

Surgical nurses monitor and treat patients throughout all stages of the surgical process. Three subfields within this nurse specialization are essential to patient health:

  • Pre-op nurses support patients going into surgical procedures
  • Intra-op nurses prepare operating rooms and assist surgeons
  • Post-anesthesia care nurses stabilize patients before their next step in recovery

Nurses in this area of care create safe and healthy environments for surgical procedures, thus positively impacting health outcomes. Nurses wanting to be certified can earn their Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR) credential to pursue this specialty.


Telehealth Nurse

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimated that 22% of adults used telehealth services in 2022. Telehealth nurses make this option possible by translating the clinical experience into virtual environments. They provide the following services via email, chat, and video calls:

  • Answering patient questions about acute health issues
  • Documenting patient concerns and symptoms
  • Conducting follow-ups to determine treatment progress and additional needs

This nursing career path is ideal for those who want to shape an important growth area in healthcare. There isn’t a national certification yet for telehealth nursing, though nurses can gain experience by working with employers focused on telehealth.


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