What are the different work settings for nurses?

Healthcare is growing faster than almost every other industry in the United States. According to the latest from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is expected to expand by about 13% in the next decade, creating about 2 million new jobs. As nurses are the majority of healthcare workers, most of these jobs will go to them.

For those who are contemplating nursing as a career, one of the foremost questions on their minds is where they will work. It is common knowledge that nurses are no longer restricted to hospitals — they are now found in all sorts of settings, including schools, rehabilitation clinics and even in the homes of those who can afford to pay for at-home nursing care.

As you plan a career path, it is important to think about where you will ultimately end up. It helps you choose a specialization and it also helps narrow down your options when seeking employment. Rather than send out your resume to one and all, you can select employers who line up with the work setting you have in mind. If you are planning to transition to nursing from another career, it helps you map out licensure needs.

Understanding the different work settings also helps you work out what path to follow in your training. You learn how to become a nurse practitioner in your chosen path. If you would like to become a community healthcare nurse, for example, you may want to study a specialty that throws light on social work.

If you would like to work in a specific state or location, you may want to look up what opportunities are available and the projected job prospects in that area. Say, for example, you would like to work in Kansas. If you plan to become a registered nurse (RN), possible work settings include hospitals, rural clinics, long-term care facilities and residential facilities.

Kansas residents generally enjoy a low cost of living and a peaceful, rural and well-paced life. The state boasts some of the best hospitals in the United States, and they pay practitioners rather well. A well-trained nurse in Kansas can attract a six-figure salary if they choose the right employment setting. If this sounds like a good place to work, find out how to become a nurse practitioner in Kansas here.

We use Kansas as an example to show you what factors you should take into account as you weigh your options for different work settings. Whether you plan to work in New York, Oregon, Hawaii or Alaska, similar considerations come into play. Remember, you are planning for the long term, so be realistic. Think about what is most important to you and how it fits into the choices you make.

What factors should you consider as you choose a work setting?

It is not easy to decide where you want to work, especially when confronted with so many options. Each has pros and cons, so it is important to think carefully so that you find a job that brings personal and career satisfaction.

What kind of nursing do you want to practice?

Some people have always wanted to work within a pediatric setting, so it makes sense that they find employment in a children’s hospital or another environment that allows them to care for kids. Some are passionate about helping others overcome addiction, so it makes sense that they end up in a rehabilitation clinic.

Take some time to think about where there is a particular branch of nursing that you would like to pursue. It will help you narrow down workplace settings.

Is there a preferred location on your mind?

If you have always dreamed of living in Florida, you may want to pursue geriatric nursing in your training. Florida is a retirement town with plenty of old people, and a degree in elder care would help you secure a good job pretty fast.

If you prefer a rural setting, you may be better served by a general nursing qualification that allows you to treat and care for a wider population. Rural America has a shortage of nurses, and those who work in these places often have to treat people of all ages.

These are just two examples, but they serve to show you that it is worthwhile to think about where you would like to live as it ties in closely with where you end up working. If you end up in a place where your skills are not needed, you will have a hard time securing employment.

Think about work-life balance

Different work settings have different demands. Some medical institutions are much busier than others simply because they serve a bigger population. Nurses who work in these places have busy shifts and little rest.

If you think this is the kind of setting that suits you, a good workplace for you would be a big inner-city hospital.

However, if you prefer a laid-back pace where you have plenty of rest between shifts, you should apply for jobs in locations that do not have very many people, and patients arrive in manageable numbers.

Even a laid back job has its challenges, so take some time to rest and relax every week.

Where do you ultimately want to end up?

If you would like to climb the ladder and become a nurse manager you will do better in a workplace that gives you time to study and advance yourself.

Many nurses find themselves stuck in the same job year after year because there simply is not enough time to go back to school and add to their qualifications.

What different work settings are available?

Times have changed. In the past, nurses were more or less restricted to working in hospitals and clinics. Those who worked in a private practice served multiple roles — they were the receptionist, they helped the doctor to obtain patient samples and they even assisted with small procedures.

Today’s nurses can specialize, and they can choose from multiple work settings. If a nurse tries one type of workplace and does not like it, nothing stops them from moving to a completely new environment.

After you get your nursing degree, the following are some of the places you can choose to work:


Most nurses work in hospitals. They can be found in the ER, surgery, maternity, pediatrics, psychiatry and other hospital departments. They are usually posted to areas where their specialty is needed.

A hospital is a big and busy place to work, so you can expect to have plenty to do. However, the work experience of two nurses who work in the same hospital can be completely different.

A nurse who works in the ER, for example, often has a busier day than one who works in the psychiatry or oncology department. The ER has plenty of traffic, with people coming in all the time, whereas psychiatry and oncology have fewer patients.

Some nurses also work in the laboratory or radiology department, while others take on an educational role, training new nurses as they come in.

Working in a hospital has pros and cons. Many nurses will tell you that they are happy with their choice in this setting because it gives them the chance to help a wide variety of patients. They are also exposed to the management of different types of illnesses and conditions which equips them with skills.

The main disadvantage of working in a hospital setting is how busy it often gets. It is not unusual for nurses to work beyond their shifts, and getting away for a break can be tricky.

Nurses also tend to cope with more deaths and debilitating illnesses, so if it is your preferred setting, you should find ways to cope.

Care centers and clinics

Most care centers and clinics are outpatient facilities that provide non-critical care, preventive care and minor surgical procedures. They usually employ licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs).

