Career Mobility in Nursing: 5 Ways Nursing is Perfect For People Who Like Options
By Robbie Gould on 11/14/2023
Career mobility is an important decision in any industry. When you spend time working up through the ranks and honing your skills – or investing in an education – you need to know your career still has options.
No one wants to feel tied down or stuck in one position for the rest of their lives. Even if you love your job, will you love it in ten years? Twenty? Will you still love it if a global crisis hits or if you experience big changes in your personal life? Will your selected industry stand the test of time?
Some careers offer more options for mobility (moving into different types of roles, advancing into new positions and changing locations or employers) than others.
It’s natural (and smart) to keep your options as open as possible. And it would be easy to think of industries where career options range into the hundreds (think technology or business). To the uninitiated, nursing might seem like a career with one primary outcome – bedside nursing in a fluorescent-lit healthcare facility of some sort.
But if you look closer into the career options nurses have, the landscape tells a very different story – an exciting story. If you feel claustrophobic in the same job year after year, you might want to consider nursing.
Nursing career mobility in scope of practice
Many nursing students choose to become a registered nurse (RN). Registered nurses have a strong baseline they can then customize according to their preferences going forward.
Registered nursing offers various opportunities to use your degree – ranging from specialization and leadership positions to the chance to work in a variety of healthcare settings. Nurses have the option to start at different levels of nursing practice and add to those levels as they decide where they want to go next.
As a very simple breakdown, here are some of the most common levels of nursing credential.
- Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
- Licensed practical nurse (LPN)
- Registered nurse (RN)
- Nurse practitioner (NP)
- Doctor of nursing practice (DNP)
(For more on those “levels,” check out A Beginner's Guide to Understanding the Levels of Nursing Credentials.)
These tiers explain nursing scope of practice, like if you can prescribe medication, handle injections, take vitals, etc… But they don’t come even close to explaining nursing job options or roles. And they don’t touch on nursing careers outside of direct patient care (of which there are MANY).
Nurses have the chance to tailor their careers to match their passions, aspirations and strengths. There are just so many options.
Nursing career mobility in location
Perhaps the largest factor in the appeal of nursing is the ability to move. Nurses can work almost anywhere in the world, including remotely through telehealth organizations. And specifically in the United States, the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) makes it much easier for nurses to work across certain state lines.
The NLC is a career mobility program designed for nurses holding a multistate license. When you successfully complete the NCLEX-RN® exam, apply for licensure and declare that a NLC/compact state is your primary state of residence (and if you meet the licensure requirements of that state) a compact license or multistate license will be automatically issued.
It allows nurses to practice in any of the 41 participating jurisdictions within the compact without having to obtain any additional licensure.1
PS: This compact is also open to licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) – but NOT advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).2
That said, advanced practice nurses are still very needed throughout the country and can work for travel healthcare agencies, as well as apply for licensure in any state they want to relocate to.
If you like the idea of moving around from year to year, travel nursing agencies could snap you up and offer you opportunities to choose from around the country for each contract period. See a very snowy Minnesota winter, then get some ocean time in Florida. Try living in Vermont, then hit a desert state for variety.
If that sounds fun (and it is!), get some more details on what travel nursing is like.
Plus: Travel nursing extends beyond U.S. borders. You can explore the world as an International Travel Nurse, working in countries such as Australia, the UK, Europe, China and more, provided you meet each country's specific requirements.
The flexibility to transition between these diverse work settings is a huge draw for people who have that wanderlust.
Nursing career mobility in role or specialty
Nurses can specialize in so many different areas of healthcare. It’s a lot. Just point to a part of your body, and you can probably find a nursing specialty devoted to it.
These specialties, in turn, offer a multitude of career options for whichever part of the body, population, disease or whichever nursing niche most interests you. Each of these areas come with different tasks as well as perspectives.
For example, there’s a whole branch of nursing devoted to helping patients remain comfortable as they approach their end of life phase. Hospice nursing doesn’t focus on curing diseases, so much as managing symptoms—this really changes the medical aspects of the work, as well as where hospice nurses do their jobs and who they work with.
Nursing career mobility in workplace setting
Nursing offers tons of different work settings, giving you a chance to pick what suits you best. You can dive into the fast-paced world of hospitals and emergency rooms, where things are always on the go. Stat.
Or, if you prefer a more personal touch, or more regular working hours, health clinics and physician's offices may let you build lasting connections with patients.
