Bedside Nursing and Beyond: The Other Side of Nursing

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A nurse with a clipboard stands beside the bed of a sleeping patient hooked up to an IV line.

Bedside nursing is a rewarding career that provides opportunities to deliver direct patient care and gain experience in challenging clinical settings. Professionals in this career will be increasingly in demand as many registered nurses (RN) retire and a workforce shortage leads to stress and high turnover rates. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), by 2022, more RN jobs will be available than any other profession.

Still, bedside nursing is only one aspect of the nursing profession. A growing number of nurses — perhaps looking for advancement or variety — are pursuing roles beyond the bedside, building careers in areas such as health administration, education, and informatics. Many of these roles are nonclinical and don’t involve direct contact with patients, though they come with unique challenges.

For those interested in pursuing nursing careers, it’s important to understand what bedside nursing entails and opportunities for nursing beyond the bedside.

What is bedside nursing?

The first step to pursuing an RN role is understanding what bedside nursing is. In short, bedside nursing is direct patient care. Bedside nursing takes place in a range of clinical settings, such as hospitals, homes, and residential care facilities.

Bedside nursing is a common route that students take after graduating with nursing diplomas or degrees. By administering bedside care, newly registered nurses can gain valuable, high-impact experience by working directly with different doctors, patients, and cases.

Following are different types of bedside nursing roles.

Registered nurse (RN)

RNs perform health assessments, administer treatments, record symptoms and progress, and operate medical equipment. They also work with doctors and other medical professionals to ensure that they’re delivering optimal patient care. RNs may specialize in certain areas, such as addiction, oncology, genetics, and critical care. Nurses in this role hold at least an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing and RN licensure.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of RNs was $73,300 as of May 2019. Employment in this role is expected to grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029, as nurses are needed to care for a growing and aging population.

Advanced practice registered nurse

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) work directly with patients to create care and treatment plans, diagnose illness and disease, and analyze patient data. Some APRNs can prescribe medications and order medical tests. APRNs may hold roles in specific fields, including nurse anesthetist and nurse midwife, as well as nurse practitioner specializing in adult, pediatric, or psychiatric health. Nurses in this role hold at least a master’s degree in nursing and RN licensure.

According to the BLS, APRNs earned a median annual salary of $115,800 as of May 2019. APRN jobs are expected to grow by 45% from 2019 to 2029 to fill the roles left vacant by retirees and provide care in underserved areas, such as inner cities and rural areas.

Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practice nurses (LPNs) assist RNs, APRNs, and doctors in supporting their teams and providing basic patient care. For example, LPNs may check patients’ vital signs, change bandages and bedsheets, and deliver food and water to patients. They may also specialize in certain areas, such as pharmacology and intravenous therapy. Nurses in this role are accredited through vocational schools or community college nursing programs.

The BLS reported that LPNs earned a median annual salary of $47,480 in May 2019. Employment in this role is projected to increase by 9% from 2019 to 2029, as nurses will be needed to care for older patients in homes, outpatient care centers, and healthcare facilities.

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What bedside care involves

Nurses who deliver bedside care have a range of duties and responsibilities, including the following:

  • Assessing and recording patients’ symptoms
  • Observing patients’ conditions
  • Administering medicine
  • Taking patients’ vitals
  • Updating patients’ records
  • Operating medical equipment
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Educating patients about at-home treatment plans
  • Working with doctors to diagnose illness and deliver care

Nurses must possess core skills to effectively deliver bedside care and improve patient outcomes. Common bedside care skills include the following:

  • Communication skills. Bedside nurses must be able to convey diagnoses and treatments to help patients through difficult illnesses. They must also be good listeners to understand patients’ needs and concerns. Additionally, nurses collaborate with doctors and other nurses to deliver care and work with families to help manage care and continue treatment at home.
  • Mental/emotional skills. Nurses must be able to process and cope with the difficult situations they encounter at the bedside. Emotional resilience and compassion are key to performing in high-stress and emergency situations.
  • Critical thinking skills. Bedside nurses must be able to think on their feet and quickly assess changes in a patient’s condition. They should also be able to record and analyze complex patient data to help physicians develop optimal treatment plans.
  • Organizational skills. Bedside nurses may work with multiple patients at a time and should therefore be able to manage various illnesses, patient needs, and treatment plans. They must also keep patient records organized and up to date.

