Nursing Career Path: Your Complete Planning Guide

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Developing your nursing career path begins with exploring a typical career plan for nursing. It also involves earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in nursing and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. After nursing school graduation, you can consider whether to continue your education or pursue a specialty.

2 Utica nursing students smiling with their arms crossed

So you know you want to become a nurse. That’s a huge career change. But how do you start? What needs to happen first? How do you plan for something like this? It’s not as complicated as it might appear at first. Take it a day at a time and use this guide to help you plan your nursing career path. In addition, be sure to reach out to a Utica University Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program admission representative to help you navigate the process.

1. Create a Career Plan for Nursing

When deciding on a new career, it’s important to factor in how soon you want to begin your career. For various reasons, you may not be able to put your life on hold to return to school to earn a traditional degree. And although some career transitions allow you to move from one field to another with few hurdles, it’s likely you will have to return to school for many career changes. There are also other barriers that could make changing careers a lengthier process than initially thought.

If you are considering a career in nursing, however, you may be able to start your new life as a registered nurse (RN) sooner than you may have thought. Some aspiring nurses complete a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. If you already have some non-nursing college credits, however, you may be eligible for Utica University’s ABSN program. This can make it possible to earn your B.S. in Nursing in as few as 16 months. This nursing career guide explains the process.

Utica nursing student working on a sim manikin

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2. Contact an Admission Representative

Your admission representative will work with you from the day you first reach out until the day you start your nursing classes. Many students develop a close relationship with their representative, so you may find yourself in touch with them throughout your nursing education.

You will work with the same admission representative throughout the admission process. They will review your transcripts and help you determine which prerequisites you must complete, as well as help you decide on the ideal start date.

Since Utica University’s ABSN program offers three start dates per year in January, May and August, you can take your time gathering application materials (such as transcripts) and completing prerequisites without stalling your career plan for nursing.

3. Graduate from Your ABSN Program

Earning a B.S. in Nursing is a necessary stepping stone toward becoming a nurse. You can expect to work through a rigorous curriculum on a full-time schedule. You will complete online coursework and skills and simulation lab classes at either of our program site locations in Syracuse, NY, or Albany, NY, and you’ll also complete clinical experiences that will give you hands-on practice with your new clinical skills.

Utica student smiling in a clinical setting

It’s possible to graduate in as few as 16 months; however, you will need to be prepared for long hours of studying and hard work. If you begin to struggle in any of your classes, reach out to your instructors right away to discuss the situation. It’s also a good idea to forge connections with your classmates and hold group study sessions.

4. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Once you graduate with a B.S. in Nursing, you’ll be prepared to tackle the NCLEX-RN exam. A passing score is required to obtain nursing licensure, and licensure is necessary for landing a job as an RN. The NCLEX-RN is a rigorous exam that tests your nursing knowledge and your ability to make sound judgments in clinical situations.

Spend the time between your graduation and your test date preparing for the exam. It’s a good idea to take at least one or two practice tests, and to review your notes from your classes. If you don’t pass the NCLEX-RN on your first attempt, you may retake it.

Utica ABSN students studying

We compiled 7 tips for preparing to pass the NCLEX in the post.

5. Gain Clinical Experience

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX-RN and obtained your state nursing license, you can begin applying to nursing positions at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. Choose your first position strategically.

As an RN, you’ll have the opportunity to focus your nursing career path on a particular area of specialization. If you already know which area you’d like to specialize in, you may wish to accept a position that aligns with your chosen specialty. Alternatively, you can choose a position that allows you to get a better idea of whether a possible specialty is really the right choice for you.

For example, if you think you might like to specialize in critical care nursing, look for a position at an urgent care center, trauma center or emergency room. Similarly, aspiring neonatal nurses can look for entry-level positions in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Wherever you end up, you’ll gain invaluable clinical experience that will establish a good foundation for your nursing career path.

6. Refocus Your Nursing Career Path

After you’ve gained a few years of clinical experience, it’s time to refer to this nursing career guide again and revisit your own career path plan. Do you have a firm idea of whether you would like to specialize and which specialty speaks to you? Some specialties are available to RNs with a B.S. in Nursing, whereas others may require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and possibly other credentials, such as certifications.

Utica student working on computer with a textbook

Nursing Specialties with a B.S. in Nursing

If you feel your nursing education is complete at this point, you may wish to pursue a specialization open to nurses with a B.S. in Nursing. These include the following:

  • Neonatal nurse
  • Critical care nurse
  • Dialysis nurse
  • Perioperative nurse
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse
  • Pain management nurse

Nursing Specialties with Advanced Credentials

If you decide to head back to school to earn an MSN or DNP, you may wish to pursue a career as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). An APRN is a highly trained RN who has earned either an MSN or DNP and achieved an advanced certification in their area of specialization. The specialties available to APRNs are as follows:

  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM): Provides primary and gynecologic healthcare, with a focus on reproductive healthcare
  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS): Provides diagnosis, treatment and management of medical conditions, and provides guidance to colleagues to ensure the nursing staff adheres to best practices and evidence-based standards
  • Nurse practitioner (NP): Delivers primary, acute or specialty care to patients
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA): Provides anesthesia and pain management to patients undergoing surgery
Utica ABSN student standing and smiling in simulation lab

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Your Nursing Career Path Starts with Utica ABSN

Now that you have a firmer idea of your nursing career path, it’s time to begin working toward your dream career. Contact an admission representative at Utica University today to discuss our ABSN requirements. Our ABSN curriculum offers a blended online and in-person approach, with no waitlist for admission.

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