What Can You Do With a Nursing Degree?

student going through nurse education

Nursing is a very diverse profession that allows individuals to work in different environments and roles, and with various patient populations. Explore the following career guide to learn what you can do with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and how you could pursue higher-level positions with advanced credentials.

What Can You Do With a Nursing Degree as a Hospital Nurse?

While there are many different workplace settings for nurses, hospitals employ the highest number of nursing professionals. The below opportunities represent some areas in the hospital setting where nurses can care for patients.

Medical-Surgical Nurse

Medical-surgical nurses constitute the largest specialty within the nursing field.1 They work with non-surgical (medical) patients, as well as patients who are preparing for or recovering from surgery.

Obstetric Nurse

If you are passionate about helping patients experience the miracle of parenthood, then you may want to become an obstetric nurse. This subfield specializes in pregnancy and childbirth. Obstetric nurses work on maternity units, in birthing centers and OB/GYN offices. They can work with patients who are trying to get pregnant, those who are pregnant and those who are in labor. Obstetric nurses also provide care to newborns following a delivery.

Critical Care Nurse

Critical care nurses work in intensive care units (ICUs) and progressive care units (PCU) or “step-down” units delivering care to patients who are in critical condition with complex, life-threatening injuries and illnesses. Compared to other, non-critical patients who have been hospitalized, ICU patients need closer monitoring. Critical care nurses must be highly observant, have good attention to detail and be quick to respond when a patient’s condition changes.

Peri-Operative Services:

Pre-Operative Nurse, Operating Room Nurse, Recovery Room Nurse

Peri-operative nurses work with patients before, during and after various types of surgeries. Pre-operative nurses prepare the operating room, review the patient’s medical history, provides patient education regarding the procedure, ensure that the patient has signed all the necessary paperwork, and administers any necessary premedication. Operating room nurses assist the surgeon during the procedure and recovery room nurses monitor the patient post-operatively as they come out of anesthesia.

Emergency Room Nurse

Staying calm under pressure is an important trait for emergency room (ER) nurses. In critical situations, an ER nurse may simultaneously assess and begin treating a patient who needs immediate care. ER nurses often treat patients with chest pain, abdominal pain, fractures and sprains, as well as patients with symptoms of drug overdose.

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Other Opportunities for Those With a BSN Nursing Degree

For nurses who prefer to work outside the hospital setting, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Some of these positions are found in hospitals and clinics, whereas others are found outside typical healthcare settings.

Nurse Case Manager

A nurse case manager can work within and outside a hospital, as well as in other care settings such as hospice agencies and nursing homes. These professionals take a holistic approach to coordination of care, and oversee discharge planning. Often, nurse case managers work with patients over long periods of time.

These RNs are responsible for developing care plans for patients who are managing chronic illnesses and those who otherwise need ongoing care. They coordinate patient care with other healthcare providers, deliver health education, monitor the patient’s response to medications, and serve as advocates for patients. Nurse case managers also provide a compassionate ear for patients and families who need emotional support.

Home Health Nurse

Patients who have been discharged from the hospital and those who are managing chronic conditions often need assistance from home health nurses. These professionals may work directly for a hospital, home health agency or a hospice agency.

A home health nurse acts as a coordinator for a patient’s care. They also monitor patients’ health, manage medications and help patients and their family caregivers learn how to handle care needs.

Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses occupy a unique niche in the healthcare field. A public health nurse focuses on health promotion for entire populations, ranging from local communities to entire countries. This role is a data-centric one, as public health nurses must compile, organize and analyze medical data for the populations they are focusing on.

Patient education is a major component of these professionals’ jobs. They develop and implement programs designed to educate communities about healthcare issues, such as the importance of immunizations, the availability of smoking cessation resources and the signs of substance abuse. You can find public health nurses working in a variety of settings, from public health departments, community clinics, government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Opportunities for Advancing Your Nursing Career

Earning a BSN can enable you to pursue a range of different career paths within healthcare. However, with additional nursing education and certifications, advanced nursing roles are possible. Pursuing advancement as a nurse is beneficial for both you and your patients. With more in-depth education, you’ll be better positioned to deliver a high level of evidence-based care to your patients, which leads to better patient outcomes. Nurses with advanced education can also step into leadership roles and have the potential to earn higher compensation.

