The different healthcare environments for nurses

Nurses are an essential part of a nation’s healthcare system. Often, nurses are the first point of contact that patients and their families have, and, thereafter, they are constantly present at patients’ bedside so that they receive the right care and treatment. Nurses also collaborate with other healthcare providers, such as physicians, therapists, and psychologists, and educate patients and their families so that patients enjoy the best outcomes possible.

However, the roles of a nurse vary depending on the healthcare environment they choose to work in. If you are passionate about helping others and you want a secure career, nursing could be the right choice. This field offers several career options in different healthcare settings. So, depending on your passion and career goals, you can choose a work environment that is right for you. It is best to remember that, in some roles, you may require more training and education while, in others, your current qualifications could be sufficient.

Understanding the different healthcare environments will allow you to choose one that you feel is right for you. Then, you can delve deeper to find out the education and training you require to enter that setting. Here are some of the workplaces that you can work in after completing your nursing studies and licensure. You will be happy to learn that you can look beyond a hospital setting and embrace other exciting and fulfilling career options.


A majority of nurses often end up working in a hospital setting. Nurses work in surgical departments, general medicine, psychiatry, and other specialties. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2019, registered nurses (RNs) made up nearly 30% of the total hospital employment, and, in 2021, nearly 60% of RNs were working in state, private and local hospitals.

Most RNs pursue their passion or fields of specialization. Pediatric and maternity nurses provide care to children and women. This care can be a part of routine healthcare or for diseases, ailments and illnesses. You can also become an oncology nurse if you have the training and education to work with cancer patients. In this career path, you will have to stay abreast of the latest treatment and care protocols for cancer patients.

Hospitals have a lot of different departments to treat a wide range of healthcare issues. However, nurses do not always have to always work in these departments. Many hospitals also use RNs for administrative roles, supervising the hospital’s nurse workforce, being educators to train and update the knowledge of the nurses and managing patient admission and discharge.

Before you decide to take up a role in a hospital, be sure to understand the pros and cons. While nurses working in hospitals find their jobs rewarding and meaningful as they can help patients who are critically ill, the hours can be long. A majority of hospitals usually mandates a 12-hour shift. Furthermore, as hospitals operate throughout the year, nurses may have to work on weekends and holidays. A few nurses also experience burnout and stress since they constantly deal with serious illnesses and loss of life. The nurses who do not devote time to self-care will find it challenging to work in a hospital environment.

Outpatient facility

Usually, in an outpatient facility, patients receive routine care, acute care for noncritical health issues and also small surgical procedures. Patients do not stay overnight in these centers. However, while they are in the facility for any health issues, nurses provide the necessary care. This makes outpatient centers different from hospitals, where patients stay for a few days before they are sent home.

Outpatient facilities hire licensed practical nurses, RNs and NPs. However, depending on their educational training and experience, the roles vary. This said, nurses working in outpatient facilities usually work under doctors, but nurse practitioners and registered nurses have more autonomy and can make decisions. This is something nurses working in hospitals cannot do.

Nurse practitioners are responsible for providing preventive care and monitoring patients if they come for minor surgeries. They also can prescribe medications to patients. On the other hand, registered nurses can give patients injections and vaccines.

Many hospitals are trying to reduce the duration of hospital stays. As a result, more people are opting to get treated in outpatient centers. As a result, the demand for nurses in outpatient facilities is gradually increasing. Most outpatient centers offer autonomy within the nurse’s role, an array of tasks and a fast-paced working environment. Furthermore, outpatient facilities have fixed working hours, and, usually, they do not operate during the weekends or holidays. So, nurses have more free time and can maintain a work-life balance.

This said, outpatient centers can be quite busy since a lot of patients visit them regularly. Handling a lot of different cases and providing patient care can be overwhelming. Not only do nurses in these centers have to be good healthcare providers but they also have other administrative tasks, such as maintaining patient files, responding to patient emails, answering calls and more.

