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I’m a registered nurse ... so what next?

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Now that you’re an RN, it’s time to find your niche.

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Now that you’re an RN, you get the exciting — and likely worrying — chance to find a job that will fit your interests and skills.

The good news is that there’s a large variety of nursing   specialties — each with something unique and exciting to offer.

To help you work out which choice would be best for you, spend some time considering the following questions:

  • What is my passion in nursing?
  • Which groups of patients or service users have I most looked forward to working with during my placement?
  • Which placement did I most enjoy?
  • What experience do I have of working in this area?
  • What setting do I most want to work in?
  • What career progression opportunities does this setting offer?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • Am I comfortable in the branch of nursing I trained in?
  • Am I willing or able to continue in formal education?

Whether you now know what kind of job you’re looking for, here are a few tasters of the possibilities that are out there:

Adult nursing in an acute setting

  • Do I need any special training or qualifications? Not necessarily. General adult nursing, without a specific clinical specialty, does not require any more qualifications besides being an RN.
  • What is it? Nursing that involves caring for adults of all ages with any number of conditions. Some posts will focus on caring for patients with a specific set of conditions – there is a range of clinical specialties to choose from – and others are more general and will allow you to see a bit of everything. Adult nursing has a variety of clinical specialties, including oncology, cardiology, diabetes, women’s health, men’s health and mental health.
  • Why is it important? Adult nurses improve the quality of adults’ lives by caring directly for the patients as well as providing education and counselling for them and their families.

Good for you if you…

  • enjoy working with adults and the families of patients
  • are empathetic
  • have good communication skills
  • are interested in moving into a particular clinical specialty such as cancer care, intensive care or respiratory care

 District or community nursing

  • Do I need any special training or qualifications? District nurses must complete the specialist practitioner programme following registration. It usually takes about one year, and most employers like nurses to have at least a couple of years’ clinical experience before starting the specialist programme.
  • What is it? Nursing that focuses on treating patients in their homes and educating patients or their family members to manage long-term conditions. Patients are often older, but they may also be recently discharged from hospital, terminally ill or disabled.
  • Why is it important? District nurses have a vital teaching role: they help discharged patients and their families adjust to home life and care. In this way, district nursing decreases readmissions and admissions to hospital and helps patients to maintain their independence as much as possible.

Good for you if you…

  • are independent and resourceful – you will often be working alone
  • desire to build relationships, especially with older patients and their families
  • are interested in working outside a hospital or a clinic

Health visiting

  • Do I need any special training or qualifications? Health visitors must complete a course in specialist community public health nursing/health visiting (SCPHN/HV). It usually takes one year.        
  • What is it? Nursing that focuses on improving public health by preventing and treating illness and supporting emotional, physical and mental development in children from birth to aged five. They also support new parents and the whole family after childbirth, offering advice on everything from smoking cessation to breastfeeding. Health visitors work in people’s homes and in community centres.
  • Why is it important? Health visitors improve the quality of life for children through education and the prevention and care for illness.

Good for you if you…

  • enjoy working with families and children
  • are a good listener
  • are good at networking and working with organisations

Practice nursing

  • Do I need any special training or qualifications? Going through a training programme is usually required. The GP surgery you are applying to will give you details.
  • What is it? Nursing in a GP surgery as part of a team. Practice nurses will have the opportunity to treat a range of illnesses for patients of all ages, covering everything from immunisations, sprains, dressing wounds, sexual health and travel vaccinations.
  • Why is it important? Practice nursing is important because it is the first place most patients will go for non-emergency situations. Practice nurses can build up excellent relationships with their patients, who will often disclose more details about their health and wellbeing to a nurse rather than another healthcare professional, as such it gives nurses working in this area great opportunity for making positive interventions and differences to their patients’ lives.

Good for you if you…

  • enjoy working in a team
  • want to do a bit of everything—treat minor injuries, vaccinations, educate families
  • can take initiative within a team environment
  • like the idea of running nurse-led clinics

School nursing

  • Do I need any special training or qualifications? Training is not necessarily required to be a school nurse. Some school nurses will try to get their school nursing/specialist community public health nurse degree.        
  • What is it? Nursing within a school. School nurses provide education about health and sex, treat sick students and administer screening and vaccinations.
  • Why is it important? School nursing is important because it directly affects the health of students.

Good for you if you…

  • enjoy working with children/adolescents
  • are interested in providing health and sex education
  • are organised and responsible

 Children’s nursing

  • Do I need any special training or qualifications? Children’s nurses in the community must complete the specialist practitioner community children’s nurse programme.
  • What is it? Nursing that involves caring for patients who are newborn to adolescent. Like adult nursing, children’s nursing has a lot of specialities like diabetes, cancer, nutrition and asthma. It can be done in the community or in acute settings
  • Why is it important? Because young children are often unable to effectively communicate what is wrong with them, children’s nurses are critical for the care of children. Besides treating present conditions, children’s nurses seek to improve children’s health for life. This can reduce the likelihood of illness and hospitalisation, and work to educate the parents.

Good for you if you…

  • enjoy working with and communicating with children
  • are perceptive and empathetic
  • enjoy playing with a child but also educating parents

Mental health nursing

  • Do I need any special training or qualifications? Nurses can study mental health nursing straight away, or study it after completing, say, a general adult nursing degree. Most mental health nurses complete the specialist practitioner community children’s nurse programme to work in the community with children. Some mental health nurses also complete training in social work.
  • What is it? A large field of nursing that involves treating abnormal behaviour and promoting healthy behaviour within a large segment of the population. Mental health nursing usually happens in the community, not in the hospital.
  • Why is it important? Mental health is necessary for overall health. Mental health nurses help encourage overall wellbeing by caring for and by building relationships with patients with disorders. They are also important in addressing stigma surrounding mental disorders.

Good for you if you…

  • are interested and knowledgeable about mental health and illness
  • enjoy building relationships
  • are perceptive of tension or stress and able to relieve it

Learning disabilities nursing

  • Do I need any special training or qualifications? There are no specific requirements, but many learning disability nurses also are trained in social work. Most do a learning disabilities nursing qualification instead of or after doing general adult nursing qualifications. Many also hold managerial positions.
  • What is it? nursing that involves the treatment of both the physical and mental conditions that result from a learning disability. Treatment is not only of physical conditions. Treatment also includes education – such as teaching the skills to perform a job and advice for dressing or shopping – to encourage independence.
  • Why is it important? Learning disability nurses are important both in caring for patients with disabilities and in helping them be more included in society. Educating families about the management of learning disabilities is also an important task.

Good for you if you…

  • are good at working in teams of multiple specialists
  • enjoy working in partnership with families and in social settings as opposed to hospital settings
  • are sensitive and patient
  • want to empower patients with learning disabilities to increase social inclusion

The beauty of nursing is the ability to move from one field to another – as many of the clinical and compassionate skills are transferable. So start looking for a new job at today.


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