Nursing is the largest health care profession in the United States. It has a faster than average job growth when compared to other professions, and its need across the medical field makes it one of the most flexible careers.
From its paths of entry and specializations to its work environments, schedules, and responsibilities, a career in nursing offers a wide selection of opportunities. Whether it’s a variety of economic needs, personal preferences, and professional goals, here’s why you should consider a flexible profession like nursing.
What Makes Nursing a Flexible Career?
Even though core work values don’t change, the job of “nurse” doesn’t look the same for everyone, even for nurses in the same unit. The factors that contribute to these differences are what makes the career so flexible. Here are some of those variables that you should consider when planning a nursing career.
Where nurses can work varies greatly. You could work in a small one-unit hospital in rural Alaska, or in a sprawling, state-of-the-art specialty hospital in Los Angeles. But in general, a majority of nurses — over 60% — work in hospitals.
The next most common employment setting for nurses is in ambulatory care at private practices, outpatient centers, and in patients’ homes. And then there are so many other settings that need nurses. Community outreach centers, the military, schools, and the travel industry (like airports and cruise ships) need licensed professionals to provide acute (and sometimes chronic) patient care.
If you’re considering one of these settings, be familiar with the culture and unique needs of the patient demographics. In some places, you’ll be working with primarily healthy patients, while in others, you’ll be seeing the same patient for months or years.
Full-time and part-time nursing positions offer many options for scheduling. You could work 7 AM to 7 PM on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday one week and the same hours Monday, Thursday, and Friday the next week. Or you could work from 11 PM to 7 AM five days a week. A part-time nurse may only work weekends.
Hospitals are always open for their patients, so nurses are usually needed to fill shifts every hour of the day, seven days a week. Some units offer more traditional work hours, like office jobs, but many nurses work longer shifts and fewer days a week.
For example, many nursing shifts last 10 or 12 hours. It might sound like a lot, but longer shifts mean that you work three or four days a week instead of five. That frees up more days for you to do other activities and spend time outside of work.
In other areas like ambulatory care, many of these services don’t provide 24-hour treatment, so nurses tend to work a more traditional five-day workweek. Then there are other areas that let you decide when and where you want to work. These services are often staffing agency services, which help fill needs at medical facilities on a shift by shift or contract basis. Or you could sign on to a travel agency and live in a new city or even a new state for a few months.
The breadth of nursing creates a range of specialties, like gerontology, cardiology, addiction, and family care. Each has its own skills and dynamics, and that diversity of responsibilities gives you the opportunity to find roles suited to your strengths.
A nurse who works in family care, for example, may treat patients over many years, whereas a cardiac nurse may treat many more patients for only a few hours or days. These two example specializations have different work schedules and energies. They bring different physical and emotional loads, and every nurse has their own optimal combination.
Nursing specialties mean there’s always the potential for you to find the best fit. But that variety also provides the potential for change and growth when looking for new positions, whether they’re within the same facility or in a completely new organization or setting.
Flexible Nursing Schedules
As mentioned, one of the areas that make nursing so flexible is the variety of schedules. You can decide to have a more standard job schedule, or you could look into the jobs with the following flexible nursing schedules.
“Pro re nata” (PRN), which is a Latin phrase for “if necessary,” is a type of employment option with a work schedule based on when a nurse is needed by a facility or unit. A scheduler may fill an open shift with a PRN nurse when a full- or part-time employee is absent or not able to work, like if they’re sick or on maternity leave. Or PRN nurses may make up a temporary team needed to address understaffing or emergencies.
Because PRN employees aren’t considered full-time or part-time, they don’t get the same benefits as long-term positions. They also might have other requirements, like having to work a set number of schedules a month.
But PRN nurses are often paid higher per-hour wages and can work for more than one facility or organization. And you can get experience with a variety of settings and schedules you choose.
Job sharing means that two full-time nurses split a single full-time position. Usually, the nurses who share a position work together to manage shifts — for example, maybe half of the week is covered by one nurse and the other half by the other. This makes it a shorter workweek for both nurses without a break in patient care.
While the concept sounds easy, job sharing nurses need the skills and personality to support each other and their patients. They have to be in constant communication with each other about work tasks and schedules to make sure nothing gets missed.
Per Diem Nursing
Per diem nursing schedules are similar to PRNs. But whereas PRN nurses are employed by a facility or unit and have to meet that unit’s scheduling requirements, per diem nurses make schedules that work for them based on staff openings at different facilities.
Like PRN nurses, they also normally get paid more per hour than full-time and part-time nurses on the same unit. However, unlike PRN nurses whose schedule depends on their unit’s staffing needs, per diem nursing can have more consistency. Per diem nurses may find themselves in a specialized area for weeks to months, allowing for space to build long-term relationships and skills within a particular organization.
In addition to specialties, advanced education for nurses can lead to flexibility. Nurses with advanced degrees or who further their education open up even more job opportunities in the nursing field.
For example, with an advanced degree, you could be a nurse administrator. They manage nurse schedules and responsibilities, work with budgets, and communicate with departments across a healthcare organization. Their work doesn’t usually involve direct patient care and doesn’t necessarily follow the schedule of the nurses they supervise.
Likewise, nurse educators focus their days on teaching other nurses. This can happen in a healthcare facility or in an institute of higher education, with full-time, part-time, or adjunct status. Because nurse educators work to achieve optimal learning in their students, they usually don’t work overnight or irregular schedules.
By the time you’ve graduated with an advanced degree, you’ll likely have plenty of experience in the nursing field to know what you want from a nursing job. And the career field is so varied with so many opportunities, that it’s highly likely you’ll be able to find exactly what you want.