Physician’s office

Patients visit a physician’s office for routine healthcare and non-emergency health issues. Typically, a physician’s office provides specialized care. So, it could focus on pediatrics, family medicine, women’s health, dentistry, orthopedics or dermatology. Here, the specialization depends on the physician’s specialization, training and experience. A few physicians also focus on general healthcare.

Depending on the particular office, a nurse could be responsible for greeting arriving patients, finding out the reason for their visit to the office, maintaining patients’ medical history and helping the doctor during a procedure. Out of all the branches of specialization, family medicine is one of the most sought-after. In such an office, physicians treat patients of all ages. These offices often look for family nurse practitioners, who have the right training and knowledge to assist physicians.

It is prudent to remember that if you decide to work in a physician’s office, you may not get too many opportunities to advance in your career or enjoy professional development. Also, the pay may not be as competitive as hospitals and outpatient centers. Nonetheless, these limitations are offset by other things. You will not be overwhelmed by patients as they need to make appointments to see the doctor. Also, most physician offices work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and do not see patients after these hours. So, nurses are free after 5 p.m. and do not have to work on weekends or holidays, when the offices are closed.

It is rare for nurses in a physician’s office to handle emergencies, though sometimes, nurses may end up with an emergency if they work for a family dentist. They normally work with patients suffering from colds, allergies or other routine healthcare issues. Nurses are responsible for checkups and adjusting the patients’ medication.

Home healthcare

When a nurse chooses to work in a home-healthcare environment, it means that the nurse works with patients who live at home. A home-healthcare nurse is highly sought-after to care for chronically ill patients, terminally ill patients, those who are recovering from a surgical procedure, patients who have physical or developmental disabilities or the elderly.

Besides providing medical care, nurses working in home healthcare also assist with daily living tasks and personal care. In the US, as baby boomers age and want to live in their own homes, there appears to be a surge in demand for home-healthcare nurses. According to the BLS, from 2021 to 2031, the demand for home-healthcare nurses and personal aides will grow by 25%.

Home-healthcare nurses enjoy a lot of independence and a slow pace of work. They also end up forming rewarding relationships with their patients. If you are interested in working in this environment, ensure that you build exceptional communication skills as you will need to talk to patients and their families. Furthermore, you should be comfortable working with patients from different social and cultural backgrounds. You may also have to do physical work, such as moving or lifting a patient. So, you need to be physically strong and fit to carry out these tasks if the need arises.

As a home-healthcare nurse, one of the core responsibilities will be constantly assessing your patient’s condition and health. You will have to check vital signs and monitor symptoms to see if you need to change or adjust the patient’s care plan. You may also have to collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians and therapists, to meet your patient’s healthcare needs.

Nursing home

Many registered nurses like to work in nursing homes because they believe it is a calling. They support and comfort chronically ill patients, the elderly and disabled patients. This provides a feeling of gratification. The patients who stay in nursing homes often reside till the very end. As a result, nurses end up forging lasting relationships with most of their patients.

In a nursing home, patients receive 24-hour care. In addition, nursing homes offer healthcare services that are similar to hospitals. Nursing homes not only provide medical care but also palliative care, physical and occupational therapy and hospice care.

Working in a nursing home can be challenging due to the workload. You may have to care for many resident patients. In addition, you may end up working long hours during the week and even on holidays and weekends. While working in a nursing home, you will end up multitasking. Besides patient care, you will also be responsible for documenting the care that patients receive, speaking to physicians and other healthcare providers, and also be ready to tackle emergencies.

It can take an emotional toll, especially if you are working with elderly patients, who often have cognitive impairments and complex health issues. So, even though you work long hours, you should be able to take some time out for self-care and de-stress your body and mind. A nursing home could be the right working environment for you if you are patient and compassionate and you find it meaningful to help and support patients who are in the twilight of their lives and require the right support, treatment and care. This can significantly improve their quality of life.

