Who has needed medical help at some point in their lives? You might have had someone take care of you that time you were sick at school, help you with an injury at your physician’s office, give you advice, or treat you after surgery. If you have, then chances are that you’ve been looked after by a nurse.

Nurses perform a vast range of tasks and can be found at any place where your healthcare is the priority. It might be that a nurse has given you some support when you’ve felt under the weather, but they’ve also been there when you’ve been incredibly sick or injured. They support the healthcare system, and this is why so many people really do respect this profession.

We all want to give back to our communities, and the way some of us want to do that is to look after those who need care like we received when we needed help the most, and that’s by nursing. So, if you want to follow in those footsteps and give the tender care that people deserve, here’s how you can do it.

What does a nurse do?

A nurse will work at any level or in any area of healthcare. They aim to give the best quality of life available to a patient and contribute to someone’s health and recovery or ensure they have a peaceful death. They are also healthcare advocates who can give advice to individuals, families, or communities.

Nursing is one of the most trusted professions in the US, with almost 3 million people currently employed as nurses in the country and an ongoing need for more to sign up and get training to qualify. Nurses can specialize in a number of areas, so if you want to join this line of work, then you can look to be an expert in a specific medical sector as you become more experienced.

Depending on what nursing level you want to achieve and where you want to work, your tasks as a nurse may include:

  • Getting a patient’s medical/health histories
  • Performing examinations on a patient
  • Providing education, counseling, and healthy lifestyle
  • Administering medicine and care
  • Coordinating patient care with colleagues
  • Supervising other nursing staff

How to become a nurse

You can get the qualifications you need to become a nurse in as little as a year. However, this will limit what work you can do, and you won’t be able to specialize in a particular area.

If you choose this qualification route, you will then become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), occasionally known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in some US states. Nurses in these roles typically provide basic care to patients, record their vital signs and information, monitor medical equipment, bathe and dress patients if they can’t do so themselves, and check patients are comfortable.

To become an LPN or LVN, most US states will require you to pass a practical nursing program. These are usually one year long and are offered by many vocational, technical, and community colleges as well as private nursing schools. You then must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) for you to work as a nurse.

You can also become a registered nurse (RN), which is another entry point into the nursing profession. This will take longer, as you will have to complete either a collaborative college-university nursing program or a four-year university nursing program. However, you will then get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) or Bachelor of Nursing degree (BN).

Registered nurses, once they have passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), can administer medication, monitor patients, work with other healthcare colleagues, and educate people to help them take care of themselves. As well as directly caring for their patients who may have more complex needs, RNs may also supervise nursing assistants and LPNs in their line of work.

Levels of nursing qualifications

Once you become a registered nurse, your career opportunities open up, as more roles become available to you and your responsibility can increase. You will need to complete any number of further education courses to do so, but you won’t have to take a career break, because many of these programs will be aimed at working nurses, so classes and coursework can be fitted around your regular hours.

Not all registered nurses will have a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN), so if this is you and you want to progress, your next step will be to gain this qualification. You can then think about getting post-graduate qualifications so you can become one of the most senior nursing staff in the healthcare system.

If that’s your target in your nursing career, then you’ll be looking at becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). There are four roles that come under this job title with different areas of expertise that you could work in:

  • Nurse practitioners (NPs) – complete physical exams, diagnose, and treat acute/chronic conditions. Also, prescribe medications or other therapy and order and analyze tests and x-rays.
  • Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) – provide advanced nursing care, which includes acute or chronic care management, develop quality improvement plans, and help educate or mentor other colleagues.
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) – administer anesthesia and other care before, during, and after medical procedures.
  • Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) – give primary care to women by performing gynecological exams, offering advice, providing pre- and neonatal care, and managing low-risk labors and deliveries.

There are many nursing programs available that allow nurses to continue working as they study, and this usually involves offering online programs to help you achieve either that master of science in nursing (MSN) degree or doctor of nursing practice (DNP). So, if you wish to become a nurse practitioner, for example, these online nurse practitioner programs will help you get the clinical knowledge required to prevent, treat, and manage acute and chronic diseases while you get your master’s degree.

Nursing specialties and community work

Being a registered nurse means that you can start to specialize in specific areas of healthcare. You will already be giving back to your community by providing crucial support to those who need it, but if you have a desire to work with particular groups, either geographically, socially, or by the condition they may have, this is when you can do that.

So, if you decide to work at a hospital, you could be part of the medical nursing team in a department that looks at specific ailments or age groups. If you want to care for children, for example, you may wish to look at pediatrics, midwifery, or neonatal care. You will also have contact with parents or guardians and be able to work with them on how to care for or treat their child at what may be a difficult time for the family.

Or, maybe you have an interest in a certain condition or function through your own personal experience: you or a family member may have been a patient of a cancer clinic or needed care from the cardiology team, for instance, and you may want to tend to those patients, as you know what they’re going through. It could be that you want to treat people with acute or unstable conditions in emergency rooms, as they are at a critical point in their lives. Large hospitals will have a number of areas you can specialize in, so there are plenty to choose from.

However, you may wish to work in different surroundings. You can work in many non-hospital environments, such as physician offices, schools, camps, retreats, or correctional facilities. The demands will vary, but this will allow you to treat a range of conditions and may even allow you to work on your own, depending on the state you practice in.

Your nursing expertise may also be needed directly in your community or with groups in specific centers. You may want to help vulnerable patients and specialize in their care, such as domestic violence survivors or the elderly. Home health nurses can even visit patients in their homes, providing them with care they can’t complete themselves or giving support relief to their primary caregivers. You could even think about working in a rural community that has limited access to healthcare.

There may be any number of reasons why you want to become a nursing expert in one of these fields. Maybe it’s because you’ve been the patient and want to give that great level of care to someone else going through the same experience. Or, you were the caregiver, and the way your friend or family member was treated made you want to give back. There may have been a time when you didn’t know what to do, and you want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Whatever your reasons, becoming a nurse to help your community will mean you can give care and education to those who need it the most. Your dedication will touch someone’s life and help them on their way to recovery.