Develop skills for administering bedside care

Use these resources to learn more about how to build a bedside nursing career and develop the skills needed for success in this role:

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Hospital nursing and nursing home care

Hospital nursing and nursing home care are common types of bedside nursing. In hospitals, bedside nurses may work in certain departments, such as trauma, surgery, and emergency. They may be on call or work specific shifts, such as nights and weekends. In nursing home settings, bedside nurses typically monitor and care for elderly or chronically ill patients.

According to the BLS, the largest employers of RNs in 2019 were:

  • State, local, and private hospitals: 60%
  • Ambulatory healthcare services: 18%
  • Nursing and residential care facilities: 7%
  • Government facilities: 5%
  • State, local, and private educational services: 3%

While nurses who work in areas such as administration, education, and research may hold regular office hours, hospital nurses and home nurses may work irregular hours — 12-hour shifts, holidays, night shifts — providing around-the-clock care.

Resources for working in different nursing settings

Use these resources to build a nursing career in different medical settings and departments:

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A bar chart listing five nursing careers beyond the bedside and their associated median salaries.

Five popular nursing careers beyond the bedside include clinical research specialist, which has a median salary of $55,000; nurse educator, which has a median salary of $76,000; legal nurse consultant, which has a median salary of $78,000; and nurse informatics specialist and nurse administrator, which have median salaries of $85,000 and $87,000, respectively.

Bedside nursing vs. community health nursing

Future nurses, and those interested in advancing their careers, should understand the difference between bedside nursing vs. community health nursing. Each career path provides unique challenges and advantages.

While many nurses start out in bedside nursing, community health nursing can provide a fulfilling career opportunity for those looking to branch out beyond the bedside.

What is community health nursing?

Community health nursing, or public health nursing, is the practice of working with specific populations to identify health issues and educate residents about how to treat and prevent illness. Community health nurses also advocate for the health of their communities, working with healthcare providers or government programs to improve access to healthcare resources or create new programming. For example, community health nurses may help communities mitigate pollution that causes health problems or help elderly residents sign up for Medicare.

According to PayScale.com, public health nurses earned a median annual salary of about $60,000 as of September 2020. A public health nurse typically holds at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited university and has experience in education or community outreach. As the BLS reported, community health worker and health educator jobs are expected to grow by 13% from 2019 to 2029, as governments and healthcare providers seek to improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

Comparing bedside nursing and community health nursing

Bedside nurses work directly with individual patients to address their health issues and deliver day-to-day care. Meanwhile, community health nurses work with communities, groups, and families to educate them about health issues, refer health services, and prevent the risk of illness and disease. Additionally, while bedside nurses often work in hospitals, homes, and clinical settings, community health nurses commonly work in community centers, schools, and government offices.

Community health nurses often have more autonomy than bedside nurses. Bedside nurses consult with more advanced nurses or physicians in making diagnoses and building treatment plans, whereas community health nurses can make decisions and create care programs on their own.

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Nursing beyond the bedside

Nursing professionals may pursue roles in nursing beyond the bedside as they advance their careers and seek greater autonomy in the workplace. If they want to contribute to the medical profession on a broader scale, for example, they may decide to work for a research laboratory, a pharmaceutical company, a government organization, or an educational institution.

Consider the following examples of nursing roles beyond the bedside.

Clinical research specialist

Clinical research specialists conduct research for different medical facilities and organizations to improve patient care and outcomes. They work with their teams to build and deploy research projects and analyze and report results. A clinical research specialist should have at least a high school diploma and previous experience working in clinical research.

According to PayScale.com, clinical research specialists earned a median annual salary of about $55,000 as of September 2020. As the BLS reported, medical scientist jobs, including clinical researchers, are expected to increase by 6% from 2019 to 2029 to study increased rates of chronic conditions and new frontiers of medical research.