Their work environment is significantly different from a hospital. They often work directly under the supervision of a doctor, but they also have the autonomy to make decisions, especially when the doctor is busy or away.

Nurses in clinics and care centers also serve many roles. Apart from direct patient care, many are tasked with providing preventive care, supervising patients during recovery, administering vaccines and injections and writing prescriptions.

Today, the role of these nurses is expanding, and many have busy days, with patients coming in from the time the clinic opens its doors in the morning until it closes at night.

There are several advantages to working in this setting. You will have a smaller workload than a hospital nurse, and you may get one or two days off every week. You also become an expert in family medicine because most of your patients come in with minor ailments.

It is easy to transition from nursing in a clinic to becoming a community nurse because you develop excellent relationships with those you serve.

The downside of working in a clinic is that you will get overwhelmed from time to time. As you do not have the same resources as a big hospital, providing the necessary care can be difficult and exhausting.

Physicians’ clinics

You can become a nurse in a doctor’s office. You will be tasked with providing non-acute and preventive care. Patients who come to you are not critical, and you help the doctor to examine them, take samples and issue prescriptions.

These nurses deal with fevers, colds, allergies, infections, stomach bugs, and other conditions that do not require hospitalization. They play a vital role in pre and post-natal care, advising mothers-to-be and new mothers on how best to take care of themselves and their babies. They also treat minor injuries and assist the doctor with minor surgical procedures.

Many nurses in physicians’ clinics, especially in rural areas, also conduct home visits. They identify patients who for one reason or another cannot come into the clinic and go to them. Typical visits are usually for the elderly and critically ill, but nurses may sometimes visit pregnant mothers or vulnerable families.

A nurse in a physician’s clinic is not as busy as one in a hospital. They work during the day and go home at night except for the occasional emergency. They are also close to people in the community, and often transition to community nursing when they want to climb the career ladder.

Nursing homes and assisted care facilities

Most communities in America have nursing homes, and if you like working with the elderly they are an ideal place to find employment. They often employ registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses.

Nursing homes and assisted care facilities (or hospices) are more or less like hospitals, only they are less busy and cater specifically to the elderly or chronically ill. A nurse in such a setting can expect to do everything that a nurse in a big hospital does, only it may not be as intense.

Nurses who work in these places report a high level of satisfaction. They are not overworked like a typical nurse in a large hospital, and they form long-term bonds with those whom they care for.

The downside to this workplace setting is that it can be stressful, especially when dealing with patients who suffer from mobility issues, or illnesses like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Home healthcare

This kind of nursing is becoming common in many communities. Many people would rather pay a nurse to care for a loved one at home rather than have them spend months in the hospital. These nurses often care for the elderly, people with disabilities, and those who are recovering from illnesses or accidents.

Home healthcare can be financially rewarding for those who find rich clients to care for. It is also less stressful in terms of workload, and the nurse only cares for one patient.

However, if you would like to climb the career ladder this is not a good route to follow as it does not expose you to a real hospital environment. Some nurses also report feelings of isolation as they work alone.


If you would like to work with children and young people but do not fancy a hospital environment you can become a school nurse. They are employed by the school district and they deal with injuries, minor illnesses, dental and other types of hygiene and in some cases, they administer vaccinations.

School nurses are quite busy but not as busy as hospital nurses. Some months of the year are tougher than others. In autumn and winter when communicable diseases like flu spread in schools, the school nurse’s day can be rather full.

Those who deal with teenagers have to dispense sex education advice and talk to them about healthy lifestyles. The school nurse is often the one to notice when specialized care is required, especially for children and teenagers who may be experiencing mental health problems.

To work as a school nurse you must hold an RN, LPN or LVN license. They should also have a certificate from the National Board for Certification of School Nurses.

Other educational settings

If you would like to work with young people but do not like the idea of working in a school, you can find employment at a university or a college. You will help treat minor ailments and injuries, and you will not have a big workload.

Nurse educators in universities

Nurse educators are in high demand, and many nurses, rather than retire, go into teaching. These jobs are reserved for those who have practical nursing experience, so you may not become an educator straight out of nursing school.

If you choose to be an educator, your typical employer will be a university, a college or a nursing school. Your job will be to instruct students on the approved curriculum and make sure that they qualify with the necessary skills to transition into the workplace.

This is possibly the easiest nursing job in terms of demands on your time. You have regular working days and you are not required to work at night.

If you are an excellent motivator and have nursing experience, this can be a rewarding job.

Other areas you may want to consider

Apart from the above, there are other settings you may want to consider as you plan your career. Some nurses work for insurance companies, researching claims and helping design insurance packages.

Others choose telehealth, where they specialize in technology for nursing. Some nurses work for aid agencies abroad and enjoy the perks of frequent travel and high salaries. Others work in sports, taking care of athletes and ensuring they are healthy enough to compete.

These are all excellent options for those who want to avoid the usual rigors of nursing. Nurses working in these settings do not work as many hours as regular nurses, and they have weekends and holidays off.


Choosing a work setting is an important step in career planning. Understanding the different work settings and their pros and cons will help you to choose one that suits your qualifications, personality and goals.

Keep an open mind as you weigh your options. Just because you choose a certain work setting does not mean you are stuck in it forever. After all, one of the many benefits of having a career in nursing is the multitude of work settings you are able to choose from.

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