Nursing Roles After the Bedside with Sarah Wells, RN

In this episode, Sarah Wells from New Thing Nurse will dive deep into the many types of nursing positions that exist for those nurses who desire to move away from the bedside. We will specifically look at those career options which may require some additional education or an advanced nursing degree. Together we will break down each career option, define its role, and if a degree or certification is necessary.

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Guest: Sarah Wells, RN from New Thing Nurse

What roles are there for nurses moving away from the bedside?

Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

The certified CNL is a big-picture nurse leader who is involved in quality improvement and helps to lead change. The CNL coordinates care, provides direct patient care sometimes in highly complex situations, and puts evidence-based practice into action to ensure that patients receive care that is the most up-to-date with current research.


  • Master degree in a CNL program
  • CNL exam for certification
  • Not considered an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A certified CNS is an APRN who has specialized in a particular area of nursing and has advanced knowledge and skills in this area. Often the CNS works in clinical quality improvement. Since this is an APRN, the CNS has the knowledge and skills to order diagnostics and even some medications, however this will be dependent on each individual state’s legislation as well as the individual healthcare facilities’ policies and procedures.

Credentialing requirements

  • Master degree in a CNS program
  • Specialization of a particular area in nursing
  • CNS exam for certification

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

The nurse practitioner is an APRN who functions as a healthcare provider. The NP performs physical assessments of patients, orders diagnostics, diagnoses and treats health conditions and diseases, and prescribes medications. NPs specialize in a specific population and acuity level for the patients they serve, which may be the pediatric population or the adult population. They also specialize according to acute care or primary care. The exact autonomy the NP has depends on each state’s laws.

Credentialing requirements

  • Advanced degree, either a master’s or doctorate
  • Post-masters’s certificate programs for those who already have an MSN and would like to become an NP
  • Must pass NP boards to become licensed

Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP)

The doctor of nursing practice degree is a terminal degree that is focused on nursing clinical practice and is often sought after by those in a nursing leadership position. The DNP-prepared nurse is focused on clinical application and influencing healthcare outcomes. This degree is often used by those in an executive position or as an academic educator.

Credentialing requirements

  • DNP project that is specific and practice focused
  • Must defend your thesis
  • Can be an NP with a doctoral-level education but does not have to be
  • Doctorate of nursing practice is not considered an APRN role

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD)

The Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing is a degree is a terminal degree that focuses on research and preparing nurses to conduct medical research that will help to advance nursing knowledge. This is a very demanding and challenging degree, so one entering into this degree track must really enjoy school. PhD RNs usually are working directly in research or in academia.

Credentialing requirements

  • Must complete a research thesis

Nurse Manager

The nurse manager is a leader who oversees the nursing department staff and ensures that policies and procedures, as well as state and federal guidelines, are being followed and that patients are receiving appropriate care. The nurse manager will attend many meetings and will often be working closely with other managers or executive positions. This nurse is also responsible for budgets.

Credentialing requirements

  • Does not necessarily require an advanced degree (depends on each individual organization/facility). Nurse managers can have their ADN, BSN, MSN, or DNP.
  • Preferred to have at least a few years of clinical nursing experience
  • Preferred to have previous leadership experience or a strong interest in leadership

Nurse Educator

The nurse educator is one who enjoys educating others. Nurse educators may educate patients and family members about a particular condition or disease, nursing students, or colleagues through staff development. You’ll see the nurse educator working in many different types of settings, from acute care in the hospital to outpatient clinics or in colleges and universities.

Credentialing requirements

  • Generally, a BSN degree with a specific amount or years of nursing experience but can vary depending on the facility

Nursing Instructor/Professor

Nursing instructors and professors are seen working in the academic setting. They are the ones who are educating the future generation of nurses and preparing them to work independently as licensed nurses. Instructors come in many forms, such as classroom, clinical, simulation, and skills-based. In addition, there are adjunct faculty at some institutions and there are always program directors and assistant directors.

Credentialing Requirements

  • Dependent on the level of nursing being taught
  • Generally, the higher the level of education being taught, the higher the level of education the instructor must hold

Key Takeaways

  • If additional education is needed, research schools first.
  • Make sure whichever program you pick will support you in your career goals.
  • Know your state laws as a nurse or as an APRN (these change over time).
  • Network, network, network! It can greatly help you advance your career. LinkedIn is a wonderful place for this.
  • Never feel pressured to go back to school. There are many non-bedside nursing careers that do not require advanced degrees.