When you think of a nurse, what do you picture? Are they wearing scrubs or professional attire? Is the nurse caring for patients in the hospital or in their homes? Do they work directly with patients or do they work with patient data?
All these accurately portray the role of a nurse. The nursing field is expansive with many types of nursing positions in a variety of settings.
Nurses can work in schools, research labs, med-spas, patients’ homes, community centers and their own home office. In a hospital setting, nurses specialize in a variety of areas like OB/GYN, orthopedics, pediatrics, surgery, and more.
What are some common types of nursing jobs and what do these jobs entail? In this post, we will discuss 10 different pathways in the nursing field, the common tasks associated with each path, and what to expect to help you decide if a role might be a good fit for you.
Please Note: There are many other types of nursing specialties outside of the ones included in this article. But the list below has some of the most common positions in nursing.
Emergency Room Nurse
Job Overview: When a patient first comes to the hospital, one of the first healthcare providers they’ll see is an ER nurse. These nurses specialize in treating patients with a variety of ailments. Some patients need a simple fix; for instance, a wound needing stitches or a broken bone needing a cast. Other patients need more complex care for their ailments such as a heart attack or stroke. In these cases, the ER nurse works with the team to get the patient the specialized care they need. ER nurses care for multiple patients at a time, dealing with varying degrees of illness or injury.
Is this nursing job for me? The ER nurse must be skilled at prioritizing, multi-tasking, and handling stressful situations. Every day is different in the ER, so this role is best suited for nurses who flourish in the unexpected and can handle high-pressure moments.
Job Overview: Medical-Surgical nurses care for multiple patients that are experiencing illness or recovering from surgery. In this role, you’d routinely assess patients, administer medications, and help patients with their daily care. They work with other providers (like case managers, physical therapists and physicians) to help to prepare patients for discharge.
Is this nursing job for me? The medical-surgical nurse must have a broad understanding of the medical field. This role is best suited for nurses who enjoy collaboration, multi-tasking and patient education.
Critical Care (ICU) Nurse
Job Overview: Critical Care (ICU) nurses are responsible for providing care to the sickest patients in the hospital. These patients often need breathing machines, increased monitoring or specialized medicines. Critical care nurses tend to care for a fewer number of patients at a time as they require a deep understanding of each patient’s medical situation. The ICU nurse works within the healthcare team to manage many different medicines, tubes, and machines during the patients stay in the ICU. Sometimes, the ICU nurse must respond to rapidly changing and high-stress situations.
Is this nursing job for me? The Critical Care nurse must have strong clinical judgment and the ability to swiftly adapt to patient needs. It can be one of the more emotionally challenging types of nursing jobs. This role is best suited for nurses who are organized, calm and enjoy problem solving.
Operating Room Nurse
Job Overview: Operating Room nurses work in the pre-operative and post-operative areas, managing the preparation and recovery of patients. These nurses provide close monitoring, manage pain, and provide education to patients before and after surgery and can work directly in the OR room, assisting the surgeon. Operating Room Nurses often have a specialty, such as cardiac surgery, neurosurgery or surgical oncology. They develop close relationships with the surgeons and anesthesiologists they work with so they can anticipate needs during surgery.
Is this nursing job for me? Operating Room nurses must work closely with the operative team. Surgical nurses are focused and organized while they coordinate care during the operative process. This role is best suited for organized nurses who are team-players.
Labor & Delivery Nurse
Job Overview: Labor and delivery nurses work with expecting mothers before, during and after childbirth. They provide support during the labor process and guide the mother towards a safe delivery. After delivery, these nurses monitor the mother and infant, assist with feeding, and provide education about safe infant care at home. Labor and delivery nurses provide individualized care to each patient, child and family, and they tend to develop close bonds.
Is this nursing job for me? Labor and delivery nurses are highly skilled at listening, communicating, and adapting to needs. This role is best suited for nurses that desire close connections with their patients.
Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) Nurse
Job Overview: After delivery, if an infant has additional medical needs, they are transferred to the NICU. The NICU nurse specializes in caring for infants born with challenges such as prematurity, cardiac disease, or infection. Caring for the smallest patients in the hospital, NICU nurses administer special feedings, manage breathing tubes and give medications in very small doses. These nurses respond to rapid changes in their small patients and support families through sometimes scary situations.
Is this nursing job for me? NICU nurses must bring a wide variety of skills, such as strong clinical judgement and compassion. This role is best suited for nurses that pay strong attention to detail and have a love for young children and their families.
Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse
Job Overview: Psychiatric nurses, also known as mental health nurses, work with a team of medical professionals to administer mental health care to patients. Psychiatric nurses work with psychologists, social workers, and other professionals to support patients with a variety of mental conditions. Common tasks for psychiatric nurses include implementing patient treatment plans, administering medication, evaluating patient needs and progress, and providing counseling services.
Is this nursing job for me? Psychiatric nurses work with patients sometimes struggling with some very difficult mental health conditions. This role is a good fit for people with a deep level of empathy, strong communication and patient assessment skills, and problem-solving abilities.
Non-Hospital Nursing Roles
If a hospital setting isn’t for you, you might be wondering if there’s nursing jobs that work in other environments. There are a variety of different settings. Below are just a few non-hospital jobs to consider.
Home Health Nurse
Job Overview: Some patients are sent home from the ER, a hospitalization, or a clinic appointment with health needs at home. Home health nurses are specially trained to provide care outside of traditional healthcare settings. They travel to patients’ homes to administer medications, perform dressing changes, provide education, etc. These nurses usually travel alone to their patients’ homes and are independent in their practice. Most work for home health agencies that coordinate the needs of these patients in the outpatient setting.
Is this nursing job for me? Home health nurses are highly adaptable to patient needs working in a variety of environments. This role is best suited for nurses that thrive independently, enjoy building relationships with patients, and are skilled at adapting to different environments.
Job Overview: Pediatric nurses specialize in treating children from infancy through age 18. These nurses can work in a hospital setting, in a private practice, or at a school. Pediatric nurses consider the unique needs of their young patients and families. These nurses often form strong relationships with patients and their families as they grow, becoming trusted advocates for their patients’ health and development.
Is this nursing job for me? The pediatric nurse must adapt to the unique developmental needs of children (and their parents). This role is best suited for nurses who enjoy working with children and can communicate effectively with people of all ages.
Hospice Care Nurse
Job Overview: Hospice nurses are assigned to work directly with the patient and their family when a patient is enrolled in hospice care. The hospice nurse focuses on end-of-life care assisting with symptom management, patient comfort, and promoting quality of life. They provide education to patients and families about the dying process, administer pain medications, and assist with activities of daily living. Hospice nurses work in various environments. Many visit people’s homes to provide hospice care, while some work for a hospice home or in the hospital setting.
Is this nursing job for me? Hospice nurses are highly empathetic and compassionate. Working in this position requires active listening skills and adaptability. This role is best suited for nurses that are calm and deeply compassionate.
How Arizona College of Nursing Can Help You Become a Registered Nurse
Do any of these nursing roles sound like a great fit for you? The first step to working in these positions is to become a registered nurse (RN). Arizona College of Nursing offers a BSN program that enables you to enter the nursing field in just 3 years or less with eligible transfer credits.
Why Choose Arizona College of Nursing for your education?
- CCNE-accredited BSN program
- Scholarships and Financial aid available to those who qualify
- Resources and training to prepare for the NCLEX exam.
- Student success coach to support you throughout program
- Night classes available for general education courses
- 18 nursing campus locations across the United States
Ready to talk more about nursing career paths and a future in nursing? Our team is ready and available to help you pursue your nursing dream. Contact us to take the first step.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm (visited January 21, 2024).