For many people outside the medical community, there is a prevailing misunderstanding that being a nurse means working in a hospital under the supervision of a physician to help care for patients. While this is one facet of nursing and an important one at that, it certainly is not the only career possibility for nurses.

The fact of the matter is that the term “nurse” encompasses diverse career paths. While many do choose to work as registered nurses (RNs) in the hospital setting, others might specialize in certain areas of medicine or choose to take their careers further by joining the administrative side of medicine. Still, other nurses find themselves wish to pursue a more independent ability to practice medicine as a nurse practitioner.

With so many possibilities out there for nurses, you might be wondering just what you can do with your own career in nursing. Here are three of the more popular nursing career paths for you to consider when you are looking to find your true calling as a nurse.

1. Family Nurse Practitioner

These days, it is no secret that there is a growing shortage of certain healthcare professionals. Not only are there some areas across the country that are desperately underserved regarding the number of qualified physicians, but there is also a growing need for more nurses in most areas of medicine.

Because of this, and for other reasons, the job of Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) has developed into what it is today. These nurses work incredibly hard to develop the knowledge and acquire the skills necessary to practice medicine at a might higher level than the standard RN. 

Some FNPs are even given the legal right and authority to practice medicine without having to be under the supervision of a doctor. These nurses might choose to set up their own medical practice and have multiple patients under their care.

It should come as no surprise that the road to becoming qualified as an FNP is a difficult one. To become an FNP, you would have to earn one of the highest degrees that a nurse can earn: a doctorate. Enrolling in a DNP program will provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to practice medicine at the highest level possible for a nurse.

2. Neonatal Nurse

One career in nursing that does not require such a high level of education as the FNP but that is incredibly rewarding, and fulfilling is that of the neonatal nurse. This is an RN that administers care specifically to infants in need of specialized care within the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). These infants might have been born prematurely and are thus in need of specialized care for a short time, or they might have been born with a certain condition that will require more intensive care for a more extended period.

It should be noted that the job of a neonatal nurse requires very particular skills. Such a nurse must not only be able to administer necessary and life-saving care to infants, but they must also be comfortable serving as an educator of sorts for new parents. 

These parents are going to be facing some incredibly difficult and often scary times. The neonatal nurse should be able to explain the various procedures and treatments being administered and serve as a sounding board for parents’ concerns.

As stated, the path to becoming a neonatal nurse does not require as much formal education as an FNP. Technically speaking, if you are a registered RN, have earned an associate degree, and have gone through the Neonatal Resuscitation Program successfully, then you are qualified to become a neonatal nurse. That being said, many hospitals wish for their neonatal nurses to at least hold a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) degree.

3. Nurse Midwife

Another nursing career that is on the rise is that of the nurse-midwife. This is a nurse who is specifically trained and qualified to assist an expectant mother with all aspects of pregnancy. This means that the nurse-midwife will be responsible for overseeing prenatal care and the labor and delivery process. Furthermore, the nurse-midwife is also charged with handling the required postnatal care for both mother and baby.

As one of the more challenging and life-changing things that a woman can go through, the level of care required should be of the highest standard both regarding actual medical care and the education process that is necessary to prepare an expectant mother for all that is to come. Since pregnancy, labor, and delivery can all come with their own unique set of challenges, a nurse-midwife must be adequately prepared for anything.

While most women in the United States still prefer to have such care handled by an OB-GYN, more and more are opting for the more holistic approach to childbirth that nurse-midwives provide. This is in part due to the fact that many women are more interested in a natural birth free from medication if possible. 

While every birth is different and there is no predicting precisely how things are going to go, many women find it more helpful to prepare for the big day with the assistance and guidance of a nurse-midwife. Some even prefer to opt for a combination of care with the nurse-midwife and OB-GYN working in conjunction with one another as part of the birthing team.

This particular nursing career path is only expected to grow in the coming years, making it an enticing option regarding job security. However, becoming a nurse midwife will require you to earn a graduate degree in addition to your BSN. The particular degree that you go for should be a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) degree with a concentration in midwifery.

These are just three of the many potential career paths a nurse can pursue once they have gained their qualifications, so if it is a career you are thinking about, then take the plunge and go for it, there is more open to you than what you might expect.