If you're all about shaping young minds, teaching at university might be your jam. And there's also the corporate route, where you can focus on workplace wellness. Or, if you want to provide care with a cozy, homey feel, home healthcare lets you do just that.
Telehealth nurses might work from a home office while long-term care nurses might work in an apartment complex. Critical care transport nurses work out of airplanes, helicopters, ambulances and other moving vehicles, while float pool nurses might work at a new location each week—rotating through hospitals in their area as their healthcare system needs.
Some nurses work in elementary schools and some work for addiction treatment centers.
It’s truly wild how many choices nurses have.
Here are some lesser-known places you can find nurses!
- In the armed services
- In labs performing clinical research
- On cruise ships
- In law firms as a nurse consultant
- In government offices as a Public Health Nurse
- As part of law enforcement agencies--forensic nurses asses biological evidence for criminal cases
Nursing career mobility options in schedule
It’s easy to feel burned out or bored if you don’t like your work schedule. But nurses' schedule options are equally advantageous if you are willing to shift roles or look into other opportunities.
Here are some of the variables different nursing roles can offer
- Days, nights or a mix of both
- A consistent or changing schedule
- Number of days per week
- Number of hours per shift
- Number of weeks or months per year (especially in float pool or travel nursing)
- Always on call, sometimes on call or never on call
Nurses can join a hospital team working night shifts, day shifts or a mix of both. They can work three or four days a week – pulling 10/12 hour shifts in a hospital – or conventional work hours at a private clinic. In a long-term care facility, nurses stay with the same patients day in and day out. They can join a travel nursing agency or a healthcare system float pool to work for a year, then take a few months off, then jump back in.
Dream up your ideal working schedule, and you can probably find a nursing position somewhere with that option.
How to change your nursing role or specialize
As you work in nursing, you’ll see more and more options for your career. When you want to make a change, you can take additional nursing courses to advance your education.
For example, you could earn an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) and work as an RN for three years – and then decide you want to specialize.
You can seamlessly pursue additional education to acquire a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice4 (DNP) which would allow you to take your career in a different direction and elevate your skillset to achieve new goals.
Some nurses obtain MSN-NP4 degrees and work a while as nurse practitioners—acting as the primary care provider for families in a clinic. After a while, they might see a new need they want to meet, like mental health nursing.
Do they need to go back to a whole new degree program? Nope! Options like post-graduate nursing certificates4 allow you to tack on new specializations or focus areas when you already have a graduate nursing degree.
Is a nursing education worth it?
Only you can say if this world of options is something you need in a career.
The job demand in nursing usually remains rock-solid, which means you can count on having a bunch of career options in the decades to come. Even though there is a shortage of nurses, we all know there's never a shortage of people needing healthcare, especially with more folks getting older and new medical tech emerging.3
Job security is a reassuring feature of the nursing field – even when the economy gets wobbly, nurses are always in demand.5 So, you can relax knowing you're free to explore different areas of nursing.
A nursing education could provide essential academic skills and specialty nursing knowledge that can be your foundation to build upon as your career advances. Whether it's a BSN, MSN, DNP or practical nursing program, if you value career mobility, nursing is one of the best education options to set you up for a thousand different paths.
Create a nursing career unique to you
Your nursing career can take you in so many different directions, and new pathways are opening to nurses year after year. Nursing career mobility is more than a possibility, it's a vibrant reality that many nurses use to their advantage.
So, whether you're a seasoned nurse looking to explore new options or a budding professional just beginning your journey, the world of nursing holds boundless opportunities for career mobility, personal growth and the satisfaction of contributing to healthcare in impactful ways.
If you're ready to kickstart your journey into nursing, take a look at "How Hard Is Nursing School? Students Tell All" to gain valuable insights from current and former students.
NCLEX-RN is a registered trademark of National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.
1National Council of State Boards of Nursing (2023) Nurse Licensure Compact [accessed 10/26/2023] https://www.nursecompact.com/
2National Council of State Boards of Nursing (2023) Nurse Licensure Compact, Frequently Asked Questions [accessed 10/26/2023] https://www.nursecompact.com/
3National Library of Medicine, The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity [accessed 10/28/2023] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK573922/
4Currently, this program is not eligible for participation in Title IV federal student aid programs. This program is not available in all states.
5American Nurses Association, Nurses in the Workforce [accessed 10/28/23] https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/workforce/