One common path that can lead to a variety of different career choices is to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). An APRN holds either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or both. APRNs must also pass certifying exams in their specialty area. 

There are four main types of APRNs:

  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Nurse practitioner (NP)

Clinical Nurse Specialist

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a highly trained healthcare professional who can deliver evidence-based, cost-effective healthcare in a variety of healthcare settings. A CNS may specialize in a particular patient population (e.g., pediatrics, geriatrics or women’s health), healthcare setting (e.g., ER), disease (e.g., oncology) or type of care (e.g., rehabilitation or psychiatric). These professionals diagnose, treat and manage patients, ensure that best practices are followed and improve healthcare delivery throughout the hospital.

Certified Nurse Midwife

Midwives have been around for centuries, but the midwifery profession looks quite different today than it did hundreds of years ago. A certified nurse midwife (CNM) specializes in woman-centered care. In particular, they are known for providing care to women who are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant. CNMs assist women who are going through labor and delivery, administer care to women during the postpartum phase and provide newborn care. CNMs also deliver primary care services to women from adolescence through menopause.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) works with surgical patients, from infants to geriatrics. They are responsible for preparing patients for anesthesia (e.g., assessing their health risks), administering anesthesia drugs, monitoring patients during the surgery and managing the patient’s post-operative recovery as they come out of the anesthesia.

Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner (NP) is an APRN who is trained to assess and diagnose patients, order medical tests, develop care plans, prescribe medications and manage treatments. In many states, NPs can practice independently, whereas in others, NPs are more closely supervised by physicians. There are many opportunities for specializing further within the NP niche.

  • Family nurse practitioner (FNP) – An FNP specializes in delivering primary care for individuals and families throughout their life. They can provide therapeutic and preventive care, and they focus on patient education and health promotion. In some underserved areas with shortages of primary care physicians, an FNP may be the predominant provider of primary care for patients.
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) – These NPs assess, diagnose and treat mental illnesses and psychiatric disorders. They may prescribe medications and deliver therapy. Some PMHNPs work in emergency settings, where they provide crisis intervention.
  • Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP) – An AGACNP works in acute care settings, such as inpatient hospitals, ICUs and ERs. AGACNPs specialize in treating adult and geriatric patients who have acute, critical or life-threatening medical problems. These professionals have a broad range of responsibilities, including patient education, preventive health promotion, treatment planning and chronic disease management. 

Is There Still a Strong Demand for Nurses?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates that the job growth rate for registered nurses will be about 9% through 2030. Although this rate of growth is comparable to the national average for all professions, it represents the addition of far more jobs added to the economy than average, because there is already a significant population of nursing professionals in the U.S. At a 9% growth rate, there will be about 194,500 new job openings for RNs each year through the end of the decade.2

If you choose to advance your career by earning the credentials necessary to become an APRN, you can expect a similarly robust job market. The BLS predicts that the job growth rate for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners will be about 45% through 2030 — a much faster rate than average. This rate of growth reflects the expected addition of about 29,400 new job openings for these professionals each year through the end of the decade.2

With a reputation for high first-time NCLEX-RN pass rates, and a focus on excellence in nursing education, Grand Canyon University is the school of choice for aspiring nurses. We offer a number of nursing degree programs, including the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program as well as nurse practitioner programs. With the ABSN, you can use your non-nursing college education to accelerate your BSN studies and earn your degree in as few as 16 months.3 

To learn more, click on Request Info at the top of your screen and take the first step toward making a positive difference in the lives of patients in your community.

1 Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, What Is Med-Surg Nursing? in April 2022. 

2 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses and Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners.

3 Based on location, applicants must transfer a minimum of 60 of the required 123 credits, or have completed a baccalaureate degree, and complete 9 prerequisite courses/labs and 10 general education courses prior to starting the core nursing courses which can be completed in 16 months. An additional prerequisite course is required for students enrolled in Grand Canyon University’s ABSN program in Nevada. For more information on the accreditation of nursing programs and other university licensures, please visit our University Accreditation and Regulations page at gcu.edu/CONHCPAccreditation.

4 Cannot be used in conjunction with other GCU scholarships or awards.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.