Elementary or secondary school

In a primary or secondary school environment, nurses are essential figures, who are responsible for attending to sicknesses and injuries that occur during the school day. They evaluate the urgency of medical attention needed, oversee students with long-term medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, keep track of immunization records and perform screenings for contagious diseases and other ailments. Furthermore, as a nurse in a school, you will be responsible for guiding students about healthy living, nutrition and sexual health, working alongside teachers, staff and families.

If you want to work in an elementary or secondary school, you have to be a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse. As a school nurse, you will be the only healthcare professional. Besides helping and treating school children, you may also end up supporting and treating teachers and other staff members. In addition, parents or guardians of the children may want to get in touch with you and speak about the concerns they have.

A career as a school nurse can be incredibly fulfilling for those who want to promote health and wellness among children and teenagers. The benefits of working in such an environment are working during school hours, getting time off in the summer months and handling a variety of duties and tasks every day. As a school nurse, you will not have to deal with a lot of stress, which is often the case in other work healthcare environments. However, you may end up receiving a lower salary compared to nursing working in hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient centers. Also, you could feel isolated at times as you will not be mingling with other healthcare providers.

To work in a school environment, you will need excellent communication skills as you will be dealing with school children of all ages besides adults. Also, being patient, listening and compassionate are skills that will immensely help you during your work.


You don’t always have to work in a healthcare environment. Many times, nurses also work as educators in vocational schools, community colleges and universities where they are responsible for training student nurses.

If you are interested in working as a nurse educator, it is advisable to first get your RN license and ensure that you have adequate clinical experience. Also, focus on continuing your education to earn a graduate degree. This will improve your career prospects. However, if you are looking to become a nurse educator in a university or hospital-affiliated nursing school, work toward a doctoral degree in nursing practice.

As a nurse educator, you will be responsible not just for teaching theory but also ensuring clinical training. Another part of your role would be to prepare student nurses for National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) licensure and certification. You will also be an advisor to students, design the curriculum and collaborate with faculty, as well as administrators, to develop teaching programs and create budgets.

If you feel that training is the key to the best quality healthcare, working as a nurse educator could be the right choice. You may end up earning a higher salary, compared to RNs who work in a clinical setting. However, that depends on your education, experience and geographical location. Also, it is important to remember that when you are a nurse educator, you may not find it as stressful as you would when working in a clinical setting. Nonetheless, you will still fulfill the research requirements of the educational institutions if you want to be a tenured educator. Furthermore, you will have to do a lot of reading and attend conferences and seminars so that you are up to date on the latest developments in the field of nursing so that you can add your findings and knowledge to the curriculum.

Choosing the right nursing program

As you can see, there are numerous work environments that you can choose if you are a qualified and licensed nurse. Another work environment that has recently opened up for nurses is telehealth nursing. After the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also a demand for telehealth nurses. You can work from home, hospital, a physician’s office or any other healthcare setting. You can harness the power of the internet to provide care to patients who are in rural or remote locations or are unable to visit healthcare facilities because they are homebound.

To work in a setting of your choice, it is important that you choose the right nursing program. The good news if you’re trying to find nursing schools is that it’s not that difficult if you know what to look for. The nursing school will equip you with the knowledge, skills and training you require to work in a healthcare environment that you are passionate about. For instance, Elmhurst University offers an Accelerated BSN and MENP. Both these programs are online and are taught by highly experienced faculty.

If you are just starting, the Accelerated BSN could be the right choice. You can complete it in merely 16 months with coursework, residency on campus and clinical hours. The program also prepares student nurses for NCLEX and has dedicated courses for this purpose. On the other hand, if you have a degree in another field but want to enter the field of nursing, then the MENP is the one for you. Armed with a master’s degree in nursing, you can take up leadership roles in a clinical setting. While earning your degree, you will also study for NCLEX-RN and clinical nurse leader certification.

Now that you know about the different healthcare environments you can work in after completing your training and certification, it is time to find the right nursing program to pursue your dream.

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