Nurse educator

Nurse educators are responsible for educating the staff of a medical facility, such as a hospital or clinic. These nurses build programs and techniques for evaluating health providers’ and administrators’ education. They may also create presentations, training manuals, and policies based on gaps in employee knowledge or updated regulations.

According to PayScale.com, nurse educators earned a median annual salary of about $76,000 as of September 2020. The BLS classifies nurse educators under the RN field — as the profession typically requires RN licensure — which as stated above is expected to grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029. Demand for nurse educators will grow as a rising number of new nurses begin their careers.

A chart that highlights the differences between bedside nursing and community health nursing.

There are significant differences between bedside nursing and community health nursing. Bedside nurses handle personal healthcare issues for individual patients, treat illness and disease, consult with physicians for decisions, and work in hospitals or clinical settings. Community health nurses handle public healthcare issues for a whole community or group, prevent risk of illness and disease and promote health, have more authority and autonomy, and work in community centers or schools.

Legal nurse consultant

Legal nurse consultants work for insurance companies to maintain legal records related to medical cases, uphold compliance standards, and avoid potential legal risks. They also work with litigation teams to analyze medical records and prepare case files. Legal nurse consultants should gain RN licensure and have paralegal training or experience.

According to PayScale.com, legal nurse consultants earned a median annual salary of about $78,000 as of September 2020. The legal nurse consultant profession will see continued demand as hospitals face pressure to discharge patients more quickly, and outpatient care centers may struggle to accommodate new patients and responsibilities.

Nursing informatics specialist

Nursing informatics specialists manage data, implement new technology systems, and optimize digital record-keeping for healthcare facilities. Nurses in this role should have at least an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing or nursing informatics and experience in the information technology field.

According to PayScale.com, nursing informatics specialists earned a median annual salary of about $85,000 as of September 2020. The BLS expects medical records and health information technician jobs, including nursing informatics specialists, to increase by 8% from 2019 to 2029 to organize health data with new technologies and help medical facilities transition to electronic health records (EHRs).

Nurse administrator

Nurse administrators are responsible for managing operations for healthcare facilities. Their responsibility includes managing patient cases, hiring new talent, coordinating training programs, and ensuring that employees comply with company policies and government regulations. A nurse administrator should have at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing and be an RN.

According to PayScale.com, nurse administrators earned a median annual salary of about $87,000 as of September 2020. As the BLS reported, medical and health services manager jobs, including nurse administrators, are projected to grow by 32% from 2019 to 2029 as the baby-boom generation ages and the need for healthcare staff and medical information increases.

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Resources for careers in nursing beyond the bedside

Use these resources to start making the switch from bedside nursing to nurse leadership and administration careers:

The many forms of nursing

Bedside nursing is a rewarding field in which RNs can work directly with patients and see firsthand the impact of their care. Whether they work in hospitals, nursing homes, or other care facilities, bedside nurses can gain valuable experiences in their chosen fields. However, beyond the bedside, nurses can pursue roles as educators, administrators, researchers, and consultants.

As the U.S. faces a nursing shortage, coupled with population growth, there will be a growing need for nurses who can lead, innovate, and help craft the future of healthcare. That’s why it’s important for prospective nurses to understand their career options and choose the medical setting that best suits their interests and goals.

Recommended Reading

MSN vs DNP – Exploring the Differences

The Difference Between a Nurse Manager and Charge Nurse

Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor – Filling the Healthcare Gap

Infographic Sources

American Public Health Association, “Public Health vs. Clinical Health Professions: What’s the Difference?”

Nursing Exercise, “Major Difference Between Hospital Nurse and Community Nurse”

PayScale.com, “Average Clinical Research Specialist Salary”

PayScale.com, “Average Legal Nurse Consultant Hourly Pay”

PayScale.com, “Average Nurse Administrator Salary”

PayScale.com, “Average Nurse Educator Salary”

PayScale.com, “Average Nursing Informatics Specialist Salary”