4 Rewarding Advancement Opportunities Nurses Should Consider

The nursing profession is always in high demand, and nurses who are looking for ways to advance their careers should consider the many rewarding opportunities that are available. Whether you are interested in teaching, research, or management positions, there are many possibilities open to you. 

It is important to remember that advancement opportunities for nurses do not just come from moving up the ladder within your current organization. You can also look for positions in other healthcare organizations or related fields. Whatever route you choose, be sure to arm yourself with the proper knowledge and skills so that you can excel in your new role. 

This article provides an overview of some of the most common options registered nurses (RNs) can pursue and offers advice on how to achieve success in these paths.

Career Advancement Opportunities for Nurses

There are several vertical and horizontal paths that a registered nurse can take to advance their career. Here are some options to consider.

Nurse Educator

Job Description: Nurse educators are RNs who educate and train new nurses on the job, in a classroom setting, or both. They often work with nursing students during their clinical rotations at different types of healthcare facilities to provide support and guidance. Depending on the organization they work for, nurse educators might also oversee continuing education programs offered to nurses throughout the company. 

Education & Training Requirements: A graduate degree is typically required to become an effective nurse educator, though many employers seek nurses with a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing (MSN or PhD). In addition to academic coursework, some advanced degrees require a research project or thesis prior to graduation. It typically takes one to six years for an RN to become a nurse educator.

Number of Job Openings: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for nurse educators should grow by 9% from 2019 to 2029.  

Median Annual Salary: $74,470

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Job Description: Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) are advanced practice nurses who provide leadership and expertise to hospitals or other healthcare organizations. They are responsible for improving the quality of care that nurses deliver, which includes prescribing medication, following up on patient treatment plans, and educating new members of the nursing staff. They frequently consult with physicians about patient care and collaborate with other healthcare professionals. Examples are nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives.

Education & Training Requirements: The BLS lists a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) as the minimum requirement to qualify for this role, though many advanced practice nurses also earn a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP). Many schools and hospitals offer part-time and online programs that allow students to advance their nursing career while working full-time.

Number of Job Openings: The BLS projects employment opportunities for nurse specialists to grow by 45% from 2020 to 2030, or about 121,400 more professionals.

Median Annual Salary: $117,670

Health Policy Analyst

Job Description: Health policy analysts advance the nursing profession by working to advance public health policies, which is why they are also loosely referred to as political scientists. They may work at a healthcare organization, in a government agency, or as an independent consultant. In this role, they assess federal and state legislation that will affect nurse recruitment and retention rates as well as providing insight on potential educational needs.

Education & Training Requirements: Typically, an advanced degree is required to become a health policy analyst. These degrees include master’s in public policy, political science, or public administration, master’s of science in nursing (MSN), or PhD in nursing. Many employers seek candidates with relevant work experience as well. A doctoral degree typically takes four years to complete, whereas master’s degrees take two or three years. 

Number of Job Openings: Employment opportunities for health policy analysts are expected to increase by 9% from 2020 to 2030. 

Median Annual Salary: $124,890 (for policy analysts involved in scientific research and development services)                 

Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)

Job Description: Nurse executives can advance their career by taking on senior positions at healthcare organizations. They typically advance from an administrative role, managing several nursing departments, into a more general leadership position overseeing multiple departments or divisions. In addition to hiring, training, and performance management responsibilities, CNOs provide vision, strategy, and guidance to advance their organization’s mission.

Education & Training Requirements: A PhD in nursing is typically required for advancement to the position of CNO, though some employers seek candidates with a doctorate in public health. In addition, most CNOs hold an MSN degree. Master’s programs provide RNs with the flexibility needed to advance their careers without sacrificing important work/life balance concerns.

Number of Job Openings: The BLS expects employment opportunities for nurse managers and administrators (which includes chief nursing officers) to grow by 32% from 2020 to 2030, or roughly 139,600 more.

Median Annual Salary: $104,280

Tips To Advance Your Nursing Career

Nursing is a career that offers different paths for professional advancement. If you are considering a change in your current role, below are some tips to help steer you toward the right path.

1. Earn a Specialization Certification

Many employers advance candidates who have earned valuable specialization credentials, such as those offered through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses or American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, to name a couple. Earning one or more types of certifications can advance your nursing career and position you for increasing levels of responsibility (and higher pay).

2. Get a Nurse Mentor

Mentorship programs support employees through increased responsibility and mentorship by more senior staff members. Nurses at every level of their career can advance rapidly when paired with an experienced mentor who guides them toward opportunities for advancement.

3. Join a Professional Organization

Nurses further their careers by staying up-to-date on the latest policies and guidelines that enhance patient care. Examples of such groups are the American Nurses Association, National League for Nursing, Emergency Nursing Association, and International Council of Nurses. Applying new knowledge to patient cases not only helps to improve processes surrounding patients’ overall health but nurses’ career prospects as well. 

4. Further Your Education

Employers advance qualified nurses into more senior leadership roles when they have higher levels of education, including PhDs in nursing. Some nurses advance by finding opportunities to take on more complex responsibilities in their current roles. Completing master’s degree programs help you secure more competitive positions within healthcare organizations, which typically leads to increased pay and greater career prospects down the line.

Jumpstart Your Nursing Career With Strelcheck Healthcare Search

Ready to take the next step as a nurse? At Strelcheck Healthcare Search, we work with healthcare organizations to advance qualified nursing professionals into nurse leadership roles. We offer comprehensive search and recruitment services for both open and hard-to-fill positions, including high-level nursing jobs throughout the U.S.

Interested in learning more? Contact the Strelcheck Healthcare Search team today.